Give your home a facelift

Nature changes colour every season, so it shouldn’t surprise us that we’re itching for some change in our indoor environments too. While major renovations and redecorating may not be on the agenda this year, a coat of paint is a comparatively quick and inexpensive way to give a room a whole new look.

However, choosing a colour is never quite as easy as we think. If you’re looking to make a change — whether it’s big or small — we’ve got some colour tips to build your colour confidence.

Set the mood

Whether we’re aware of it or not, colour is wrapped up in symbolism and psychology and does affect our moods and energy. Here’s the scoop on your favourite colours:

Red: It’s one of the most stimulating colours, but there are two sides to it. It’s energetic, lively and passionate — but also represents danger and aggression. Harness its energy by using it in sociable spaces like the dining room, but avoid using it in areas of the home you turn to for relaxation.

Pink, though technically a tint of red, is instead a restful colour often associated with nurturing and love. Pastel pinks have a calming affect, while “hot” pinks offer the energy and passion of red (though perhaps without the violent undertones). A word of warning: because of its strong ties to femininity, it’s not a favourite among all family members, and runs the risk of being too sugary sweet.

Orange is associated with stability and warmth, and it’s a nice midway colour between fiery red and energetic yellow. It’s linked to physical comfort, fun and food (like the citrus fruit that shares its name). It’s hard to take orange too seriously, and it’s often linked to immaturity and frivolity.

Yellow: It’s stimulating because we can’t help but think of sunshine and energy. It’s also thought to inspire confidence, optimism and friendliness. It may not be the best colour for the bedroom, but it works well in rooms with lots of natural light. Too much of it in the wrong yellow can inspire anxiety and fear — giving rise to phrases like “yellow belly” or “yellow streak”.

Green: Forget envy, this colour also has a refreshing and balancing effect. We associate it with all things outdoors — like the environment and nature. Consider: we’re drawn to lush greenery, and nature manages to pair greens with a variety of colours. Beware: too much green can become a little bland.

Blue: is also a soothing and restful colour, and we tend to associate it with intellect and reflection. It’s serene and calm, but can also be chilly and imply aloofness.

Purple/Violet: is often associated with creativity, fertility, joy and sex — making it a possibility for the bedroom. While darker and intense shades can be overpowering, lighter choices like lilac are associated with spirituality. They can turn a bathroom or bedroom into a peaceful haven if you choose wisely.

With browns and beiges, form follows function: they’re associated with practicality and stability thanks to their earthy tones. They’re great neutrals, but will need a pick-me-up or layered look for sophistication.

White is known for purity and cleanliness, but take it too far and it can make your space sterile and cold.

And unless you’re painting a home theatre room or dark room, be careful with black . While it implies sophistication and glamour in our clothing or cars, it’s negative connotations tend to come out when it’s used as a wall colour. In many cultures, it’s associated with death, depression and oppression. Reserve black for use as an accent and pairing it with other colours.

Greys are considered neutral, but like grey skies, grey rooms can imply dampness, depression and lack of energy. (But don’t forget that silver and grey can be used as accents).

Know your colour vocabulary

Don’t wait until you’ve painted the entire room to discover that something is “off”. Recognizing a few simple concepts can help avoid those dreaded paint mistakes:

When you’re talking colour, value refers to the amount of light or dark. Think of it in terms of a dimmer switch — “high value” means lots of light and therefore a lighter colour (known as a “tint”), “low value” means a darker shade. Sometimes it’s hard to see the contrast when two colours are similar in value, but in large swathes of colour it will make a big difference.

Intensity or saturation are words that describe how “dull” or “bright” a colour is (i.e. how much grey is in the colour). Low value makes for less intense colours, but it’s possible to have high value colours that are less intense (like a light grey-blue or mossy green).

Why pay attention to intensity? Less intense colours will seem further away, like that misty grey effect you see on the horizon. Besides, colours aren’t independent entities — they look different depending on what’s sitting next to them (or “juxtaposed”). That clear blue may look great in the store, but it might make your less intense curtains look dirty and dingy (even if they’re brand new).

Tone is a word that often gets over-used, but in artistic terms it refers to the effect that happens when two colours are mixed. For example, green can have blue or yellow undertones, depending on proportions of the pigment used to blend the colour. Even blue and red (which are primary colours) can have different undertones. A red with orange undertones will be warmer than a red with blue undertones. Juxtapose them and they’ll be warmer and cooler than they would on their own.

When choosing a colour, you may want to pick up on tones that area already in your home, like wooden furniture and flooring.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to working with these principles — you can play with them to get a variety of affects. Once you’re aware of the concepts, you can identify why something is or isn’t “working” — and have a better idea how to remedy the situation.

(Click here for a complete list of colour terminology ).

Play with space

You can’t change the physical space without some serious work, but a new colour can change your point of view. Here’s how to trick your eyes:

Make the room seem bigger: In general, lighter colours like pastels are recommended to give the illusion of space. To take this one step further, pick hues like green, blue and purple — these cool colours give the impression of receding into space rather than coming forward. Less intense colours will “fade into the background” more than saturated colours.

Also, look up and down when choosing your tones. Walls that are lighter than the floors will make the room seem bigger, and light ceilings create a sense of height. Painting all surfaces the same colour will also help the room appear larger, and any big furniture you have in the room won’t seem so huge if it’s close to the colour of the walls.

Make the room more intimate: Small isn’t always a bad thing. Create a cozy atmosphere by doing the opposite of the guidelines previously mentioned. Dark colours will make a room seem smaller, as will warm and intense colours (which appear to come forward rather then recede). In addition, a warm coloured ceiling will seem lower, but watch out: a dark ceiling and dark colours close to the ceiling may make it feel like the room is closing in on you.

Sample before you commit

Those little paint chip samples you get at the store are helpful to some extent — but they may not provide a big enough surface area to give you a sense of the colour. If you’re considering a big change, you may want to invest in a tester pot of paint first. Try it on the walls and ask yourself:

Does the colour look good in different lighting conditions? Sure, the colour looks great in the daylight, but artificial lighting may be another story. Take a look at the swatch at different times of day using the light sources you normally have in the room.

Does the colour work well in different areas? You’re painting the whole room, not just a small patch on the wall. Does it serve as a good backdrop for your furniture? Does it work well with others — like your carpet, hardwood floors and adjacent wall colours?

If you’re not keen on turning your walls into a rainbow, try this suggestion from BBC Homes: try the colour on paintable wall paper instead of your walls. You won’t have to worry about painting over the colours, and you can easily move the swatches around the room to see how they look.

One last word of advice before you start: Ask yourself one question: Am I painting for myself or for someone else? If you plan to stay in your home for a while, you’ll have more freedom to experiment with colour and express your individuality. However, if you’re looking to sell remember that your prospective buyer will be carefully evaluating the space in the home, and how much work they’ll have to do to fix it up. Light, neutral colours will increase the sense of space and give your home a “move in ready” feel.

Colour is a personal choice, and everyone experiences it differently and has their own preferences. Whether you’re looking to liven up a tired room and try something completely different, keep these tips in mind and hit the paint store with colour confidence.

Sources: BBC Homes Design: Colour, Color Psychology , Laurentide Paint: Theory of Colour.