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Match the right colour with the right light in your new home

31 October 2016

Colour is one of the most dramatic and cost-effective design tools available to new homeowners, but it can also be one of the most difficult to master. Before picking up a paint brush it’s important to remember the quality and intensity of light has a major impact on the way we perceive colour.

Many surfaces or materials have a tendency to reflect colours differently under natural and artificial light. This can often occur when selecting a paint colour to match a fabric in store only to find that the colour is totally different when painted on a wall in your new home.

The same applies when placing different colours side-by-side under a particular light source. Colours will naturally interact with one another by inducing opposite hues and tones in neighbouring colours, impacting our ability to see each individual colour in its true form.

For new homeowners, this can be particularly troublesome when choosing to test colours using sample pots. The best way to get an accurate representation of a colour is to paint your selected colour sample onto a large swatch card with a generous white or black border, which will help minimise the effects of other colours in the room. It’s not fool proof however. A white border will make a colour appear darker, while a black border will make it seem lighter.

Colour can also reflect onto an adjacent surface. This is most common with lighter colour schemes and generally, occurs on:

  • exterior colours, such as the greenery of a garden reflecting onto a neutral exterior wall, or a neighbour’s roof (black, orange or grey) reflecting onto white interior walls,
  • gloss surfaces which are more reflective than matte surfaces,
  • in the corners of rooms and where walls join the ceiling.

To help unravel the mystery of light and its effects on colour, the team at Generation Homes recently completed a full-day Colour Essentials Workshop with Dulux New Zealand to help homeowners find the right colour solutions inside and out. Here are some helpful tips to think about when looking at colours under different light sources.

Bright, sparkling white artificial light (left) tends to render colours cleanly and clearly. While warm, yellow light (right) will make warm colours (red, yellow and orange) look more true and vivid. Warm light can also make white walls look yellow.

Natural light

We all know the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but the quality and intensity of light from each direction varies considerably.

  • Eastern light is strongest in the early morning and tends to have a warm, yellow cast to it. The warmth is most intense at sunrise and slowly fades toward midday.
  • Northern light is the strongest light and lasts for most of the day. It emits a neutral to cool light.
  • Southern light is a diffusing light and has a cool, blue-grey tinge to it.
  • Western light is only intense in the late afternoon and is a warm, orange-red colour.

Natural light impacts our perception of colour in the following ways:

  • warm light renders warm colours (red, yellow and orange) better making them look more true and vivid,
  • cool light renders cool colours (green, blue and purples) better,
  • neutral northern daylight renders colours most true.

It’s important to consider the effect of natural light when selecting your property’s colour scheme, particularly before you start painting that dynamic feature wall you’ve always dreamed about. Light is much more intense outside than inside, and it’s up to 30 percent stronger, meaning colours will look darker when viewing them inside versus outside.

Artificial light

Similarly to natural light artificial light has different qualities which vary greatly depending on the type of globe used.

  • Incandescent light globes emit a warm, yellow light similar to that of candlelight.
  • Fluorescent lights are the opposite of incandescent, giving off a cool, blue light. This is similar to natural light from the south however you can order warm fluorescent globes.
  • Halogen lights impart a bright, sparkling white colour that renders cleanly and clearly.
  • LEDs are a great energy-efficient lighting option in new homes and are available in both cool and warm white light.

In new homes, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to change a lightbulb to improve the quality of light and alter your perception of colour. However, when selecting a colour scheme for your new home, we always recommend viewing each colour in the same conditions as the room or outdoor area in which it is to be applied.