Twenty years later I can appreciate my color theory professor

I was coordinating fabrics and the color of one looked completely different depending on what I put around it. It took me a minute but I recalled this is referred to as simultaneous contrast. It was one of the theories covered in Color Class, a mandatory course for Interior Design students. The theory is that one color can change how we perceive another color when the two are placed side by side.

The video above demonstrates the simultaneous contrast color theory. The color in the center remains the same the whole time but appears different at times depending on the colors surrounding it.

With that thought, a rush of memories from design school came flooding in. “Color” was supposed to be my “easy class” to balance out a second class I registered for, which had a reputation for being challenging.

Having previously studied Fine Art, why wouldn’t I have expected this Color class to be easy for me? I knew the color wheel, and how to mix colors, etc. This class was going to be a piece of cake.

The professor was new so my classmates and I had no idea what to expect. My first impression of him was young, handsome and charming. I remember thinking, I’m going to love this class!

Never Assume

About an hour into the first class, somewhere between going over the syllabus and discussing his grading rubric, the realization that the class was not what I assumed it to be, began to set in. In fact, it was going to kick my butt! Forget about having a life. I was going to eat, sleep and drink “color” for the next 12 weeks if was going to pass the class. It didn’t take long for the professor to be nicknamed “The Color Nazi”.

The assignments were challenging, but that was not what earned him his title. It was his “my way or the highway” attitude mixed with the level of perfectionism that he expected of us. My classmates and I were terrified to get our assignments back because the rubric would be all marked up with comments such as; pencil smudge minus 5 points, excess rubber cement minus 10 points, imperfect edges on the mat (cut with an Exacto knife) to frame our assignment minus 15 points. He was brutal. Back then I thought he was too picky with unrealistic standards.

Life Lessons

Twenty years later, I realize I learned much more than Color Theory from that course. I also learned discipline, attention to detail, never to assume and not to judge a book by its cover.

Interior Design and Color

Those are valuable life lessons, but as far as design goes, remember when you are selecting items for a room, view your selections together. They may appear differently as part of a group than they do when they are viewed alone, just as the fabrics I was working with did.

If you would like to learn more about Simultaneous Contrast and other color theories, 7 color contrast by Johannes Itten is a great resource. I hope you were able to read last week’s post The Interior Designer/Client relationship and how to make sure it’s awesome. If you are enjoying my posts, please subscribe.

White brick wall

Why Is Picking A White Paint So Tricky?

beautiful kitchen with white paint on cabinets
Beautiful kitchen and use of the color white

Why Is Picking A White Paint So Tricky? Maybe because there are so many white paint colors to choose from. Did you know that Benjamin Moore & Co has 372 colors with white in its name? Of course, I knew that there are many different white paint colors. However, until a client was trying to remember a “white” she had in her old home, I had never checked to see how many.  It is no wonder why picking a white paint is not an easy task for most people.

I stood there at the consultation with my paint deck asking, “was it cloud white, white Christmas, oxford white” until she said, “I don’t remember and they all are looking so similar.” 

white paint on brick wall in room.

With there being 372 whites, it is no wonder picking a white paint color is so difficult for many people. White paint is not just white. More importantly, you can make a mistake by picking the wrong white.

Understanding Color

It is helpful to understand some color theory basics to explain the difference between the many different white paints available. This will also help you when picking colors for your home.

fan deck showing colors of paint to pick from

Warm and Cool Colors

First, all colors can be categorized as either warm or cool. Warm colors have an underlying color of either orange, red or yellow. Warm colors advance towards you. This means they can make large rooms seem smaller. Logically, this tells us that warm colors can help us create cozy rooms. On the other hand, cool colors have an underlying color of either blue, green or purple in them. Cool colors are known to recede. Painting a small room in a cool color can make a small room seem larger. Additionally, using a cool color on a ceiling can make the ceiling seem higher. Cool colors can help create a feeling of calmness and tranquility in a room.  

When critically looking at a color, you will see its underlying color. This is sometimes called an undertone. If this is a new concept to you, the best way to discover this is with the color white. Many people think white is white. As I said above, it is never just white.

living room showing white paint on walls with warm colored accents
Cool white walls with warm accents

Some are warm whites, and some are cool whites. Looking at each white separately, it may appear to just be white. When you compare them to each other, you will be able to identify their underlying tones. Some have cool underlying colors like blue or purple. Others have warm underlying colors such as yellow or red. 

These are the nuances that can cause you to pick a color that ends up not being what you thought once you put it on your walls. If something is not quite right, it is probably the underlying color that needs to be tweaked.

Don’t make this white paint mistake

A client of mine painted her walls off white to create a monochromatic look with her off-white pickled oak cabinets. Sounds simple enough—what can go wrong? The “off-white” cabinets had a pink undertone to them. The “off-white” paint she chose had a yellow undertone to it. Guess what? They clashed! She could not figure out what she was unhappy about until she called me in to help.

A blue undertone would have brought coolness and balance to the room. A red undertone would have continued the warm cozy feeling the cabinets had. Any other undertone then the yellow one she picked would have been a better choice.

living room showing white painted walls with warm colored accents
Warm white walls

When you pick a paint color, blue, pink., white or any other color, be aware of whether it is a warm or cool color. Next, know it’s underlying color tone to make sure you selected a color that will work in your home.

If you are starting a decorating project and need to pick paint colors, you may find Decorating with Colors Inspired by Nature helpful. Another great resource is Personality Types and Colors. If you need to plaster your walls before you paint is another great resource for information.

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