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Decor for Dummies: Understanding Warm & Cool Shades

Posted by Color Expert on

Have you ever overheard someone at Bunnings in the paint aisle saying “I want a cool grey, not a warm grey”? I have, a couple talking about what colour to paint the front of their house. The man looked perplexed to say the least, running through the 10 colours he knew existed beyond the 4 primary colours in his head, and drawing a blank when trying to figure out how a colour could be a temperature. You could see the woman lying in wait; ask me, I dare you her eyes were saying. He took the bait. “How can grey be warm or cold, it’s grey.” What ensued was a woman trying to explain the difference between taupe grey and sand grey, gunmetal and charcoal, cool and warm. She had the edge, she knew what she was on about, and unfortunately it was to no avail. “So...you want dark blue? Not grey?” Poor man.

Warm and cool colouring refers to tone, warmth meaning colours that look “warmer” and the opposite for cool. An easy way to think about warm colours is to imagine the sun and every colour that relates to the sun, sunshine, heat, warmth etc. And cool colours relate to the sea, ice, cold, cool, snow, rain etc. The basic breakdown of colours always in the warm and cool spectrums is below. Now take ‘always’ with a grain of salt. You can have cool yellows and warm greens - which is where people start getting confused.

Warm colours

Cool colours

Red

Blue
Orange

Violet

Yellow Green

We’ll use grey as an example - a warm grey will have undertones of red, orange or yellow. Cool greys have undertones of blue. See below.

Canningvale Pantone Colour

To be fair, the argument could be made that these are beiges and blues – however you could argue just as hard that these are all grey. When choosing colours for your home you have to decide if you want it to be cooler or warmer. If you’re completely overhauling the look and planning on re-painting as well as re-furbishing, you’re going to want to base your colours off the amount of light that enters you home.

If you have windows galore with the sun always beating into your home, a contemporary weather board look, you can stand to have cooler colours. Blue, navy, blue-grey, black even as an accent, because you’re getting a lot of warmth from natural light. Having darker and cooler colours won’t make your home darker but it will balance out the tone. I would caution adding lighter tones to an already light house, you may need to wear sun glasses indoors after a while.

In that same vein, if you’ve got a darker wooded or brick house (and you’re not Marilyn Manson), go for lighter toned accents and paints. Say the floors are a deep dark wood; you can put beiges, creams and lighter furniture everywhere.

Choosing colour of your space or picking your palette is very important as it can create a certain mood or atmosphere. Colour and tone can affect your mood and how you’re feeling. Warmer colours are often used together as they often blend really well together. Reds, bright pinks, oranges and yellows are often chosen to make a space seem cozy and warm and inviting. Whereas cooler tones and colours can make a space seem larger than it is, seemingly because the richness is exchanged for openness.

Does this mean you should have cosy completely red rooms and massive open blue rooms? Not necessarily. While tone is important, contrast is just as. This is where colour palettes become important, you can decide if you’re going for a warm or cool tone and then those colours can be the dominant ones, but you can add colouring of the opposite tone to contrast. See below as an example.

Canningvale Pantone Colours

If you’re lost with colour, the safest bet is to head towards neutrals like beige, grey, black and white. They can add balance without causing distraction and they can add contrast without over doing it.

You can try out cool and warm shades for yourself, without having to tear down a wall or crack out the painting overalls. Start small with cushions or a candle or blankets – something you can take away and change as your mood or the season changes. Soft textures often accompany soft colours which should take some of the guess work out for choosing the perfect piece.

Happy Decorating!

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