Thursday, December 6, 2007

AT: About Complementary Colour Schemes and Light and Dark...

Complemetary prairie-scape:

Poor cqindc. She wants to re-cover her couch. I want to re-do my living room which may or may not involve getting the couch slip covered. So, I've been thinking about colour schemes again and I tried to quickly dash off a few thoughts in the comments section. That's what I mean by "poor." I'm sure my attempt at explaining was torturous. So, I'm going to try and be more coherent here.

Complementary Colour Schemes.
These use two colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel. Red and Green, Yellow and Violet, Blue and Orange. Here's one in Red and Green:

I told cqindc that for the room to work, you need to either 1) vary the two colours in tone, ie, one dark, one light or, 2) if they're the same intensity, they need to be slightly off, like a raspberry and green, or a lime green with red. This is an example of (1).

The second thing I mentioned was that one of the colours should dominate, the other should play a secondary role. A dark, bright, warm or shiny colour will always stand out--so you actually need less of it than the pale, light, cool and matte. Or, to put it the other way, you need a LOT of pale, light, cool and matte to balance dark, warm, shiny and bright.

Though Maxwell's 80/20 rule is applied to neutrals (80) and colour (20) I think the "formula" can be expanded this way: 80% pale, light, cool and matte, 20% warm, bright, dark and shiny. (And you can start mixing things up, too, when you look at it this way. Something large, shiny and pale green could be balanced with something small, dark and red as long as there's lots of other things matte as well (like the walls). But I digress.)

Note the white at the top of the walls. It helps lift your eye so it doesn't just stop dead at the red. Now, use your imagination and extend the borders of this photograph...all the walls painted this green. How many more objects will there be in this beautiful red? Not many, I would hope.

aside: The big red chair in the bottom right actually bothers me: with the red curtains I'm afraid the whole room will tip colour-wise to the right unless there's another massive bit of red on the left--but that would be too much red, frankly. Something dark and green on the left would balance--but then the room would loose the light and airy feel the photographer and stylist created--and which I love. So, when living in this room, the big red chair over on the right doesn't work. (Maybe in real life it sits on the left. That's the trouble with getting decorating ideas from tightly cropped highly styled magazine photos.)

So, with an eye-popping red sofa, one needs all that lovely cool green and white to balance. Imagine this in reverse. What if the walls were red and the sofa, ottoman and chair were light green? Would that work? I don't think so. There'd be too much wall--too much red. The green would float away and look lost in such an intensely painted room. (Trust me, I tried. Red walls look best in either very large rooms with lots of natural light and white (high contrast) or with dark cozy highly polished wood furniture. (low contrast). That's why it works better in dining rooms and libraries than living rooms). The point here is that with dark walls and light furniture, the proportions would be off between light and dark.

Here is one of the loveliest examples of balancing the contrast of light and dark I've ever seen.

Everything is light here--except the dark tables and little pops of black on the sofa and floor cushions. This is how to balance the "dark" and still get "light and airy." It's beautifully done, even to the asymmetrical placement of the orange canvas. It shakes up the symmetry--without making the room less formal. (From Carmen's pops of colour in the AT Fall Colours contest.)

A complimentary colour scheme, as contrast is "built in," so to speak, ups the ante when balancing the proportions of light and dark. It is, therefore a bit easier to do (2) above--that is, combining a raspberry with green or a lime with red. Then, you have a hint of the "cool" in the red, or the "warm" in the green. It lessens the contrast slightly--and looks striking, as in this example.

There is so much to love in this picture, I scarcely know where to begin. I could probably write a novel about the rug alone. Here, the red hue dominates. But it's soft--not quite as bold and bright like the first. Note, though, that the walls are, again, light (and very, very high!). There are lots of legs showing, too, which keeps the whole thing elevated and airy.

One thing: Varying the intensities with orange and blue is trickier than with red and green. (Yellow and purple is almost impossible and best left to Jaimie Drake). No matter which way you go on the colour wheel, red-orange and yellow-orange are still warm. Blue-green and blue-violet are both still cool, though blue-violet is a titch closer to having a touch of warm than blue-green.

Just for fun, I toured flickr to get an idea of how to combine blue-violet with orange. Here they are:

Don't quite know what to make of it except that it's clear that if you use blue-violet in its darker manifestations it'll be really dark: with only the palest hint of orange alleviating it all. Probably depressing, if striking. The bottom right is beautiful and bright: Lots of green to bridge the two. But it isn't blue so much as purple, is it?

Here's what happens when we change the dark/light versions of blue and orange. In this case, the orange to rust and the blue to pale blue.
I think it looks like a great colour scheme for a nursery with the pink, though.

So, I think the tack to take with blue and orange is not to vary the intensities so much as to find a third colour to work. CQindc already has brown working for her with the pampasan and her furniture:

See the proportions? Perhaps the sofa should be brown and the poang cushion blue. Use the kimono and pillows to bring in the orange and given what you already have, you'll approximate these proportions here. I think it would be stunning. But again, I'm not sure about your walls being able to carry the dark brown. But with the poang recovered in this incredible ble (though, in reality, it'll be closer to the loveseat, right?) it may just work.

What about introducing yellow into the mix?

Of course, it can get very blotchy and cluttered to have four hues in a small space: and the blues here are much darker than your loveseat (which helps balance out all the brightness of the orange and yellow). Would this medium-dark blue work on the sofa? It might. I'm not sure. You might actually have to add yellow or orange to the walls with curtains to make the sofa work and then I think we're just getting too garish. The dark blue is balancing all that yellow and orange, so to put yellow on the sofa would skew the proportions too much. But, lets change the yellow to cream.

Again, the blue is lighter in tone than the loveseat and the orange has more red in it. But a nubby cream on the sofa and slate blue pillows would bring the room around. In this scenario, I'm wondering if the curtains should be this slatey blue, too?

But since cqindc is thinking of burgandy, I tried that, too.

Obviously, I tried to find images with burgandy, blue and orange. I wasn't terribly successful, as you can see. The oranges are more saffron--or yellow orange--and blue is nearly non-existent--except for the maples. And, I love that image so much, I'm going to suggest cqindc re-cover the poang in blue to balance the blue love seat when she re-covers the couch in the burgandy--and then leave the room alone. (Well, cream curtains in some sort of crewel work in burgandy or rust would be my mind's eye, anyway!) The kimono will work, the pampasan will work. Saffron pillows will bridge the look to the kimono--and we just might have something.
So, to sum up for cqindc: (1) recover the poang cushion in the same blue as the loveseat. Then, either recover the couch in brown and use orange cushions (my favourite) or recover the couch with the burgandy and use saffron coloured pillows. Evaluate what you may need to do with the curtains once you can see what you've got.
(2) cover the couch in a nubby cream, change the curtains to cream, keep everything else the same and use slate blue and red-orange cushions.


smallcitybeth said...

Wow. I just don't know how you do that. I mean, I know how you do that -- you know about colors and you know how to talk about them -- but it leaves me with my mouth hanging open (figuratively) because it's all like a foreign language to me. But thanks to your tutelage, I may someday learn something about color.

(The photos you found are gorgeous by the way. Did you do searches by color, or did you just scroll through a bazillion photos on Flickr?)

Alana in Canada said...

(smile)--a search by colour is "scrolling through a bajillion photos."

Thank you.

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