Use Color Theory To Enlarge Your Living Space

Color Theory and its Benefits in Interior Design

Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then, scientists and artists have studied modern color theory, amassing a vast collection of rules and formulas. So, what do those rules and formulas have to do with making a small room seem larger? It's all about optical illusion; one of color theory's clever mysteries. With a few basic principals, you can improve that small space that always seems too packed, even when it's tidy and in order.


Color enthusiasts have known for ages that colors create optical illusions, but it wasn't until modern times that these effects were mapped out and documented in a scientific manner. Here is an example: if you place two squares - identical, except for the fact that one square is black and the other is white - side by side, the black square will appear to be smaller than the white square.


Left: An example of color theory - White ceiling in a beige room

Now, take this concept of the squares into a living space. If a lighter color makes something seem larger than it is, a room can be "opened up" by painting the walls white, or beige. This works the same way with other colors of a light tint; a room with powder blue walls will seem larger than a room with navy blue walls.

A single color will create an optical illusion on it's own, but the human eye barely notices this until it can compare that color with another. Use two colors together to enhance the illusion that you want to create. A low ceiling - or any ceiling, for that matter - will seem to open up if you paint it a color lighter than the walls. The ceiling can be painted a lighter version of the same color that you used for the walls (this will create color harmony), or you can use any contrasting combination that you like, as long as the walls are darkest in comparison.

So what about furniture, and how will it's color effect the perceived size of your space? A color theory mantra is that warm colors advance, and cool colors recede. Warm colors, like red, brown, and orange will decrease the size of a room. So, if you have sofa set and an area rug that are dark red, they will make the room seem smaller. Compare that to the opposite of this decor; a light green sofa set and area rug. The green items will open that room up.

Another optical trick is to work with the effect that a color has on the moods of it's viewers. If that cramped room makes you feel a bit uneasy, add white, grey, blue, or green to it. These colors have a calming influence.

color spectrum

So you see, optical illusion in color theory is a about how colors effect other colors; how they effect our visual perceptions. Arm yourself with this clever knowledge to expand your small bathroom, kitchen, or living room. Take these ideas into any room that seems confined, and you will see improvement.

- Miette Solaar

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