This article was written by Cynthia Peacock of Peacock Interior Design.

Welcome to the first of a series of short articles about color: Learning about color, choosing colors, living with color, and color around the world. Beginning with some basics:

The perception of color is a phenomenon of light – a form of energy with its own frequency and wave length. Shine a light through a prism and you’ll see it divide into the six color families – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. White light is the combination of all colors. We actually perceive color due to the pigments in a given object. A blue pillow appears blue to our eyes because the pigment in the pillow is absorbing all of the colors in the light except for the color blue, which is reflecting back to us.

Have you ever tried to match a color swatch to a fabric or carpet in a store, only to find what looks like a completely different color when you actually bring an item home? You’ve just experienced metamerism. Metamerism is the occurrence of colors seemingly changing when viewed in different light sources. Some colors are more prone to this phenomenon than others such as tan, taupe, grays, grayed-blues, mauve, lilac, and grayed yellow-greens such as celadon.

Direct sunlight. Considered the ideal light source, natural sunlight maintains a neutral balance between both the warm (yellow cast) and the cool (blue cast) ends of the spectrum. Northern light is the coolest, while light from a southern exposure is strongest.
Indirect sunlight. Natural sunlight is not consistent, it changes from sunrise, to high noon, to late afternoon and dusk (in fact, the hours between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm are considered to be the most stable / consistent hours of light). The intense golden rays and subsequent distinct shadows of a sunny, late afternoon have a profound effect on colors in a room.
Artificial light. A color rendition appears warm under incandescent and halogen lights, where reds and yellows are enhanced, and blues and greens are dulled. Under the cool cast of fluorescent lights, blues and greens are enhanced, while reds and yellows are muted.

Space also has an effect on how we perceive color. The larger the space, the more intense color will be perceived. A color that looks rich on a small fabric swatch can appear overwhelming when an entire sofa is covered in that same fabric. The same is true of a paint color chip when compared with the same color being applied to an entire wall. Small narrow rooms will intensify color; large open spaces can handle more saturated color.

The colors that surround a given color affect how we perceive that color. An off-white wall can appear pink when paired with a vibrant red carpet. Complementary colors (red & green for example) tend to enhance each other’s color quality. Two squares of the identical shade of gray will appear to differ from one another when one is placed against a white background and the other against a black background. Michel Eugene Chevreul (1786-1889), a French chemist, discovered that our perception of color was influenced by surrounding colors. Chevreul’s famous law: “Two adjacent colors, when seen by the eye, will appear as dissimilar as possible,” helps to explain why certain colors look more vibrant, or conversely, duller, when paired with other colors.

Cynthia Peacock is a professional Interior Designer (member of the American Society of Interior designers, ASID) and Principal of her own design firm, PEACOCK Interior Design, LLC. Cynthia has worked on a wide variety of outstanding projects (residences, offices, hotels, ships) in her 16 year career as an Interior Designer, and finds that color is the constant challenge, joy, and reward. If you are color-challenged, and need gentle guidance, Cynthia may be contacted