As published in this months The Bath Magazine
As we’ve all been enjoying the rich colours and sunshine brought into our homes every Sunday night with the delicious locations in The Night Manager and The Durrell’s, maybe it’s time to bring some of that gorgeousness into our own homes?
Beware. Have you ever bought a shirt or dress on holiday, brought it home and it just looks wrong? There’s always a danger when buying with “holiday eyes” and it’s simply that the light on that Greek Island or wherever is different. Swimming pools (I know we don’t all have our own, but bear with me) in the UK need blue tiles to make the water look inviting. In the Mediterranean, white is the best background. The natural light imbues those beautiful Azure tones. It’s the same with any colour. Bill Bryson said that living in the UK was like living in a white Tupperware box. It’s true that there’s something in the air here and that something means we need to tread carefully when introducing colour.
For all the contemporary chic of white and pale grey interiors, I do love colour. I agree with the words set in stone in the entrance to a shop in Bath. “A man without colour in his life is like a day without the sun.”
Keeping in mind the light factor there are classics mistakes to avoid in the UK. This will sound a little mad, but look really closely. Avoid blues with too much green, avoid reds with too much blue, avoid yellows with too much blue. Basically avoid any colour with a hint that will make it look dull and listless on a grey day. Blues can look great as powder blue, soft and elegant, but there can’t be that green hue, or they will be depressing. They can be that rich mid electric blue, but navy always makes me think “Why?” It seems like a wasted opportunity to do something interesting. Thinking about how natural light changes the properties of a colour, always, always apply tests to large areas. I use large white boards, apply the colour and move it around the room and leave it there for a while just to glimpse out of the corner of the eye so I can decide how it makes me feel. I recently needed to choose a colour for a 5 floor residence that started in the basement and went up to an open plan double height atrium and all conditions in between. I went for a soft grey, but it was pure grey, no blue or green undertones and that was important. A colour you really love in one home may not suit another. It will be about the size of windows and the quality of light coming into a room. Returning from a trip abroad I was taken aback by the sudden green hues in the bathroom. Spring had sprung and the light filtering through the trees was having an amazing effect on the interior.
I would remind Bath residents that they would baulk at the original colours of their Georgian homes. Colours were acid bright. This meant that when viewed under candle light they were bright and impressive. Under our artificial light they might just turn Mr Darcy’s stomach. So think how you’re lighting a space when choosing colour. Be especially aware of the effect of the quality and direction of lighting and especially the minefield of LED’s and whether to choose cold or warm bulbs. Cold bulbs bring a harsh bluey white light that can change a colour completely and kill an interior. Warm bulbs also change the colour but is much kinder and more simpatico with our natural light. Similarly, the reflected light from the inside of a lampshade will have an effect. White is the most common but silver or gold lined shades can have a dramatic impact on the quality of light and therefore the colours in your room.
There are colours that shouldn’t work together such as pink, orange and red, but they look hot and delicious. I think if you’re going to use colour, be bold. Really go for it but try to keep to pure colours. Think about texture too. Bright orange with a sheen may look a bit yick, but choose a matt finish and it’s suddenly smart and trendy. There are some fabulous pure colour paints available. Valspar has a gorgeous hot citrus orange and delicious lime green. Be sparing though, a whole room might tip you over the edge. Feature walls might be passé to some, but can still really work, as can a simple background and bright accessories. This may be the best route as you can easily chop and change more easily.
There are endless books written on the subject of colour and colour therapy all waiving a colour wheel around. Some are valid and make good points but I believe that at the end of the day it’s a totally personal response. What is chic and elegant to one person is cold and sterile to another and one person’s cosy is another’s suffocating. I do have a theory about north facing dark rooms though and that is that trying to brighten them with lighter colours doesn’t necessarily work. Cold natural light will always be cold and light colours will just enhance the coldness. I often go with the flow and specify warmer colours to bring out what the space is about. There’s also perceived wisdom about which colours should be used in particular rooms. Apparently green or blue is a no no for dining rooms but I’ve seen it used to great effect and it hasn’t made the food look mouldy. It’s down to scale and lighting. In India, particularly in Jodhpur the houses are painted a fabulous bright blue because it’s believed to repel mosquitoes. I don’t know if this is true but in the searing Rajasthan sunshine it looks fabulous.
Obviously with Lord Bath, the King of Colour anything goes. When I asked him why he wanted red curtains it said it was because it contrasted with the parkland outside. He long hankered for returning the Great Hall at Longleat to a version of its former glory. Pigments were expensive so when it was build, it was brightly coloured. Lord Baths version is probably more correct than the dour Victorian space we see today.
So my advice to anyone hankering after a little (or a lot) of colour in their lives is to go for it! We are living in a time when the choice of paints, furniture and fabrics are fabulous. Be brave, be bold. I guarantee that a little splash of colour in your life will make you smile.