Have we got hues for you

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 September, 2010, 12:00am

Why are we so scared of colour? 'Terrified' is how one designer summed up the mood of so many home decorators, who seem stuck in neutral tones.

Yet, colour is pleasing to the eye, can soothe the mind and make us feel good. So why don't we use it more? It's on trend to do so, according to fashion forecaster the Pantone Color Institute, which correctly tipped a 'brighter, cheery and hopeful' palette in 2010 to counter recent economic woes. In the words of its executive director, Leatrice Eiseman, colour is the catalyst that can 'define the space and create the magic and mood'.

Interior designer and colour specialist Paola Dindo perceives colours as 'energy-giving', providing emotional strength in a city of tar and cement.

'I think we need colours for our well-being, as we need trees to breathe,' says Dindo, founder of Paola Dindo and Associates, a design company well-known for its interior paint techniques that combine innovative styles with traditional methods. She sees colour at home as an antidote to the 'energy-depleting, sad and sterile' environment of a typical office, where most of us spend much of our time.

Dindo remains a fan of white as 'a pure colour, which is very striking', but to this would add accents in 'clean shades - not muddy-looking mixtures'. Colours that have been mixed too often, such as cream, brown and mushroom, tend to become grey, Dindo says. Better to use bold colours in moderation than overuse blended shades.

She's pleased to see jewel-coloured accents returning to furniture and accessories, adding that even 'white goods' that are no longer white are a welcome addition to our homes.

'I have always had a coloured refrigerator - even my grandmother used coloured pans in the kitchen,' Dindo says.

It seems there is a market. Smeg has countered the neutral-toned kitchen with its range of dishwashers in flame red, tangerine and lime green; refrigerators in bold retro stripes and colours, and washing machines in baby pink and blue. KitchenAid does mixers in cherry red, sunny yellow, apple green and tangerine. Bodum coffee pots come in hot pink, purple, orange and lime. At this year's Eurocucina, a leading international kitchen fair held in Milan during Design Week - pink was prevalent in every shade from rosebud to cerise.

A colour accent, in the form of an artwork, striking furniture piece or simply painting one section of wall in a contrasting colour, can provide a focal point to your space, but it shouldn't steal all the limelight. Putting two elements in opposition to one another, such as black pillows on a white sofa, is another design staple - but it, too, can be jarring if overdone. The key is to find the right balance.

Designer Virginia Lung Wai-ki, of interior design company One Plus Partnership, believes she achieved this by injecting yellow into a classic black and white palette for a show flat in The Gateway, Shenzhen. 'The whole space used black and white as the dominant colours,' she says. Yellow accents bring a sunny glimmer to the room, adding an interesting interplay of light and shadow against the two-coloured background.'

Architect Mark Panckhurst, of HEAD Architecture and Design, also believes he has achieved balance in his own colour-filled home in Discovery Bay. In contrast to the neutral schemes preferred by most of his clients, Panckhurst chose for himself big chunks of sunny yellow and grassy green in the living room, a vivid mustard-orange for the dining space and blues/greens in the bedroom and bathroom. The warmer colours go well with food, he says, while the cooler bedroom tones evoke connotations of nature.

These strong colours work, Panckhurst says, because they're kept a respectable distance from each other, separated by 'plenty of white walls and ceilings and a wooden floor'.

But how to pick the right colours in the first place? Paola Dindo's advice is to choose interior colour schemes for how they make you feel, as much as how they look. In this regard, fung shui can help. Under the inspiration/fungshui section of its website, Nippon Paints goes through a typical house room by room, advising what colours to choose using fung shui principles, and what to avoid. It starts with the 'very important' colour of your front door and entrance hall, which, if dark, can bring worry and anxiety. A better choice, Nippon says, would be yellow to draw in light, a welcoming pale lemon, or orange to project optimism.

Yang shades of lilac, pink, blue and green are 'go for it' colours in the bedroom, which should be a comfortable space to rest and restore energy. A dash of plum or purple is said to bring out passion, creating 'an excellent fung shui layout'. Remember, though, that purple is a bold colour so you don't need to use a lot of it. Balance it out with softer, complementary hues.

In the living room, where the family meets and interacts, orange or other bright, energy-boosting colours will encourage communication. Choosing blue for the living room, on the other hand, can create airiness and serenity. Black and green are 'bad choices' for the living room, while dark brown 'often makes people feel dull and depressed'.

Getting the palette right can be a balancing act, and designers say no one colour choice should be made in isolation. They advise never ever picking the paint colour of a room before the rest of the pieces.

Colour codes

Become familiar with the colour wheel in your paint store. Colours next to each other on the wheel are considered alike, and go well together in large quantities. Colours opposite each other are complementary - they also go well together, but only in small doses.

Colours are defined as either warm or cool. Typically reds and yellows and similar shades are considered warm, while greens and blues are cool.

Painting the ceiling dark or the same colour as the walls can make a room seem smaller and cosier. Conversely, plain white can appear to elevate the ceiling height.

Most colour schemes are based on three main colours. A rule of thumb in achieving balance is that dark colours carry heavier weight, while light ones are lighter. Use varying degrees of tone for interest.

Getting in touch

Paola Dindo and Associates: www.paoladindo.com

Smeg showroom: 2/F, Amber Commercial Building, 70-74 Morrison Hill Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 3118 7449; www.gtgroup.com.hk

Bodum from Asia World Group: 271 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2189 7474

One Plus Partnership: www.onepluspartnership.com

HEAD Architecture and Design: www.headarchitecture.com

Nippon Paints fung shui advice: http://www.nipponpaint.com.hk/eng/inspiration/fengshui.php