Top tips to brighten up your home
Question: 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 has a sliding door on to a balcony. I get nice sun in winter evenings 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?
Answer: Two things lift my spirits in the blink of an eye: music and colour. The right colour combined with texture and light can literally change our mood. The first item 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 the depth of your space 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.
To best answer your query, a few words about using an 'accent' or stronger colour and colour combinations.
Add a strong colour
From the description of your living area, I would only consider using a strong colour on the wall that is the wall furthest away from the daylight as this will visually shorten the space and improve the apparent proportions of what you describe as a "narrow living space". However, as I assume 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 can result in an attractive funky back wall or may not be so appealing. Your splash-back wall (the area between your countertop and wall units) - whether tiled, glass or painted - should be in a similar or complementary accent colour to your unit doors and counter, rather than a strong contrast. I suggest a monochromatic approach by 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
Alternatively, should you choose to go for a contrasting tone, I suggest a warm colour that can then be picked up at the other end of the room in smaller replaceable items such as cushions, throws or in 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. It is important to keep in mind that how we perceive colour is affected by lighting and by the colours and textures of surrounding materials.
Change the layout
Though you ask about colour, I would like to mention your layout as this 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 book shelves against the wall, I suggest the 'chameleon approach' - painting bookshelves in the same colour as the wall or choosing upholstery that will blend with the wall reducing the visual bulk of these elements.
Bring in the view
You don't mention what the view is from your balcony. If you are lucky enough to have a green aspect, then you might bring it inside with your choice of colour. You can never fail by taking guidance from nature in your colour selection - shades of white with hints of green for main walls. If your view is less attractive, you may want to create a contrasting world internally - a warm refuge from the outdoors with subtle earthy tones.
Lighten the mood
Lighting has a very important role to play in how we discern colour and the atmosphere this creates. The space furthest away from natural light should be well lit. Take care when choosing bulbs to ensure they are 'warm' yellow light rather than 'cool' blue light. A final suggestion to maximise the brightness of your living space: do not use curtain pelmets or Roman blinds on your windows as these 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. See riai.ie, the registration body for Irish architects.
Maria Kiernan is a Fellow of the RIAI, a partner in Kearney + Kiernan Architects and a judge of the annual Architects' Choice Awards and Interior Design Awards at Architecture Expo; kearneyandkiernan architects.com