Interior Style

10 ways to become colour confident

Keen to get colour confident? Read on for the answers to your 10 most burning questions, plus on-trend ways to update with colour

Colour is like a secret language, speaking to us on a subconscious level. “Colour is the first thing anyone will remember about a space. It shapes spaces and adds more emotion than any other physical object,” explains interior designer Vanessa Webb of Dress My Nest.

Yet, many of us consider colour too complicated to introduce into our homes, holding back from even our favourite hues. If all-white interiors make your heart sing, you do you.

But if fear of stuffing up is the only thing holding you back from exploring colour, read on for insider tips on embracing the rainbow.

1 What’s the most important thing to consider when choosing colours?

“Colour theory is a massive part of choosing the right colours for your project and what you choose has a big effect on how spaces make you feel,” says interior designer Nicola Ross. Colour theory is a complicated science, but the most important element is colour psychology. Essentially, hot colours like red and orange are energising, cool colours like blues and greens are calming, and earthy tones like brown and terracotta convey comfort, which explains why brown-toned neutrals gain traction in troubled times.

Remember, the colours you use will also be affected by light levels, adjacent spaces and existing elements, says Resene marketing manager Karen Warman. “Joinery, carpet and furniture will all
have an impact on the paint colours you choose,” she says.

2 Is it best to stick to a simple palette of colours for the entire house or is it okay to use different colours?

Yes, to both. “Consistency is important to ensure a space feels cohesive, but it’s also important for different areas to have their own character,” says Vanessa. “Colour can be used to define spaces, for example, a media area within a larger open-plan living space.” To keep consistency, pick a handful of colours and use them in varying quantities – for example, a vivid cobalt on the walls in one room but used as an accent in adjoining spaces. If you decide to use the same colour throughout, Karen says, “Lighting has a major impact on how your colour looks, so it’s often best to use different strengths in rooms on different sides of the house to compensate for the natural lighting.”

3 What’s the quickest way to add colour?

Accessorise. Paint is also an easy and effective way to transform a room, but if you’re looking for a change you can make in an hour, consider styling accessories. “If I want to keep a colour scheme really versatile, I will add colour through the cushions and smaller accessories as these can be changed with the seasons to transform the space,” says Vanessa. This is a really fun way to experiment with colour to suit your mood or the season – for example, you could swap out moody hues for cushions and throws in brights or pastels to signal the arrival of spring.

4 How do you wean yourself off white paint?

White is seen as the safest colour choice, but if you’re wanting to walk on the wild side, at least dip your toe into more colourful waters. “Think about the way you want a room to feel, then start small,” says Nicola. “Bedrooms and media rooms can be more immersive with a stronger colour – rooms you don’t spend as much time in can be great areas to be more adventurous, as
you won’t tire as easily of bolder schemes.” Of course, white is still a valid choice. “It may be that you like the freshness of white, and if you do, make sure to pair it with lots of texture to keep it feeling cosy.”

5 Is there an abiding rule for getting colour right every time?

There are myriad rules in the colour canon – and just as many exceptions to them. But Vanessa suggests this simple guideline for rookie players: “Stick to a similar depth of colour – a combination of darker tones will feel moody and more dramatic, whereas lighter tones will feel relaxed and more delicate. Mixing the two is much harder and adds a lot more energy to the scheme, but needs to be carefully considered.”

6 No-fail colour combos?

Leaf through an interiors magazine or Pinterest board and certain colour schemes will appear over and over again, because they just work. “White, green and wood is a timeless favourite, and classic navy and white will never date,” says Nicola. The former is calm, soothing and evocative of nature, while the latter speaks of sophistication, steadiness and security.

7 What about colour combinations that really shouldn’t go together?

Blue and green should never be seen, so goes the adage. Red and green, and blue and yellow are also considered forbidden pairings, but there are always exceptions to these colour commandments. “There are colours that clash, such as blue and yellow, but if you choose the right tint or shade of the colour they can work in harmony. For example, a dark navy paired with a rich mustard,” says Vanessa.

