Colour plays an important role in our lives – it impacts us in more ways than we can imagine. The way we perceive different colours, how we react to them, the purpose of the space, the size of the room, trends – all these factors come into play when selecting colours for a particular environment.

In Episode 104 of Talking Architecture & Design, Australian Trend Forecast Director Kim Chadwick speaks on how colour affects the way we design, from material curation through to the feeling a certain shade evokes.

Sunlight illuminates the world from sunrise to sunset. Thanks to sunlight, we’re able to perceive colours in our brain. Colour has a profound impact on human emotions and behaviour. ‘Getting the blues’ or ‘seeing red’ are expressions that have a scientific basis.

Similarly, on a feature wall, one sees colour as a solid block a lot of the time. But even that solid block changes colours continuously throughout the day. Most natural materials are modelled, and they have depth. The different elements in a room really do affect our psychological reaction to that space. So, it might well be a feature wall colour, but it really is how colours and surfaces are used together. 

The basic colour theory is all around us, says Kim. Many variables impact a space, including the positioning of windows and the amount of natural light.

“If we take a triadic colour scheme, for example, three colours that are equidistant on the colour wheel, we take the three primaries – red, yellow, and blue,” she says.

“We can look at yellow and orange as timber. And that with a little bit of red, a little bit of blue. And it doesn't have to be bright red. It doesn't have to be bright blue. It could be a cool grey with a cool undertone in terms of blue and a little pop of red just for a highlight.

“Sometimes we walk into rooms, though, and they're discordant like a bum note in a musical chord. And certain colours in combination jar with each other.” 

It all comes back to the colour wheel and how certain colours interact with one another due to their positioning. The creator of the Design Colour Wheel, Colours opposite each other on a colour wheel – like red and green or blue and orange – complement one another. Complementary colours, when mixed together, will neutralise each other to create a neutral palette. There are other relationships as well – split complementary colours, which are very balanced and harmonious, and analogous colours, which are colours that are side-by-side on the colour wheel.

Chadwick says that she takes into account the location and environment, with neutrals typically balancing out many of the colours of the natural world. While there’s often a neutral or restrained palette seen in many contemporary homes, each neutral colour has a subtle undertone.

“At the moment there's a big greening of interiors and greening of colour as undertones. It could be a slightly green grey, and it's still balancing the basic colour theory with the neutrals palettes and working with natural materials as well. As I said earlier, timbers are inherently orange based, and they'll always work with blue. It doesn't have to be bright blue. It could be a cool grey with a blue undertone. So, it's just applying colour theory to a space.”

A thoughtful application of colour can also manipulate a space to feel larger or smaller depending on curation. Cool colours such as blues, greens and purples can make a room feel bigger. Warm colours such as reds, yellows and oranges advance towards the eye, making the space feel closer and cosier.

When it comes to trends, Chadwick says they are driven by observation. Many materials and colour choices made by designers are ultimately viewed by other professionals. A shift to smaller spaces, attributed to the pandemic, will see colour choices pivot from typically warmer shades to lighter to accompany the ‘greening’ of our interiors.

“We're realising the importance of that again, to bring nature indoors or to have that interaction with nature within buildings. We're certainly seeing it in commercial buildings with more outdoor spaces, green rooftops, indoor plants, and growing plants internally in the kitchen because it makes us feel better and it makes us more productive, and it keeps us calmer. And it's all about our wellbeing and our wellness.” 

In Episode 104, Chadwick discusses colours for office and bathrooms, her favourite colour projects and what’s next in terms of colour trends. With over three decades of experience in the colour industry, Kim has chosen the colours of the inherently Australian corrugated roofs for Colorbond, hand selected colours for Wattyl and Dulux, created bathrooms for Laminex, curated complete house solutions for Brickworks Building Products, developed product style guides for Officeworks, and trends for Australia.

This article is a synopsis of Talking Architecture & Design’s Episode 104: Australia’s foremost colour export Kim Chadwick on what is colour and how it affects the way we design. You can listen to the full podcast here.

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