The Incredible Impact of Natural Light on Colour

Without light there is no colour.

Light travels from the sun in waves of differing lengths. Some wavelengths are absorbed, others are reflected from an object’s surface – this is what our eyes experience as colour. Colour is actually the brain’s interpretation of the signals coming from our eyes when light enters them.

Light is one of the most important and dramatic elements of design. It defines space and form, enhances colour, and reveals texture. At the outset of a project, it is thus really important to assess a space in terms of the amount and direction of available natural light. You need to understand the directional orientation of the building and of the windows.

Several factors impact how colour renders (how it looks) in natural light:

In the northern hemisphere, south-facing rooms are warmer than north-facing rooms. This is reversed in the southern hemisphere, where north-facing rooms are warmer than south-facing ones.

Natural light in northern countries like Scandinavia and the UK has a cooler, blue quality. Countries closer to the equator have a warmer, yellow, bright quality. Think about how colours appear in warm Mediterranean climates, for instance, compared to in the UK. Have you ever brought back ceramics or home decor from a holiday in a more southerly country that just didn’t look as good in the UK? This is all down to the colour of the light.

As we move through the seasons, light values change. In British Summer Time, the light is warmer than in the winter – although it still has a blue tinge!

Time of day
As the sun moves from sunrise to sunset, the tonal values in the light change. Morning light is clear and white; afternoon light is warmer with golden tones.
As you can see, light is ever-changing and means the colours in your home will vary through the day and the seasons.

Here are some of the points we consider in interior design when developing a colour scheme for a project:

• You can add a feeling of warmth to colder, darker north-facing rooms by using reds, oranges, yellow and warm neutrals.
• Conversely, sunny south-facing rooms can be cooled by using greens, blues and cool neutrals.
• Mirrors are a fantastic design tool to reflect and bounce more natural light around a room.
• If your room has a west-facing window, the warm golden light of the sunset will emphasise warm colours and neutralise blue and violet hues.
• Using blue tones in a room with cool north-facing light may make it feel drab and chilly. Have you ever painted a room in pure white and wondered why it looks a bit grey and grubby? If it’s north facing, that is why!
• On the other hand, the same blue tones used in a south-facing room will look fresh and uplifting.
• Blues and greens make a shady room seem shadier. Red, yellow or orange colours will balance a shady, cool light. You can balance a bright, sunny, warm room with blue, violet or green colours.
• Some colours – grey, green blues and aubergine – particularly change their appearance over the course of a day. Using these colours can thus add real interest and vitality to a scheme.

Before making colour choices for your room, observe the lighting conditions at different times of day to help you assess and understand the fluctuations. This knowledge will help you choose a colour scheme that is perfectly in balance. Good luck – and have fun finding a scheme that works for your home!