Layers of warmth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 April, 2004, 12:00am

Colour can enhance a room, set a mood and even alter the sense of space. And feel free to be bold and beautiful with the hues

Is there anyone out there who has actually overcome this home-colouring fixation on dark brown (sorry, chocolate), neutrals and a thousand shades of white?

Come on, folks. It is true that neutral colours are usually equated with calm, but where is the harm in adding a little warmth here and there? Who knows, you might even like it.

John McLennan, managing director of Options Home Furnishings Banyan Tree ( or tel: 2552 3500), says colours can influence moods and 'alter' spaces. They can make small rooms feel larger, cluttered rooms seem ordered, and simple rooms seem grand.

'Used correctly, colour can enhance any room,' Mr McLennan says. 'Used poorly, colour can ruin even the best-decorated room. The key is finding the colour that works best for you.'

Choosing colours can be done at a number of levels, he says, but personal choice comes first. Other things to think about include cultural significance and, of course, aesthetics. 'There are some colour rules you should learn if you are serious about colour. Also, personal colour choices change and become more refined as one grows older, sees more (through travel), and learns more.

'There is also much more to home decoration than colour alone. Textures are key when using similar colours, as well as lighting, which can change the feel of a room.'

The best way to start is to break colour into warm and cool components. Yellows, reds and ochre give a feeling of warmth and relaxation, informality and intimacy. And if these colours are very intense, they can be stimulating and exciting. Cooler colours (such as green and blue), on the other hand, are formal and reserved.

Small homes work best with either of two colour schemes.

The 'monotone scheme', where the accent colours are changed from room to room, creates a sense of unity and makes the home seem larger, Mr McLennan says. With the 'positive/negative colour scheme', one room has a lighter background with darker accents, and the other a darker background with lighter accents. This has to be done in varying degrees in each room to keep it interesting.

'When using accent colours, it is best to be limited to two or three colours, to avoid visual confusion in one room. Don't be afraid to experiment with accent colours because these are easy to change and are a great way to get a new look inexpensively,' he says. 'Most showrooms have strong, vibrant colours in the display areas. These tend to be over the top in colour usage.' Any home decor salesperson will tell you that the neutrals and lighter tones outsell the stronger colours eight to one.

Don't be shy to use the colours displayed in showrooms, because these tend to be the hues in fashion, but limit them to a level you can live with. Look at the amount of colour used and ask yourself if you can live with it every day for the next year.

'Just remember you cannot go wrong in a home environment by keeping the primary areas (walls, floors) in neutral and lighter tones, and the secondary areas (curtains, sofas) in slightly stronger colours and patterns,' Mr McLennan says. 'The tertiary areas [pillows, art, accessories] are the places to use the strongest colours and patterns.'



Mysterious and stylish, but too much can be sombre and depressing (related to death in the West)


Bright and fresh. Related to peace and cleanliness, but usually needs some colour to bring life into what could seem a sterile environment (related to death in some Asian countries).


Can be very chic but should not be used as the dominant colour because it can appear dull and boring. (Also, with Hong Kong's often grey skies, a home done in grey can look depressing.)


Exotic, stimulating, passionate and revolutionary. A great foil to neutrals. But it could be hard to live with on a daily basis if done in large quantities.


The softer side of orange can add warmth to your home, making it look welcoming or bringing energy to a neutral decor.


Energising in a non-aggressive way. It is fresh, cheerful and expansive. But too much yellow (or if not accented with the right tones) can convey a somewhat juvenile ambience, and suggest a lack of direction.


Restful. Use it as a counter-balance to the hot hues.


The coolest of all colours. Works well in a bright, sunny environment but can seem a bit oceanic if used incorrectly.