Pale and Interesting?

Posted by Jac Slaney on

The Winter Paint Box

As designers we seek inspiration from the world around us and living in beautiful North Norfolk provides a continual source of naturally beguiling vistas and vignettes. The muted palette of winter, with its ethereal qualities that shift and shimmer in the low light, inspire neutral hues for interior colour schemes. Embracing the gamut of grey tones revealed on misty mornings, or the tints of whites and pale greens where the frost twinkles on the garden or noticing the gentle warmth of colours radiating where the rising sun melts the frozen earth, can bring a new dimension to the season that invigorates and inspires. This blog post is about harnessing the winter paint box to generate fresh painting ideas, whilst hibernating from the winter chill.

At Utopia, we believe in responding to the seasons in our lives and in our work. So, it seemed the right time to discuss how winter is actually a really good time to be creative and nurture new ideas. Winter delivers its own special paint box for contemplation and selection and harnessing these natural hues is a time-served formula that can easily work if you want to achieve understated rooms with a timeless quality. However, so that your rooms are not bland, which is also easy trap to fall in to, we plan to share some tips with you. These are not rules, just helpful guidelines based on our research and experience.

Working with neutral colours is always popular because;

  • They are easy to blend and balance
  • The restrained palette is easy on the eye
  • They form a calm backdrop to most furnishings and decorative accessories
  • They create harmonious interiors
  • They form a wonderful foil for both new and old furniture
  • They deliver airy and relaxing rooms

Aiming for pale and interesting is a good place to start.

Why sample neutral paints?

There is a huge range of neutral paints in the market place with varying prices and qualities. We recommend choosing the best paint you can afford and then purchasing sample pots – this adds to the expense but it is well worth it as it enables you to buy with confidence. Most quality paint manufacturers offer good advice about choosing and using their neutral paint box, so it is always worth researching their ideas.

The golden rule is always to sample, sample, sample and live with the colours in different lighting conditions. Yes, we said rule.

Let there be light

Light is the key factor to consider when choosing any colour.

Natural and artificial light are both important. Whatever light sources you have or plan for a room, then make sure you gauge the colours with both. The easiest way to do this, and to not end up with patchwork walls, is to paint sheets of thick paper or card. Temporarily attach the sheets around the room (we use blutak) then live with the colours until you have made a decision. Move the sample sheets around making sure you try the dark corners and the light window reveals - that way you can judge the colour accurately in different light conditions. It still astonishes us the power of light over what appears the most simple colour. If the colours are not quite right, don’t compromise, try some different ones – throw in a curve ball and see if magic happens. It’s easy to cut out this stage, and we confess to having done this a few times mainly because of enthusiasm to get ‘the room done’, but it has been an expensive regret. Some companies will refund or swap unopened paint, but if you are like us you will have launched into painting and wasted a five litre can straightaway.

The neutral spectrum

Even a neutral palette has a spectrum of tints and tones to consider. The following is meant as a brief guide to understanding that a successful harmonising scheme is more likely if the selections are kept within the following subdivisions.

Warm neutral colours

Imagine a marsh where the reeds sway in the breeze– can you see a muted colours emerging? Neutrals with a warm tint are great for getting a degree of softness in a room without shouting colour. This group usually age well and compliment the warm tones of wooden furniture.

Traditional neutral colours

Picture the mellow greens of the crops under the jeweling of morning frost or the low sun casting warm shadows over sand dunes on a beach. Traditional neutrals usually contain a hint of yellow, even green in their make up and have a long history in interiors. Generally, these are easy to use, mix and match. They deliver a sophisticated scheme that is easy to accessorise.

Cool greys

The steely ethereal blues of wintery skies and seas echo the cool contemporary palette. Cool greys have blue undertones and create a more urban feel in a room. Favoured by those who desire a more industrial vibe it is a group that offers a less stark scheme than pure white. This spectrum is particularly enhanced with metal accessories and furniture.

White out

If you are attracted to an all white room, think fresh snow scene, then sample even this simple option, but make the swatches larger, so that it is easier to imagine what the room will feel like. Managing the light is paramount in a white room to maximise effectiveness and mood, and to avoid that classic cold and clinical result. Experiment. Also consider the practicalities of an all white room. If you have pets and/or children you may wish to defer this scheme until later, as nothing looks more uninviting than a grubby white room.


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