The first thing one notices upon entering a room: COLOR

Welcome to the second of a series of short articles about color: Learning about color, choosing colors, living with color, and color around the world. This month: The language of color and the color wheel.

Hue Another name or word for color. It also refers to the color family and its position on the color wheel: primary, secondary, tertiary.
Primary hues Pure red, yellow, and blue.
Secondary hues Combinations of two primary colors, to include orange, green, and violet.
Tertiary hues A combination of a primary and a secondary color, and are identified by the names of the colors used: yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, green-blue, yellow-green.
Value Refers to the degree of lightness or darkness of a hue or color – especially valuable in relation to surrounding colors.
Tint A color or hue that is mixed with white, creating a lighter version of the particular color.
Tone A color or hue that is mixed with gray, creating a duller version of the particular color.
Shade A color or hue that is mixed with black, creating a darker version of the particular color.
Chroma Another word for intensity, and refers to a color’s purity or saturation. The purer or less gray a color, the more intensity it has. Bright yellow and cherry red are high chroma or high intensity colors. Ochre and brick are low chroma or low intensity colors. Highly intense colors add energy to a room, while lower intensity colors can give a space a calming effect. Remember last month’s article mentioned that the larger the space, the more intense a color will be perceived. Small narrow rooms will intensify color; large open spaces can handle more saturated (or highly chromatic) color.
Undertones These are the underlying colors in a hue. With the exception of primary colors (red, yellow, blue), all other hues are a mix of colors. There are no undertones in a primary red because it is a pure color (or has high chroma), but the color berry is the hue red with blue undertones. Being able to discern undertones is important when creating a room décor, since pairing colors with clashing undertones can ruin the look of a room.

We perceive a color as warm or cool, and this is relative to a particular hue and its surrounding colors. All hues may be warm or cool (depending on the “mixture” of the value of the color – it could be either warm OR cool), but in general, yellows, oranges, and reds are warm. Blues, greens, and violets are cool colors. Warm colors are aggressive and seem to “advance” while cool colors “recede” into the background. Combining both warm and cool colors in a scheme intensifies the temperature of the respective colors.

WARM HUES Reds / Oranges / Yellows
Conveys a sensation of physical and emotional warmth.
Active and Stimulating colors.
Yellow is the warmest, and the color we see first.
More casual & less formal.
Advancing…seem nearer to us.
Warm light such as firelight gives us feelings of security, harmony and comfort.
When dominant in a scheme, the atmosphere tends to be more inviting, lively, cheerful and cozy.
People will be more outgoing and sociable around warm colors.
If used too much in intensity (pure hue or chroma), can cause tension & irritation (pure red= high blood pressure).

COOL HUES Blues / Greens / Violets
Conveys a sensation of physical and emotional coolness.
More formal, reserved and sophisticated.
Restful and quiet.
Blue is the coolest of the cools.
Green is the closest to the warm colors; easiest to go either way.
People tend to be more introverted and less active in dominantly cool environments.
Too much intensity for a prolonged amount of time can actually be depressing.

The color wheel is an orderly / circular arrangement of colors. There are 12 colors in a standard color wheel of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors (see above definitions). A basic color wheel includes high intensity (high chroma) pure, full strength colors (shown on the outside edge of the wheel). While you may not use these vibrant colors as they appear on the wheel for your color schemes in the home, the principles associated with this helpful tool will assist in ensuring you achieve the effect you want to create. Some color wheels will also give examples of the shades, tones and tints of the pure color, and may even have an example of a gray scale to show value changes.

The color wheel can help you in choosing a coordinated color scheme for a room or your home by visually illustrating various color harmonies. These are different hues which work well with one another (same as harmonious chords in music). They are intuitive and reflect color and reactions that are common regardless of society, time or place.

Achromatic A colorless scheme using blacks, whites and grays (a very cool versus a warm scheme). Quite popular at the moment, especially when one highly chromatic hue is used as an accent color!
Monochromatic Use any tints, shades or tones of a single color / hue to create a look that is elegant and sophisticated. Value is very important in monochromatic schemes. Beware of boring – use a variety or a wide range of tints and shades.
Analogous Uses consecutive (adjacent ) colors on the color wheel (blue, blue-green, green). You may use any shades, tint or tones of the hues, and a pleasing palette uses one of the colors more than the other two.
Complementary Includes the two colors (again, any shades, tints or tones) that are directly opposite each other on the wheel. Complementary colors enhance the temperature of each other, adding interest and energy to a décor. Red and green are America’s favorite color scheme (see varying shades, tints and tones in different areas around the country).
Split Complements Choosing one hue and using the color on each side of its complement on the color wheel.
Triad Color schemes that include any three hues equally spaced on the color wheel. The most popular is red, yellow and blue (primaries), of course in various shades, tints or tones! It is best to choose one hue as the dominant, another as a secondary, and the third as an accent color. Remember that the accent color can be of the highest chroma.
TETRAD Four hues approximately equidistant from one another on the color wheel (the most complex color scheme), they usually use two complementary schemes at the same time.
NEUTRALS All color schemes should have warm and cool neutrals in them (especially in the largest areas, the floors, walls and ceilings. Neutrals include cool and warm grays, browns and tans (neutralized reds and oranges), and creams, of-whites and beiges. Black and white are not technically hues, so they may also be categorized as neutrals.

Color affects your perception of:
SIZE of space – Bright, light, neutral and warm hues expand space making it appear larger. Cool hues contract space making a room appear smaller. Dark colors will appear heavier and smaller.
ORIENTATION of space – Are there architectural or structural features which should be accentuated or minimized? For example, don’t let a brick fireplace spoil a color scheme; take it into consideration by not painting the brick to match the wall – make the wall compatible with the brick. Room space can be divided by using different colors in conversation areas, or unified by using only one color.
LENGTH OF TIME and activity in a space – How long will you remain in the space…warm colors will make you overestimate time – cool colors underestimate time. Too much contrast of color proves distracting and fatiguing.
TEMPERATURE in space – Cool colors can make you feel colder, and warm colors can make you feel hotter. Use warm and/or dark colors in a cold climate, and cool and/or light colors in a warm climate.

Distribution of color
The largest surfaces in a room should use the most neutralized values (if you use highly saturated colors you will tire quickly of the scheme). Large pieces of furniture or rugs can have greater chromatic intensity. Create visual interest by applying the strongest chroma to the accent pieces.

Future topics of interest:
Starting points to designing with color
Color Trends
Color symbolism – White / Black / Yellow / Orange /Red /Violet /Blue /Green
Color Associations
Psychology / Therapy of color
Color and Art
Color around the world

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