The science of paint colour

A coat of paint is the simplest way to revamp a room. But be sure to test the colours using paint chips or samples before committing

BEHR colours come together in this living room including creek bend (back wall with the window), cozy cottage (wall with candle inset).

The main selling factor of paint is this: It’s the easiest way to completely make over a room with little cash outlay. A new coat of dazzling colour can create an instantly updated look. However, the magic lies in the shade you choose, and that’s where it’s important to understand the science behind paint colour.

People have been figuring out ways to apply colour to their walls for centuries. “Fruit and insects have been used for thousands of years
to make paint pigments,” said Alison Goldman, marketing communications manager at CIL.
“The Egyptians used indigo that was pulled from berries and in ancient Chinese times, they used saps from trees to make lacquer. Today, we use chemical compounds to make the colours — not nasty chemicals, but naturally occurring ones, and we concentrate them down into the desired colours.”

This room features Benjamin Moore revere pewter white walls and persimmon pink on the ceiling.

Various colourants are used to create different shades of paint. “Pure saturated colours, such as a vibrant clear red or a sunny yellow typically require fewer colourants to develop,” explained Nancy Bollefer, Canadian marketing manager at BEHR. “These colours are stunning; however, pure, clean colours are more difficult to live with for a longer period of time. Complex colours are easier to live with since, typically, more colourants are incorporated into the paint formula and they therefore become more interesting and comfortable to the eye. Sometimes these colours are difficult to describe, since they may appear at first to be ‘mid-tone taupe’ while upon closer inspection, red or green undertones can be seen.”

Given the complexity of certain paint colours, various factors can affect the actual “look” of the colour itself. Natural and man-made light can have an effect, as well as other things such as the furniture in the room. “Paint colours change over the course of the day, depending on a myriad of variables,” Bollefer said. “Light hits a room from multiple directions during different (times of day). As an example, east-facing rooms receive warm yellow light in the morning from the rising sun, which adds a bright yellow cast to the wall colour. During the evening, all sorts of different light sources, such as recessed lighting, floor lamps and task lighting, cast shadows, which affect colour. Even the type of light bulb influences the colour itself.”

This living room exudes serenity, with the walls and ceiling painted in dunmore cream from Benjamin Moore and an accent wall boasting a calming shade of blue known as montpelier.

The best way to test a colour in a space is to get it up on the wall, even in a small swatch, for the whole day. “We advise people to purchase the larger paint chips or paint a piece of Bristol board and view the sample in different areas of the room, like in a dark corner, next to a window, or next to their sofa, and see how it differs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” said Joanna Dyment of Ta Da! Interiors. “It is so important to view the colour in the room you plan to use it in.”

So next time you want to update a dated interior, consider a coat of paint. You know how to find the best colour, now all you have to do is decide where your decorating begins. “Paint is a great do-it-yourself project. Not only can it give the room a fresher appearance, it can change the mood and feel of the space,” said Maureen Rice, also of Ta Da! “Keep in mind: Paint is not limited to walls. It can also give furniture, floors and cabinetry new life, too.”

2012 trend watch

Benjamin Moore has launched an all-new palette of 240 hues called Colour Stories. These colours have a greater clarity, purity and are richer than conventional colours because they are formulated with more pigments in precise amounts. “We have broken all the rules with the creation of Colour Stories and have achieved colours we’ve never been able to before,” said Ray Gomez, Benjamin Moore’s director of colour marketing. “These are full-spectrum paint colours, meaning we’re combining between five and seven pigments, using no black or grey tints. Conventional colours use only three pigments and often fill in with black or grey.” They also have no (VOCs). This year’s hot series go by the following names: earthen hues, elemental greens, fiery sunset, fluid blues, golden fields, naturally neutral, shades of gray and violet twilight.

Connect with Jennifer Cox |jenn@wordaddict.ca