Stop Flirting & Commit : Rules of Engagement With Colour

You are sitting at home, feeling bored, tired of the same old thing. You have always done the right thing. You’ve played it safe. You been a good girl (or boy), but you want more. You need more. You know what you like, what you desire. It stares back at you from the pages of magazines. It flirts with you when you are out on the town or at a friend’s home, making your pulse race just a bit…it is out there beckoning you, but you are too afraid.

Colour. It is a simple word, but it can strike fear in many. You can see a dress or a sweater in a fantastic colour and it can set your heart a glow. You might purchase the dress and wear it with spirit and pride, but why is it you would never think to use such a glorious colour in your home? If the colour of an item of clothing can make you feel so uplifted, chances are it would do the same on a wall in your home.

Many people flirt with colour in their wardrobes but have a serious fear of commitment when it comes to using colour in their own home. As a result, many live in builder’s beige homes, secretly longing for more, but letting their fear rule their decisions. Fear that they will make a mistake, perhaps choose the wrong shade of red…well time has come to starting courting and enter an adult relationship with colour. Check your fear at the door and follow along. Here are some rules of engagement:


Repeat after me: ANYONE CAN PICK COLOURS. Yes, that’s right! Anyone can pick colours – for themselves at least. Yes there are people who seem to have a gift when it comes to colours, but anyone can learn about colour and how to use it.

The most important thing you have going for you is intimate access to your emotions. Everyone has an emotional response to colour. Do warm colours such as red make you feel cozy or agitated or even oppressed? How about cool colours? Does blue make you feel relaxed or leave you with a chill? We all know what we like and dislike. Picking colour is more about recognizing those responses and harnessing it with a bit of knowledge to make a decision, making it your own style and having the confidence to know that it is just as valid a choice as  something picked by a designer or decorator… that is unless you are colour blind.

Even if you hire someone to pick your colours, understanding your emotional response to colour would be extremely helpful in aiding your designer/decorator in his/her job. Let’s face it, if a designer picks a colour scheme in cool colours while not realizing that you find them to be chilly, you will not be comfortable in your newly decorated space. You will be left feeling cold and likely with a higher heating bill as well. Think of a designer as a match maker. If they are looking for the ‘right one’ for you, the more information you can give them about your likes and dislikes the more likely they are to make a good match.


Using colour effectively also requires an understanding of what a colour can do for you – or rather for a room. In order to understand this, you need to know a bit about warm and cool colours.

Warm colours are colours beside and including red, orange and yellow on the colour wheel.

Warm Colours

Cool colours are the colours beside and including blue and violet.

Cool Colours

So now you are asking what about Green. It is beside yellow on the colour wheel and also beside blue – so which is it? Warm or cold? Both actually! Mixing colours can adjust them and can make a colour cooler or warmer. Green mixed with more yellow becomes a warmer and more advancing colour. Mixed with more blue, green cools down and recedes. Purple is also another colour which can be warm or cold depending on how it is mixed or where it falls on the colour wheel. The more red there is in the purple, the warmer it is. The more blue there is in the mix, the cooler it is.

This is not to say that all colours are strictly defined as warm or cool. There is a gray area – yes, even gray, though traditionally thought of as a cool colour, has a warm side…but before your eyes completely glaze over and I’ve lost you for good let me stop here. There is much to be said about colour – like why yellow is not an easy colour to pick and why it is also not always a great idea for a nursery – but I don’t want to overwhelm you. My motivation here is to introduce you to the basics of colour theory in the hopes that some sparks may fly and you will start to date some exciting, new colours and leave the boring, safe neutrals behind.

Why do we care if colours are warm or cool? Warm colours advance in a space. Cool colours recede in a space. So what does this matter? Well knowing a bit about colours is useful when it comes time to pick paint for a room. Painting a small room in a cool colour can make it appear larger and painting a large space with a warm colour can make it feel cozy. Studies also show that the colour can vary ones perception of temperature in a room. For instance, an overly warm room can be made to feel 5% cooler by painting it a cool colour. Conversely, a chilly room can be made to feel warmer if painted in a warm colour.


One great thing about dating colour is that unlike real life relationships, if you are admiring your girlfriend’s new guy… er… colour, you can date him…I mean ‘it’… too. All is fair in love of colour. Simply ask her about her colour and she’ll be so pleased you like her taste that she’ll not only give you his name but his number too…Helloooo Tall, Dark, and Handsome, Benjamin Moore 2128-30.

Keeping it all in the family - tones, tints and shades.

