In terms of interior design, colors are not something one picks by default. Working with colors appears simple at first sight, something like picking your favorite color for your favorite room.

However, this goes very far from the truth! Good results from random choices are pure luck, but knowing nothing about shades and combinations will hardly make any of us lucky, especially not if we’re looking to obtain professional appearance.

The first thing we should know about colors is that they are divided in warm and cool, and that designing with warm and cool colors is something completely different. Ready to discover the core of using warm and cool colors in your interiors? Let’s begin!

Warm colors & cool colors

Image source: REFINED LLC

This is the basic, pretty self-explanatory division of colors on the color wheel. Warm colors are orange, red, yellow, cream, and beige; while blue, green, and gray are cool.

They are clearly opposing each other on the color wheel, which shows us at the same time the results we would obtain by mixing any of them together. Even green can be a hybrid, assuming you got it by combining blue and yellow.

The hybrid can be a warm or a cool one, depending on the dominating amount of warm/cool colors in the mix (lime green is significantly warmer than Kelly green, which has a serious dose of blue inside).

Image source: Tony Murray Photography

When decorating with warm and cool colors, you need to know that every hue varies depending on the black/white amount we’ve added to transform the shades and tints.

From this aspect, making a room lighter will usually make it cooler. The same way, a small dose of rich and dark tones will make it warmer.

Warm colors

Image source: Martha O’Hara Interiors

As we said, red, yellow, and orange are the colors that qualify as warm, and they have an overall energizing effect on our mind and body (increasing adrenaline, increasing blood pressure, increasing breath rates and temperature, etc). The stronger they are, the stronger this effect will become.

It is believed that this is the driving reason behind famous brands and campaigns that mark incredible success in this consumer society, for instance Coca-Cola and Ferrari.

Image source: Billy Beson Company

That’s why warm colors should be applied in social spaces, the rooms where you cook, receive guests, or where your children are playing and studying.

The strategy has been well adopted by famous bars and restaurants, which are successful due to the fact that they use colors to make people feel welcomed and comfortable.

Cool colors

Image source: Sarah Kidder Design

Cool colors, for instance blue, have soothing and calming effects. While warmer shades remind of sun and heat, cool ones are best associated with waters and sky.

Obviously, we need such calm atmosphere in many rooms, in order to keep our thoughts organized, and our minds sharp.

Image source: Michael Lyons Architect

This turns blue into the ultimate business choice, both for uniforms and interior (think about the police or the clerks in your local bank).

Blue and green are the usual colors inside important institutions, offices, or part of the logos of clubs and associations that want to appear organized and reliable.

The role of black and white

Image source: Kathleen Ramsey, Allied ASID

As you probably know, black and white are not considered to be real colors (black stands for all colors, while white stands for no color at all), but that doesn’t stop them from having their own cool/warm properties.

Many people are surprised to find this out, especially when they understand that knowing this is essential for decorating their homes:

White is the cool one.
Black is the warm one.
Unexpected, isn’t it?

Image source: M/I Homes

It means that your safe white choice for painting an entire room is cool, and you have to think of playful and colorful accessories to make it comfortable and welcoming.

Black, on the other hand, is warm in nature, and you should use it with care in order not to make it overwhelming. The contrast between the two is a classically good choice.

Using brown

Image source: Maracay Homes Design Studio

Brown is somehow natural, and in the world of design, this is sometimes enough to make a place warm and comfortable. It is a not a color itself, but rather a combination of black, yellow, red, orange, green, or even purple.

Due to this fact, brown counts as a neutral choice that reminds of pleasant stuff (chocolate, coffee, etc) and nature. Psychologically observed, brown is a relaxing color that makes us feel safe and secure, and this is why people mostly apply it back home.

Warmer brown solutions are used because of its welcoming character, something like polished, beautiful parquet that will expose your welcoming spirit and excellent taste. Unpolished wood or similar textures are good for rustic rooms..


Image source: Tom Stringer Design Partners

Both in terms of warm and cool colors, you should not restrict yourself to a single one. For cozy and homey places where warm colors are dominant, there should be at least one cool shade to enhance visual balance.

The same counts in the opposite situation, both for balances and contrasts.

In order to apply both warm and cool color effectively, think of the overall flow of your space. Try to estimate the impact of adjoining rooms, their specific shortcomings and attributes, the access to light, and the size restrictions.

Make the experience more entertaining by using appealing contrasts, something like a warm vanilla wooden shelve on a navy-painted wall.

Image source: Digs Design Company

Colors are the essence of dynamics, and their ‘temperature’ is the exact measurement for how much people would enjoy looking at them.

Your color choice is supposed to depend on the mood you’re trying to evoke-if you want a coy and intimate place, go for warm tones instead of cool ones. If you want serenity, your solution is blue!

When deciding on the color’s temperature, think of the room’s size first. Warm and bright nuances in small rooms are a bit claustrophobic, while cool ones ‘add’ visual space and airiness.

80/20 rule

Image source: 3wiredesigns

Do not forget: strong colors should be used sparingly in order to punctuate a room, not to define it completely. The universal design recommendation is 80% of neutral colors combined with 20% of stronger ones.

In fact, the theory is similar to make up: Only a small portion of a woman’s face is covered with red lipstick, the rest of it is pale and neutral. Well, that’s how you balance rooms too.

The 80/20 rule indicates that colors play essential roles in every room, and that it depends exactly on them whether a room will attract attention or not.

That’s why it is good to use them on accent surfaces, such as walls, soft rugs, large curtains, or even chairs. Colors are just powerful enough to give the room everything it needs to be attractive. And that’s nothing more but 20% strong colors and 80% neutrals.

Color psychology

Image source: Colin Cadle Photography

Sounds complicated now, but color psychology is actually one of the things that people mostly remember from the days when they decorated their homes. The same goes with the basic division between warm and cool colors, and the hybrid results that can be obtained when mixing them.

Getting hands around color psychology’s basic principles is essential for obtaining a room that will invoke the very same feelings we would like to have while spending our time there.

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