Can I brighten up my home through colour?
Q: I have a deep, narrow living space in my apartment, which can be very dull and I want to brighten it up. The kitchen is to the back, the living and dining area have a sliding door onto a balcony. I get nice sun in winter evening time but the balcony above mine cuts out the summer sun. I was thinking about using a strong colour on one wall - what would be the best colours to use?
A: The right colour combined with texture and light can literally change mood. The first thing to consider is how you use the space. I often feel like a flower bending to the light, we like to have a visual connection to natural light and where possible a view to nature outside. It may sound obvious but it is important to keep deep storage and service areas to where daylight is least important and where you spend least resting time. Planning your space in this way will also reduce the apparent depth of the space.
Add a strong colour From your description of the living area, I would only consider using a strong colour on the wall furthest away from the daylight as this will visually shorten the space and improve its apparent proportions. However, if this back wall is broken up with kitchen units, be careful as the accent colour will appear as a pattern of the space left over around your furniture. This may look like an attractive funky back wall or not be so appealing. Your splashback wall should be in a similar or complementary accent colour to your unit doors and counter, rather than a strong contrast. I suggest selecting a darker shade - a few tones darker than the colour of your main wall - this will give contrast without sharp change.
Create a focus If you choose to go for a contrasting tone, I suggest a warm colour that can be picked up at the other end of the room in smaller items such as cushions, throws or patterns on rugs. Another subtle and effective approach is to bring focus to this end wall by creating a pattern such as covering the wall with plates or other small elements rather than just a single solid colour. Keep in mind that how we perceive colour is affected by a combination of lighting and by the colours and textures of surrounding materials.
Change the layout Though you ask about colour, your layout is also very important. A narrow space is best furnished if not all furniture is up against the walls, avoiding a corridor down the middle of the space. However should you wish to place any large furniture such as your couch or bookshelves against the wall, I suggest the 'Chameleon Approach' by painting out bookshelves in the wall colour or choosing upholstery that blends with the wall, reducing the bulk of these elements.
Bring in the view You don't mention your view from the balcony. If it's full of greenery, you might bring it inside with shades of white and hints of green for main walls. If your view is less attractive, you may want to create a contrast internally, a warm refuge from the outdoors with subtle earthy tones.
Change the mood Lighting is very important in how we discern colour and the atmosphere this creates. The space furthest from natural light should be well lit. Take care when choosing bulbs - be sure they are 'warm' yellow light rather than 'cool' blue light.
Avoid curtain pelmets or Roman blinds as these window dressings block the light at the top of the window and will further increase the shading effect from your overhead balcony.
If you are considering changes to your home, work with a registered architect, log onto riai.ie, the registration body for architects in Ireland.Maria Kiernan is a partner in Kearney + Kiernan Architects; kearneyandkiernanarchitects.com
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