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A green cabinet and decorative objects.

How interior designers use colour

We asked interior designer Natalie Barker of Nüba Interiors to tell us how she approaches the use of colour on behalf of her residential and commercial clients.

Natalie Barker of Nüba Interiors

Choosing Colour for Other People

Deciding on a colour palette for a client’s home should be carefully considered. On average, we decorate our homes once every 8 to 10 years so if I’m going to suggest a client lives with a colour palette for the next decade, I want to be sure I’m making the right decisions for them.

I normally start by putting together two or three different mood boards showcasing colour and texture options; this allows the client to compare different looks and make an informed decision. If the client immediately falls in love with a colour palette, I’ll ask them to consider it over the next week or so, that way they can be sure that they are happy to commit to the colours for the foreseeable future.

Deciding on Colours

I like to take a measured and systematic approach to building colour palettes; it always helps to have an idea of how the space will be used, how it will be furnished and if there are any existing furnishings that need to be considered. If possible I’ll gather samples of existing finishes. This helps to understand the colours and textures that the colour scheme needs to complement.

I start to build a colour palette by overlaying fabric and paint samples for key furniture items such as the sofa, arm chairs and window treatments, followed by hard surfaces such as tiling, cased goods and worktops. Once I have an idea of the main colours I’d like to use, I can then address the base scheme for the walls, woodwork and architectural detailing. The base scheme should always be dictated by the accent colours: if you are using warm accent colours then its best pair these with a warm neutral base palette.

This is quite a frenzied process and it can take a few days to reach the perfect colour and texture combination. I find traditional paint charts rather restrictive so I cut them up in to loose chips to test how the colours really sit together. Once I have a paint palette in mind, it’s always helpful to purchase sample pots and create larger samples by painting A5 sized card. Then I can take the cards to site and test the paint colours in different lights or at different times of day. The impact of colour can intensify when applied to multiple surfaces, so sometimes I’ll paint the inside of a box in order to test this effect under the light conditions on site.

Where to Apply Colour

Where you apply colour will influence the effect it has on a room. For example, using a bold colour in a concentrated area will draw your eye and create a focal point. Therefore it is important to consider the most appropriate area and application. If a client asks for pink to be a key feature within the room, I carefully consider the best way to introduce this; such a strong colour might not work well on the walls of a small room but it might be perfect if used in plush velvet to upholster a sofa or armchair.

A pink sofa against a neutral background

To achieve a more subtle effect, distributing accent colour sparingly but evenly throughout a space is an effective strategy. Colour shouldn’t be restricted to walls – it can be used to punctuate a space using artwork, upholstery and of course decorative accessories such as throws, scatter cushions and objets d’art. Repeating pops of colour throughout a room helps to give the scheme balance and add points of interest without becoming overwhelming.

Alternatively, you might want to be bold and use colour to draw attention. It’s a great way to highlight architectural details such as alcoves, built-in cabinetry or even staircases.

Emerald green paint used on the lower half of the walls of a room

Always bear in mind that fashion is fickle. Only indulge trends in the understanding that you might be introducing an element that will look terribly dated in the not-distant future. Rose gold or copper might be the metal finish of the moment but don’t apply this finish to your key investment pieces unless they could be re-finished when fashion moves on. It is best to follow fashion with items that can be swapped over time such as scatter cushions, table lamps and rugs. If you tire of a pattern or colour, it’s much easier to refresh the scheme if you only have to replace the peripheral decorations.

The most striking trends are often seen in commercial application – we have all been seduced by the use of a bold colour or finish in a hotel bedroom or restaurant, transitional spaces where we spend limited time. Always consider how you might feel about strong colour statements if you have to live with them permanently. Interior designers often make the boldest colour recommendations in the transitional spaces of the home such as the entrance hall or cloakroom.

Commercial Colour

I take a slightly different approach to colour when working with commercial interiors. Colour can be used to reinforce brand, business ethos and corporate values. A calm and sophisticated palette of neutral colours might work really well in a hotel lobby or reception; but a contemporary inner-city advertising agency is more likely to request a punchier proposal to reflect their brand and creativity to potential clientele.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Power of Colour

KLC School of Design