8 Accent walls or are they old hat?

The accent wall or ‘statement wall’ isn’t ready for retirement yet, but it has evolved. “We are seeing the accent wall move to areas like the ceiling or floor instead, or extending to be an accent colour that covers all walls,” says Karen, who suggests that an accent wall in paint or wallpaper is a low-commitment way to enliven a space and build your colour confidence. An accent wall can be more subtle still, says Nicola. “We are seeing a lot more textural elements like rendered walls and wood linings now.”

9 Is it possible to use a lot of bold colour in a house without overwhelming it?

As in all things, it’s about balance. “The key is making sure your whole home palette works together. Think about what other areas are visible from the room you are in and make sure the colours that can be seen work together. Choose a unifying neutral shade – perhaps on the ceiling and trim and joinery, which will be consistent throughout, then vary the feature colours to suit the space,” says Karen. Be guided in your choice of bold hues by factors such as how long you will spend in the room, whether you want to feel calmed or energised, and whether you will use the room most in the day or at night – these factors will determine whether your colour combos feel overwhelming or inspired.

10 How can you add colour to a predominantly white interior?

A white interior is a blank canvas and anything you add to it will have enormous impact, which means you can start small – with soft furnishings and a handful of accessories – and they will instantly become the stars of the show. Nicola suggests starting with objects you love, creating little pops of colour with displays of treasured items. “This is an easy way to bring warmth and add your vibe to a space,” she says.

Consider also, colour can be zingy or more subtle, and layering neutrals can bring a pale scheme to life, too, says Vanessa. “Neutral colours are a great way to add to a white interior and make it feel more relaxed and luxurious, whereas bold bright colours will add energy and vibrancy.”

Incoming colour trends

1 Hero colour

Hot colours are coming back and Pantone’s colour of the year for 2023 is Viva Magenta, a dauntless crimson, and reds such are Resene Amped are nudging their way into homes and hearts. At the cooler end of the spectrum, Karen says blue is a trending colour that never really goes out of style. “Resene Epic is a blue that is very on-trend and immensely useable, either for a colour-drenching approach or teamed with a favourite neutral. It can be warmed up with a creamier neutral such as Resene Creme De La Creme or cooled down with
a cooler neutral,” she says.

2 Light shades

Lighting designers are harnessing the power of colour to turn lights into eye-catching works of art. Coloured glass pendants make a stunning statement – but they’re only the beginning. Look out for coloured rattan shades, powder-coated steel, and even burnt steel, which takes on a rainbow patina.

3 Tonal effects

For a more layered and luxurious look, designers are seeking greater complexity in their colour schemes, using a spectrum of neutrals instead of just one. Laura Lynn Johnston, Resene colour expert, describes this tone-on-tone look: “We’re seeing not only more different strengths of some neutrals being used together within one palette, but also multiple different neutral colour cards being combined together for a variegated tonal effect,” she says, describing it as akin to getting your hair professionally dyed. “A professional colourist gets you that ‘million-dollar blonde’ look by using five or even 10 different coloured dyes throughout your mane to create the richness and complexity we see on Hollywood stars.”

4 Feature wall 2.0

Instead of a feature wall, create a feature fireplace with a wash of vivid colour, paint an alcove in a contrasting hue, or use bold curtains to create a wall of textural colour. Use adjoining spaces too – a bold shade in the hallway or secondary living space, framed by a doorway adds a hit of colour to the main room.

5 Colour blocking

Contrasting blocks of solid colour have been making bold waves on the catwalk for some time. Paint is one way of getting this look, but the latest interiors use furniture to make a statement. Instead of a dull oatmeal-coloured sofa, opt for emerald green, navy blue – even hot pink. Then choose a contrasting, but complementary, hue for other soft furnishings, or a painted cabinet or side table.

Words by: Shelley Tustin

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