Saturday 25 May 2019

Colour kind - learn how to use colour in your home

Irish homeowners aspire to a bolder, brighter palette but are riddled with self-doubt and play it safe

Sophie Robinson
Sophie Robinson
Shade of green available from the Little Greene collection
Farrow & Ball's Pitch Blue and Calke Green
Farrow & Ball paint Stiffkey Blue India Yellow, Smoke Green and Wimborn
Kitchen painted in green from Little Green collection
Room designed by Sophie Robinson for DFS with the walls painted in Honest Indigo from Dulux and matched with the DFS Raffles grand sofa in royal blue velvet and the Joules Windsor storage footstool in yellow velvet
Dulux paint Himalayan Musk, Purple Haze, Dark Desert, Sapphire Springs
Farrow & Ball pain Green Smoke, India Yellow and Wimbourne White 1

Who's afraid of colour? Not Sophie Robinson. Fans of the BBC's Great Interior Design Challenge will know her as one of the judges on the show. She's a stylist and designer, and she runs workshops for people who want to learn how to use colour in their homes.

"It's worth taking the time to tune in to colour," she says. "Too many people go for grey or beige thinking that it's a safe investment and end up feeling a bit underwhelmed by their homes. They're the people I want to reach."

That's a lot of people. In recent survey commissioned by the sofa magnates at DFS, 75pc of Irish homeowners aspired to a bolder, brighter palette. That's in contrast to our next-door neighbours. Only 46pc of UK participants wanted more colourful homes. So we're more adventurous than the British? That should make us feel good about ourselves.

Until you read the next part of the survey and discover the massive gap between what we say and what we do. Irish people are all mouth! We like the idea of using colour in the home, but that's as far as it goes. Amid the survey participants, 40pc feared failure, over a third lacked inspiration, and one-in-five were worried that bright colours would date. We're clearly riddled with self-doubt!

Shade of green available from the Little Greene collection
Shade of green available from the Little Greene collection

And so we play it safe. For all the talk about wanting more colour, neutrals are Ireland's top choice by far. And we're not talking adventurous neutrals like charcoal or navy. Twenty-six percent of the Irish participants said that grey, cream, beige or magnolia were the dominant colours in their home. They liked the idea of using blue, lacked confidence with trendy pink, and fought shy of black, purple, red and orange interiors (some might say that's a good thing).

On the back of this survey, DFS asked Robinson to design a room in her signature style. "I leapt at the chance," she says. The lower part of the walls, which were panelled, were painted in a deep blue called Honest Indigo from Dulux and the details in a pink called Dulux Waterlily Blush 5 (Easycare matt emulsion, €63.95 for 5 litres). "Then I matched the sofa to the walls so that it blends in and allows the pile of colourful cushions to pop." The sofa in question is the Raffles grand sofa in royal blue velvet (€2,079 from DFS).

In the normal run of things, most people combine a strong colour on the walls with a less-than-punchy sofa. Or they go for an in-your-face sofa with shy and retiring walls. But Robinson isn't most people. She used the gutsy blue in the way that most of us use neutrals, as a calming backdrop.

"I could have contrasted the sofa with the walls but I didn't want it to be too strong and overwhelming," she says. The element of contrast comes in with a Joules Windsor storage footstool in yellow velvet (€559). "I like yellow, but only as an accent colour," she says. "I wouldn't use it on the walls." To this ensemble, she added the Joules Cambridge armchair in mushroom (€899). It's printed with a pattern of brightly coloured flowers.

It's all very boisterous. I love the spectacle but ask Robinson if one could really live with that much saturated colour? All in the one room, like. "Someone could totally live in that room!" she says. "It's the sort of room that I'd like to live in. Those colours satisfy my soul."

Since every soul craves a different sort of satisfaction, Robinson is coming to Dublin on September 25 to run a one-day workshop on Colour Psychology. It's organised through the Interiors Association and largely geared towards design professionals (the fee is €300 for IA members and €500 for non-members). She also runs Colour Workshops for people who want to gain confidence in decorating their homes. These take place in London and cost £365 (around €412) for the day. "People fly over for the workshops," she says, "there's always an Irish contingent."

Farrow & Ball's Pitch Blue and Calke Green
Farrow & Ball's Pitch Blue and Calke Green

For that price, plus travel, you'd want to be pretty committed, but the workshops do look interesting. "It's not about copying your neighbours. It's not about following trends. It's not about going for the safe option. It's about digging deep and finding out what colours really resonate with you." Being in a room, she explains, isn't just a two dimensional image on Pinterest. It's a 360-degree experience. And colour is pivotal to that.

"People have their own style personality in their homes as well as what they wear," says Niamh Courtney, colour consultant. "They can put their outfits together no problem - happy days - and they know what they like in interiors. But when it comes to putting it together in their own home they don't know where to start."

After 10 years of working as a colour consultant with MRCB paints, Courtney now runs Colour Workshops in the Dublin area. "Every day I deal with people who have difficulty picking colour," she says. "I know how to help them pick colours that suit them and I can give them the confidence to know that they will be able to visualise those colours on a wall. People get very overwhelmed by a row of paint-chips! Often they go out and buy paint in a colour that they've seen in an image and wonder why it doesn't look right when they get it home."

Interestingly, it's not just bright colours that cause trouble. The supposedly safe option of white is one of the trickiest. "Choosing the right white is a huge problem and people just can't get it right. It's too yellow or too blue or too grey… In the workshops, I can teach people how to see the undertones in colour. It's really important!"

Part of the problem is that we often take our interiors inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram, forgetting that colours look different on screen than in real life. Another aspect of it is that the chemical composition of paint has a huge bearing on how it looks when it's on the wall. That's where Courtney's industry experience comes in handy. Few of us, for example, take account of a paint colour's Light Reflectance Value (LRV). That's the amount of light that a painted surface reflects or absorbs. Sounds technical? "I can explain it in a very simple way!" she promises.

Courtney runs two types of course: one for design professionals and one for general interiors enthusiasts. Prices start at €250 and you can get in touch on

Farrow & Ball paint Stiffkey Blue India Yellow, Smoke Green and Wimborn
Farrow & Ball paint Stiffkey Blue India Yellow, Smoke Green and Wimborn

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