When it comes to choosing a color palette for your home, there is one often overlooked step that you shouldn’t skip: consider where your paint undertones lie on the hot to cold spectrum. That’s right, it’s not enough to choose a color – there are arm grays and cool grays, warmer and cooler blues … you get the idea. And while that might seem like a minor distinction, these details usually have the most transformative power in design. To better understand and refine these basic principles of color theory, we brought in interior designer Michelle Gerson to learn all about warm colors – from expressive, experimental and bold colors to soft, neutral and traditional – what really sets them apart from their cooler counterparts, when to use them, how to decorate them, and more. Let’s start with the basics …
While we are quick to associate fiery colors with warmth (like yellow and red) and more icy ones with coolness (blue and purple), most can actually have undertones of both or the opposite, especially the neutrals. Take white, for example. âI consider white to be both a warm color and a cool color – it just depends on what tone of white you choose,â Gerson says. âOne of my favorite warm whites to use is Wimborne White from Farrow & Ball. It has a warm creamy factor without being yellow. It’s also sweeter than a colder white, like âSuper Whiteâ by Benjamin Moore, which I also like to use, âshe explains. It really depends on the mood you’re trying to generate, your lighting, and ultimately your personal preferences.
Spot the difference
So how can the layman tell if a neutral color is warm or cool? It’s all about nuances. âIf it’s a cool color, it will turn more bluish gray while the warmer colors will stand out more peach and taupe,â says Gerson. It also helps if you think about it seasonally: Fall and summer climates lend themselves to naturally warmer tones while winter and spring conjure up cooler landscapes.
âCooler colors just look sharper when you look at them,â Gerson says. In general, warm neutrals won’t necessarily make the space look bigger or smaller. Granted, a darker tone can sometimes make a small space more comfortable, but that doesn’t mean that the tone will always change the perceived size of a space. “For me, the color changes the ambiance not the size of a room, âsays Gerson.
Think about where you are
One way to help you make a decision is to consider how you will use a room and the mood you want to create. âIn a bedroom, I would use a warm white like Atrium White or Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace,â suggests Gerson. “Atrium White has a slightly peachy tone, while Chantilly lace has a much warmer tone, so it’s not a stark white.” As such, it may be best in a room where you want to create a pleasant and calming and relaxing ambience, such as a bedroom or formal powder room with dim lighting.
Meanwhile, she says: “In the common areas of the house, I like to go with cooler whites like Super White or Decorator White by Benjamin Moore, which has a gray tone. âMoral of the story: just because you’re on white doesn’t mean you’re done. The next step is to think about the nuances., The objects you’ll be decorating with, your exhibits, etc.â I’m just thinking that it is more pleasant to use a warmer tone in a colder place as it creates a feeling of comfort. Plus, cooler whites look better in city apartments and beach houses because it’s so pure. It just feels neat and tidy. It brings light into the room. “
Contrast of warm and cold tones
Just because you’ve chosen a warmer tone for the walls doesn’t mean you can’t decorate with cooler decors, like off-white walls with black and gray decor. In fact, Gerson says contrast is usually what creates these unique interiors. “For me, a contrast piques interest.” That said, it’s often wise to keep these contrasts between different color families (a cool white next to a warm white will make the warm dull). Gerson’s favorite warm neutral is Farrow & Ball’s Pink Ground, a blush tone that can work as a neutral and lend its versatility to so many different types of environments and styles. âI used Pink Ground in my office with a black rug with cool gray doors,â she says (more on this color combination here).
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