Our guide to choosing paint colours
with Edward Bulmer & Rita Konig
When it comes to choosing colours for your home, it can be an overwhelming decision. Luckily, two of the most reputable names in the interiors world are here to help. Edward Bulmer, one of the foremost colour experts and interior designers working today, founded his eponymous natural paint brand to help a dirty paint industry clean up its act, and comes with 35 years of experience in using colour and paint with confidence and clarity. Matching his advice is industry icon, Rita Konig. Often referred to as the queen of ‘undone’ interiors, Rita’s design approach mixes high style with unfussy restraint; her approach to colour and pattern is bold and full of character.
Where to start when choosing paint colours?
“Various things could act as your starting point when choosing paint, and these will depend on your scenario,” explains Edward. “It might be existing features, or it might be a colour you’re set on using, or it may well be the element your builders are asking you to order first! Whatever they are, work with these.”
Knowing what you don’t like is as useful as knowing what you do like, advises Rita. “Accept your own style and find your taste rather than trying to copy other people. As you’re beginning to pull colour together, make sure you consider how one room flows to another. This is particularly important downstairs, where the rooms tend to lead into each other.”
While colour is important, perhaps the most important and defining element to consider is how exactly you will occupy the room, adds Edward. “When will you mostly use it, who will use it and what feeling do you want to evoke?” Using these factors to evaluate your decision around colour will help to drive and narrow down your choices based on practicality.
Understanding colour and light
The aspect of your room determines how much light it gets and the quality of that light. Edward explains: “A south facing room receives the most daylight, and will normally work with most colours as a result. You won’t need to consider the impact of artificial light as much, as you likely won’t need lamps during the day. If you have a north aspect, there’s no getting around the fact that the sun will not reach the room and it’s unlikely to benefit from much daylight. Because of this, you should be decorating with the impact of artificial light at the forefront of your mind. I like to lean into the cosseting nature of these rooms, and tend to use mid to deep colours that contain underlying warmth in their tonality.”
East and west facing rooms also need to be treated differently, warns Edward. “West facing rooms receive the most daylight in the evening, whereas east facing rooms will see the most sunshine in the mornings. As these rooms do receive strong daylight during parts of the day, there is an argument for using both deep colours and paler tones to great effect. What should in fact impact your decorating choices the most is how you will use the rooms and when.”
No longer a place for only preparing food, nowadays the kitchen is the heart and hub of the home and should be decorated to meet the needs of everyone enjoying the space. Even if you have lots of cabinets and units to consider, start by choosing a wall colour. “Figure out what works in the space in terms of tonality and atmosphere, and then begin to consider this in relation to the cabinet colour,” explains Edward. “A kitchen can be a great place to keep the palette more neutral and restrained, saving deeper, more daring decorating choices for living rooms and bedrooms where you can introduce more fabrics and artwork.”
Bathrooms should be a restful space that offers a comfortable and flattering palette. “I believe the best colour for that is pink,” says Edward. “To some extent, pink can be seen as a neutral thanks to the dominance of earth pigments within it, and as a result is a great accompaniment to stronger elements of colour within a scheme.”
It is useful to think of a hallway scheme as a palette cleanser between other rooms. “I believe the paint colours should be neutral and based on earth pigments,” Edward says. The same applies to entrance halls. “When we come into a house, we are coming from an abundance of natural light outside into a starkly contrasting indoor space where the light will feel instantly and greatly reduced. To create a smooth transition between very bright daylight to the managed daylight inside a building, use colours that are mid to light, and fairly neutral.” As you’re beginning to pull a colour scheme together, consider how one room flows to another. “Upstairs, make sure landings and passages are decorated in something that is harmonious with the rooms that lead off them,” says Rita.
A bright white ceiling can be very chilling and stark, and does not do any favours to the wall colours. In fact, it can dominate the room and overpower pictures, furnishings and fabrics.
Edward has four ‘go-to’ ceiling whites:
• Plain White – a white with a subtle amount of pigment to take it off the bleached spectrum
• Fair White – as bright as Plain White but with a ‘fair’ amount of pigment giving a slightly warm grey glow
• Grace – fresh and bright yet warming
• Spanish White – a pale, warm white with a slightly yellow ochre tone of natural chalk. Great with the darker colours
Painting small spaces
It’s really effective in a small space to blur the boundaries, for example, in an attic room by painting the walls and sloping ceilings the same colour, you effectively remove the distinction between them and make the room feel bigger than it is. “This means you won’t have a line that distinguishes the height of the wall, and instead your eye will be drawn up to the highest point for a feeling of spaciousness. This logic can be applied to other small rooms too,” advises Edward.
Doors and picture rails
If you want to make a colour statement with doors, it works best in a room that has scale or even architectural grandeur. Regardless of this, if you choose to go dark, adopt the same colour across all the joinery to avoid it looking mismatched. For other architectural elements, such as picture rails and dado rails, it’s best to paint them in the same colour as the rest of the room. “If you enjoy the way the picture rail plays with scale in the room, you can paint up to it in one colour and then have another colour between the picture rail and cornice,” Edward says.
Rita’s top tips for getting the most out of your tester pot
To test sample pots, paint large squares of cards with your tester pots in order to see colours independently. This allows you to look at them in the room without the confusion of other colours, put them next to the colours you want to combine them with – those for skirting boards, window frames and the neighbouring rooms – and see how they work in different lights. You can also take them out with you to see them with fabrics and carpets.
Once you have found the right colour then use a paint calculator to avoid leftover paint and reduce waste.
It’s good to keep a paint schedule detailing the paint colours you’re using, with each room listed and columns with the surfaces – floors, walls, skirting, cornice, ceiling, doors – and then the brand, colour and finish running in a line by each. Update if colours change and file it safely. If you need to repaint, you will be very grateful for your list.
Edward’s appeal to think about ways to safely dispose of leftover paint
Discover how to master using colour; from building out a balanced colour scheme to choosing the best paint for your project with Edward Bulmer’s online course ‘A Guide to Pigments, Paints & Palettes’.
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