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Colour is an important factor in setting the scene in the home. Different combinations influence and create moods, seem to alter the proportions of a room and will help to create a particular period feel e.g. Victorian style. Vivid, bold colours tend to give a room a lively image, while pale ones create a more restful setting. But it also depends on how you use them in your choice of fabrics, paints, wall-coverings, flooring and accessories etc. There are a vast amount of colours to choose from in today’s world, which can be great fun but sometimes it makes it difficult to make-up one’s mind.

Historically this was not always the case, one’s choice of colour was restricted by the shades that could be produced by natural dyes, Synthetic dyes increased the range available, but dark shades were often used to conceal the dirt and only the rich could afford to use pastels. Fashion, in decorating colours, changes over time just like with clothes eg. all-white rooms in the 20s, blue and primrose in the 50s, orange and purple in the 60s etc.


Red is one of the Primary colours (Red, Yellow, and Blue). They cannot be mixed from other colours, but all other colours are mixed from them. Red is the most powerful of the primaries, it is the colour of fire and blood. Being the colour of fire it has instant warmth and draws the eye. It is the colour of kings, but also of rebels, a colour of formal tradition but also the flag of change and renewal.

Although it adds warmth and impact to any setting, it can dominate, overpowering every other colour e.g. it stands out noticeably against blue and yellow in a room decorated in primary colours. A little red goes a long way and could be oppressive if used over a large area. Walls decorated in red appear to reduce space, so use in a room where you want to create a sense of drama. It is a stimulating colour, so be careful with vivid patterns on furnishings and accessories, they will compete for attention and the effect may be confusing. An item painted in red will seem to increase its size and importance, so use with care.

Matt surfaces soften the effect of red, but it is emphasised by shiny ones. When choosing carpets or curtains in red, remember that synthetic fabrics are brighter in colour than natural ones like wool or cotton. Remember red is prone to fade, so a curtain should be lined with good quality lining and upholstery should be protected from direct sunlight.

Different types of Reds

The colour red comes in many shades, as do other colours, so there should be one to suit your needs and tastes. Vermilion and Scarlet are hot and brilliant reds. It is the red of poppies, tomatoes, and holly berries etc. They team well with yellow and orange as well as deeper blue-reds and bright hot pinks. As the most powerful of the reds, they need to be balanced to avoid being over powering. Used on a wall, they create instant atmosphere and can be teamed with muted, cooler colours eg. soft browns, grey, old golds etc. Crimson reds are the colour of garnets and rubies, Slightly cooler and towards blue on the colour wheel. They look well against classic dark wood furniture, gilt-framed pictures and crystal etc. It was often used in period-styled rooms.

Complement it with deep forest green or with lime. Often seen in tartans and in traditional floral prints or tinted with white to give a rose pink. Muted and rusty reds can appear warm or cool depending on their make-up. They have a brick red, earthy quality to them. Use with their opposites of turquoise and jade green for a low-key look or if you want a stronger effect use pinks or corals. Wine reds—burgundy and claret are reds with a hint of grape, plum, or damson to them. These colours are often found in period-style fabric combined with bronze green, deep olive, sage etc. In a colour scheme they can be more subtle than the brighter crimson reds.

Where to use

The walls of the Roman and Greek villas were covered with panels of red, ochre and green, and Chinese palaces were lined with scarlet and gold. The Victorians used crimson red in their dining rooms and believed it helped their digestion. It makes a great background for sparkling silver and glass and goes well with dark wood furniture. If the room is used in the evening or for short periods of time, you avoid the danger of it becoming oppressive. In a sitting room, which is used more regularly, use two or three tones of red for a softer effect and add strong elements on cooler tones. For example a pale cream suite in a room would offset the strength of red painted walls, but if working with such powerful contrasts, it’s important that the colours seem be distributed in varying proportions throughout the room.

A hall is also a good area to use red, it creates a sense of warmth and welcome. It can make a good background for engravings and if you use black as a contrast colour, you can give an Oriental feel to the place. Bathrooms and Cloakrooms are rooms where you can use red, because the expense on materials is less and the rooms are used for shorter times. Reds will offset the chilly white or cream suite or the cool ceramic tiles. Red is a good choice for patterns, because it contrasts well with other colours. There are a lot of floral pattern fabrics available and it is a good way of using warm reds in a bedroom, without the overpowering effect of a solid red colour. Pick out colours from the floral design and use them around the room.

Red is very good as accent colour, you only need a small amount to make an impact. A splash here and there in a neutral décor can help to change the whole tone of the room. For example a line of red around cream painted architrave, some red pattern cushions and a huge red wool tassels as tie-backs on plain curtains etc. Add touches of bright red to a white kitchen eg. red handled cutlery on a stand, white checked tea-towels etc. If you want to make a big splash you could paint a piece of furniture in rich red and at the same time give new life to an old chest of drawers or dresser.

When working with red, remember a little goes a long way. Before you start to decorate try a red sample against other colours in your scheme. Reds may spell danger, but they are worth taking a risk with and as with other colours, remember to please yourself first.

Mary D. Kelly
Decorating Options 
(091) 798224