Lighting and Colour when Decorating a Home

Lighting and colour for interior decor

Artificial or natural light will affect the appearance and final look of any freshly painted home. Take a can of paint, and paint two rooms with it – one that gets ample sunshine and another one that doesn’t.

If you use a warm red or yellow paint in a room that has a north-facing window, it will look brighter and help with the bluish hue of a lighting source. But use the same paint in a room with a west-side window, and prepared to be blinded with the vividness of the colour, especially in the afternoon.

Colour is affected by light – be it candlelight, daylight or artificial light. Any of these can affect the way a certain colour appears or is perceived. Before you choose a colour for your home, it is important that you take into account both the presence and absence of light.

When planning an interior renovation project, a designer might take into account additional factors such as cost and energy efficiency. A colour specialist will have other questions:

  • How is lighting going to be used in the space?
  • Is it possible to use natural light to accentuate necessary decorating elements?
  • Can colour be used to brighten up a room without changing any lighting?
  • Will painting a large area (e.g. a ceiling) help solve other lighting issues?
  • How can colour be used to transform an otherwise boring room into the most popular space for your guests and family?
Strategic lighting makes paint pop

The main thing to remember is that light by itself is not visible. It helps us see things differently especially when it comes to painting our home. In the last few years, our painters must have painted hundreds of rooms in Benjamin Moore’s “Chantilly Lace”. This is a stark white that can instantly brighten up a space.

Can we count on natural sunlight to be consistent? Depending on the time of the day, whether it is early morning, noon or dusk, the intensity of light changes and this affects the painted colour. For example, an east-facing bedroom will be bathed in sunlight, early in the morning. But the same bedroom will look so different at night or in artificial lighting. Similarly, a west-facing bedroom will have shadows and look dull in the morning but have a nice glow in the evenings.

The morning sunlight starts warm and gives out a yellowish cast to the spaces it reflects upon. As the day progresses, the sunlight gets a cooler, blueish tone. An interesting contradiction is that colour with the hottest temperature (in kelvin units) is actually blue, otherwise considered a cool tone! In the middle of the day, areas that receive direct exposure to sunlight can appear washed out. Once the sun sets, the natural light again becomes warm and gives the room a reddish glow. Farrow & Ball describes this very well in their blog.

Artificial Lighting and How it Affects Colour

In addition to sunlight, in commercial and residential spaces, artificial lighting is also used to either replace natural light or supplement it. Artificial light also has a major role to play in how a colour looks to the human eye. Let us take a look at some artificial light sources and their impact on colour.

  • LEDs: Go with most paint colours and are a lot more flexible than the other bulbs
  • Halogen bulbs: Great for making white light look like sunlight and for imparting a bright look
  • Incandescent bulbs:  These bulbs generate a yellow light that plays down cool shades and highlights warm colours
  • Fluorescent bulbs: Good for toning down warm colours and emit a cool blue light that works perfectly with greens and blues
  • “Soft white” fluorescent bulbs: They help in fading out colours and are good for imitating the warmth of incandescent bulbs
  • Full-spectrum fluorescents: Considerably expensive but the only artificial light source that closely resemble natural sunlight
Artificial and natural light in grand room

Artificial lighting can be used in conjunction with natural light or on its own. Before you pick a colour for a room that is going to be lit artificially, it is important to see whether there is a match between the source of the lighting and the actual paint colour. So, if you have a room with incandescent bulbs and want it painted blue, you will need to work closely with your painter or colour consultant to decide which shade would work best. A blue with a hint of red (in accessories) will work best.  

What about the Light Fixtures?

Apart from the source, the type of light fixtures used can also affect the colour since it is the fixture that will decide how the light will be dispersed.

  • Sconces: These fixtures generate light by directing it towards ceilings or walls.
  • Shades: A beautiful addition to any living space, lampshades will affect the brightness and colour of the bulb they cover. If the lampshade is warmer, it will give out a similar glow to the other colours in the room. If it is white or ivory, the light will be the brightest.
  • Parabolic lights: They direct light down from the ceiling and this can brighten up floors and work surfaces. However, parabolic lights can make top walls and ceilings to appear dark.  This provides a lot of light on work surfaces and floors, but can cause ceilings and the top edges of walls to appear dark in comparison.

Depending on the type of atmosphere and mood you want to create, artificial lights can be used to their advantage. For airy and bright surroundings, use bright white light bulbs or halogens. To achieve a cozy and warm look that goes well with darker colours, opt for amber coloured accent lights or even light pink bulbs.

Light fixtures are bedside lamps in this room

How the sheen and tinting influence light

The inherent qualities of paints will also affect the colour perception. The amount of light that a paint reflects should also help you in choosing the right colour for certain spaces. This decision becomes a little more challenging when you are picking a colour for a room that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. Paints with lighter tints have greater light reflecting values than those with dark tones. Additionally, the gloss level is another factor to consider. The greater the glossy nature of the paint, the more light will be reflected. If you have a surface painted with a high gloss paint, the light will bounce off as opposed to one that has a matte finish. Glossy paint will highlight the colour, matte paint will mute it.

Try and test colour before you commit. Once you have selected some colours, it’s a good idea to buy a small can of each and paint “test patches” on a few walls. Check these colours during different times of the day and decide on the colour that is the closest match with your preferences and the lighting requirements of the space. While painting samples is something a diyer can do well, there is some skill involved in that process. In this blog we discuss how to get the right colour by painting samples at home.  

To engage the services of a Colour Consultant in the greater Toronto area book a consultation with Ecopainting and we will connect you to a certified expert.

This blog was updated on 24/06/2017

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