Understanding Color: Warm vs. Cool Colors

Often decorators will mention that a particular color is warm or cool. This can be confusing, particularly for those of us who haven’t taken art since primary school. Understanding the difference and meaning of warm vs. cool colors can be a helpful addition to your bag of tools when you are making decorating decisions. The good news is that this concept is easy to learn and apply.

Warm colors are called that because they are the colors of a sunny day. Yellows and oranges, as well as affiliated colors such as orange-reds, yellow-greens, and browns, constitute the easiest to spot warm colors. Cool colors reflect a rainy or foggy day. Blues, purples, turquoises, and some blue-toned reds and pinks make up the cool collection. Colors can vary in their warmth and coolness, so don’t expect to recognize every color as warm or cool right away. If you’re not sure, compare it with others in the space.

Warm and cool colors from a decorating sense behave very differently. Warm colors seem to approach you. They are inviting and energizing. Cool colors are distant, and create a sense of serenity. Because of their characteristics, warm colors work well in dining rooms or areas where conversation and energy are valued. Cool colors are effective in bedrooms, where the goal is to relax and fall asleep.

Most rooms have both warm and cool colors in various combinations. Rooms that are all one or another can be uncomfortable, although you may not be able to determine why. Cool colors keep a warm room more under control, and even a few warm color elements, with their relatively strong visual impact; help a cool room seem more welcoming.

If you’re planning to make some color changes, factor the balance of cool vs. warm colors you want in each room. Experiment by removing a number of warm or cool pieces from a room, to see how it affects the feeling of the space. By factoring in the level of warm and cool color elements in your home, you may be surprised to discover how much more effectively you can capture the feeling you want in each room.

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