Another great thing about dating colour is that this is not a monogamous relationship – you can date several colours at once. I must caution you though, in order that every colour you are dating remains comfortable with your arrangement you must date colours which get along. You may chose colours in varying shades or tints of the same colour – you know, keeping it all in the family, which is an easy way to match your mates. However, if you desire relationships with more diversity, try using 2 different colours in a harmonious colour scheme. Harmonious colours are colours which are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel. For instance, blue and green can get along beautifully creating a calm and serene environment, but to do this successfully you must know the rule about tones. Tone refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour. A successful harmonious colour combination will take this into consideration and use colours that are of the same tone. Using a pale powder blue with a darker and/or brighter green is not a good idea and is sure to cause a disturbance, albeit a visual one in your home.

Use a Colour Wheel to find Harmonious & Complimentary Colour Combinations

If you are feeling very daring, try using complimentary colours in your home. Complimentary colors are opposite each other on a colour wheel, for example blue and orange, red and green, purple and yellow. This combination can make a big impact but it you want to avoid assaulting your senses do not use these colours in equal amounts in your decor, but rather in thirds, two thirds one colour and one third the other.


So let’s say a colour has caught your eye and the attraction is serious enough that you are considering bringing it home with you. Well before you go crazy and make a full blown commitment to this colour by painting your entire room right away I would like to offer some advice. Slow down, take it easy and take the next logical step in your relationship. My Mother used to say, “You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, so why would you marry a man without doing the same…” While Mom was talking about romantic relationships I believe the same advice could be applied to your relationship with paint. There is nothing worse than realizing that what looked so good under the dim lights of the restaurant was not meant to be in your bedroom in the bright light of day. Before you marry the paint, test drive it on a large piece of foam core. Move it around the room testing all walls to see how it suits the room and you.

Trying the paint out on a foam core also has added benefits. Just as with any budding attraction, should you bring it home with you, you might be surprised how it looks like in a different light. Colours which look great on the colour chart under fluorescent lighting in the paint store will look much different at home in a sunny room or lit by incandescent lighting. Tungsten bulbs give a slightly yellow light; halogen gives white light, while some fluorescent bulbs can give flat, cold light. All these lights can all affect how the colour looks. Your best bet is full spectrum lighting, which mimics daylight, to show a colour at its’ best. A room’s exposure can also greatly affect a colour. In a room with a northern exposure, the daylight is a cool northern light, therefore, colors will look cooler and even a bit bluer than they would in a room with a southern exposure. My advice – Spend a bit of time together, date your colour before you decide to commit. It will need to be experienced in all lightning situations to see if it is worthy of a 24/7 commitment or if it’s just a one night stand.

There is no easier or less expensive way to change the look of a room than by changing the paint colour and just as a sassy red dress can spice up your wardrobe, colour, beautiful exciting colour, can breathe life into a room. So dump that builder’s beige and look for a new beau or three. Dating colour can be fun. Committing to it is even more rewarding and if after a year or two, you find your relationship with a particular paint is waning, simple move on to the next enticing colour. Neutrals were a safe place to start your relationship with colour but it is time to take a chance and make your heart sing. True love is only a paintbrush away…

Photos by Lyndsay Jenkinson

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15 Responses to Stop Flirting & Commit : Rules of Engagement With Colour

  1. I lived in apartments too long to not add color to my home would be a downright shame on me! Our 1st house (naive and novices) consisted of 8 paint colors on the walls – YIKES! Our 2nd home we cut that number in half to about 4 colors on the walls. I still remember a family member coming out of the guest bath saying crap brown for the crapper, but the rich, cuban brown grew on them during their stay! Thanks for sharing – great post!

  2. I didn’t date any colours before I moved into my condo. I took one look at that builder’s beige and put a call into the e-harmony of colour match-makers … my sister. With/in 5 minutes of being in my condo, she handed me names, numbers, and paint chips for 4 colours w/ whom I’m still having a loving relationship.
    My other sister hung all my art work. My point? I don’t profess to know decor or colour … I just know the right people.
    (Lyndsay … thanks for the colour consult! Jodie, thanks for hanging my artwork!)

  3. Nat says:

    This is great! I have a folder of things for “When I buy my own home” and I’ve just saved this! I always get grand ideas for color and it never works just so, and now I know why! Thanks!

  4. I love your writing Style Lyndsay! Your so sassy love that!! I still remember your post from last year about pink 🙂 lol! You have serious colour opinions girlie!! xo
    Cheers to keepin it real
    Happy new year!!

    • Thanks Jenn.I love that you love my sass! 😉 Wow the post from last winter – good memory Jenn. Yes I’m not shy with my opinions in that area – well heck most areas! Lol!
      Happy New Year Jenn xo

  5. indeed says:

    Greeting from Australia. I wish to leave positive comments only, righteous blog. Thanks.

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