Every room has a “visual temperature,” and figuring out yours can give you some insight into what colors and textures to choose for the room. Visual temperature doesn’t mean the actual physical temperature of the room: visual temperature is the effect that the room’s natural lighting and color palette have on the viewer’s perception of the room. A room can be cool, warm, or even both! Confused? Don’t worry, it’s simpler than you might think.
The Basics: Direction and Your Starting Temperature
Eastern or Northern Facing Rooms – A room that faces east or north often feels and appears colder due to the angle that natural light enters the room from. Using warm colors in this room often helps make things cozier and more personal.
Western or Southern Facing Rooms – A west or south facing room generally feels and appears warmer. You can use cooler hues in these rooms to help chill the temperature some.
Room Color: Finding the Temperature
Looking at the color wheel, you can see a stark difference between the left and right side. Which side seems cooler to you? The left side of the color wheel – green, blue, indigo, and violet – are cool colors, while those on the right – red, orange, and yellow – are warm colors. But these are the colors on their own. By mixing colors, you can change their temperature.
Look at the color wheel: when we place lime next to true green, it makes the lime look like a warm color. Alternatively, by placing sea green next to true green, we make the true green look warmer. The reason for this is undertones: lime has more yellow in it than true green does, while sea green has more blue in it than true green. Placing similar colors next to each other helps bring out these undertones, and affects the visual temperature of the color.
Changing the Temperature
Outside of the obvious of putting warm colors in a cool room and cool colors in a warm room, there other tricks you can try to change the visual temperature of your home. The context and lighting of the room will affect the appearance of the colors; always make sure to test potential paint colors on your walls both in and out of sunlight and check on it throughout the day to make sure that, no matter the angle of the sun and the time of day, the color will work for the room.
If you’re particularly attached to a color, but the temperature just doesn’t work for the room, consider your finish. Different interior paint finishes can affect a color’s temperature. To make a color appear cooler, use a shiny finish. If you need the color to appear warmer, use a flat finish.
Additionally, warm colors foreshorten a room – if you use warm colors in a large room you can make it feel cozier and more intimate. On the other hand, cool colors visually recede and can help give the feeling of more space to a small room.
As a final bonus, if you live in a warm climate, cool colors can help give a refreshing feeling to a room and balance out the physical heat. If you’re more Northward, warm colors can help give a space heat and counteract the cold outdoors.
Making it All Work
You can choose a color palette that is all warm or all cool colors, but the best color palettes tend to have both warm and cool colors. You can use bits of warm color in a cool palette or a touch of cool colors in a warm palette to give more depth and balance to a room. This doesn’t mean you have to mix them up on the wall – even putting a green plant in a warm room or putting a red throw in a cool room can help balance things visually and make the room more interesting.