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Clever use of colour

With a few tricks of the trade you can use colour to your advantage when decorating spaces that are too small, too high, too cold, etc.


Picking your favourite colour from a paint swatch is easy, but making it work in a real interior is far more difficult as colours do not work in isolation. The room's proportions, existing furniture and the degree of natural light can all have a dramatic impact on how a colour looks, in some cases making it a long way removed from the shade you thought you had picked. But with a few tricks of the trade you can use colour to your advantage by accentuating the features of the room that you like best and disguising those you don't.





Colour to create space
In a small cramped room that you want to feel more spacious, opt for white, neutrals or cool blues and greens. If the ceiling is low you can give it a natural lift by painting it brilliant white or a lighter tone of the same colour used on the walls.

Just as clothes with vertical stripes can make you look skinnier, the same trick makes a room look taller. If you don't like the idea of a candy-striped room, wallpaper with a repeated vertical component such as a delicate vine or creeper can create a similar effect, although it will probably work best when restricted to one wall. If you do introduce pattern choose a light wallpaper with a fine motif rather than anything too overbearing. Use a darker tone for the flooring and to avoid a small space feeling cluttered, paint mismatched furniture in one colour and large pieces in the same shade as the walls. Do the same with window frames and skirting boards and choose an eggshell finish to create a seamless effect.

In some circumstances and depending on the room's function you might even want to exaggerate cosiness by using a darker colour, for example, if it is used as a TV room, games room or a comfy reading area with scatter cushions and beanbags.

Colour to create comfort
You can make a large and drafty space feel more homely by choosing a warmer palette of yellows, oranges or reds. A raspberry shade is easier on the eye than a pillar box red, while oranges could be earthy, terracotta tones rather than anything too acidic.

If the room feels too tall try painting the ceiling in a warmer tone or using horizontal stripes on the walls. You can make a long thin corridor-like room feel more square by painting the two short walls in a slightly darker tone.

When using bold or deep colours you can still bring light into a room by using plenty of reflective or metallic surfaces. Introduce mirrors, chandeliers, lacquered furniture and spotlights to balance the dark shades of the walls. Also use lots of rugs, cushions and throws to make a room cosy even when you are using strong colours.

Colour and light
South and west facing rooms that have warmer natural light can take cooler colours without feeling icy, while north and east facing rooms get less light and can use a boost from a warmer palette.

The only fail-safe way to test a colour in different lights is to paint a large square in the room and see how it looks throughout the day as the sun passes overhead.

In open-plan living areas you may want to use colour to demarcate distinct zones such as a dining area, living area and kitchen. Use colours adjacent to one another on the colour wheel to create a harmonising effect or different tones of the same colour for a monochrome look.

Choose complementary colours which sit opposite one another on the wheel for a dramatic scheme, such as purple and yellow for example. The same principles apply to adjoining rooms as your home will feel much more finished and cohesive if you consider the way colours complement each other from one room to the next.