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Effect of Natural Light Exposures on Colour

By 11/01/2008March 8th, 20194 Comments

Metamerism: When 2 items look the same under one light source such as daylight, but change dramatically when viewed under a different light source such as incandescent lighting.

Northern Exposure adds blue to a colour; East adds green; South adds yellow-white and washes out colour; while West adds Orange.

This is an image (immediately below) of a restaurant in San Francisco, 1300fillmore

Look at the way the afternoon/early evening sun brings all the artwork to life like it’s on fire!

It may be hard for you to believe but the living room (second image) which I decorated around 6 years ago (I wouldn’t angle the pillows like that now but it seemed like a good idea at the time : ) looked similar with the afternoon/evening sun. It’s painted in Benjamin Moore’s cc-200 Vellum.

This client’s living room was south/west facing and when the sun was setting, it looked just like this restaurant. The walls just came to life, it was like the sunset was right in the living room. Now that’s happy!

Photo by Jeffrey Newbury

The piece to keep in mind here is if this room was any more orange-yellow or orange, it would have been overwhelming with a west facing exposure because the room would be that much more orange during that time of the day.

Another great example of Metamerism is when I was called to pick a colour for a kitchen/great room. The couple had painted the room HC-30 Philadelphia Cream, they had the same colour in their living room and loved it there, but were distraught by what had happened when they painted the same colour in the great room.

The difference was, this room faced north and was surrounded by evergreens. The northern exposure added blue-gray to the room which combined with the trees added green, turned the pale yellow into a sickly, washed out green-gray. We had to pick a colour as strong as Dijon CC-210, a mid-tone yellow with enough orange to counteract the effect the natural lighting already created in the room.

This takes me to my next point said the best by Donald Kaufman “A light colour will never come to life in a dark room but a rich, deep colour can make a dim, somber space feel warm and luminous – even though it receives no natural light.”

I discovered Donald Kaufman and his books on colour early in my design career and reading the above quote in his book instantly made sense to me. I sometimes feel like I need to give people permission to turn a light on during the day if they have a dark corner in their home. It’s lighting that brings a room to life. A pale, washed out colour will not achieve that. The only colour that will ‘turn a light’ on in a room all by itself is a yellow that looks like this one:




I did a colour consultation once in a house with a bedroom that the previous owners had painted a very strong and bright lemon yellow and no joke, three of us (at different times in the consultation) started toward that room to ‘turn the light off’ because it truly glowed all by itself.

I have few ‘rules’ in my class and one of them is never pick a yellow like this for a palette they are doing for me unless it’s combined with black and specified as a warning colour combination for concrete posts in a parkade!

The moral of this story is, a rich warm colour is still what is required if you want your dark, somber room to have any personality or life. A white or very pale colour in the shadows of a dark room just looks gray and dismal.

Related posts:

Happiness is. . . Light (not a paler colour)

A Light Colour will never come to Life in a Dark room

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  • Susanna says:

    Any advice on paint color for a 26th floor living/dining room with West / South exposures? Lots of light, which is beautiful but seems a bit overwhelming now. Thanks!

  • sha says:

    same problem. used gray owl all over but when it came to kitchen/dinining room it really showed up green. glass sliding doors facing east! i really want to paint one big wall black but everyone thinks i am crazy. even 2 designers! white terrazzo floors. why not black? won’t it turn down the glare in the room and make it feel cozier? i would like to paint the rest of the walls a gray but don’t want to see blue or green in it. 2 years now unfinished!

  • Deborah Parr says:

    Maria, Thank you for explaining this to me.It explains why I feel like I can’t, or shouldn’t, take my cream color that I am planning to do in my east facing kitchen, on into the family room which is the north side of the kitchen, which are the same room, but the family room does not get the lighting like the kitchen does with it’s bay windows behind the sink. The cream color was just not feeling warm enough and now I understand that it just wasn’t my imagination. It isn’t! I am taking out the cold winter blue carpet the previous owners have in the family room also. I am wanting to replace it with a warm woven looking beige carpet, keeping with my warm light cream kitchen. They had painted the fireplace in the family room white. no wonder it feels cold to me! I am stripping it! Yes, you heard me, stripping it! I think it is going to turn out awesome. My house it not a farmhouse style and it looks really old school. It is brick and so far it is revealing some grey/beige bricks. I will just stain some a warmer traditional brown and stain some with a paint stain in some deep gold colors, so it will be more of a used brick look, which I love and think will be a good casual feel that I want in my family room. However, I am painting the cabinets in the kitchen white and after reading your article, not a “creamy” white but a white white since I am replacing the counter and back splash with a marble like tile and counter. It is a very light kitchen. My question to you is, I have the old orange/oak wood floors throughout the entry, dining room, and kitchen/eating area. I think it would look good to have them refinished in a light oak that would blend well with the new family room carpet that will border it, but will also be a nice contrast in the entry hall to my darker traditional living room furniture in the front of the house which faces West. Tell me what you think?

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