Paint Vs. Light

February 2, 2023

Interior designer and BIID member Sam Bird, of Trindade & Bird, shares insight into the design considerations when working with paint colours and textures and light in residential projects.

When it comes to choosing colour for your walls, the next most important thing to consider is light.

A common misconception about a space and its lighting is that the smaller the room, the lighter the colours must be in order to make it feel bigger and brighter. When in fact, the opposite is true. Take a basement, for example, that has minimal to no daylight exposure. The best thing to do is to lean into its natural cosiness and choose dark colours and rich textures to create the ultimate intimate space. More on this later…

But first things first, what needs to be established is the client’s desire for a space. When beginning a new project, it is key to understand what they want out of it, as well as how they are intending to use it. That way, you will naturally tailor your scheme to suit their requests, and begin the process of understanding how colour, texture and furniture are going to fit in situ.

It’s important to understand how the use of colour, lighting and the impacts of daylight levels will affect the use of the room. The architectural layout of a property and its physical positioning (south-facing for example), are also key to understanding how the interior interacts with the architecture and how that balances with the levels of natural light the property receives.

An example of this can be seen in the location of my previous home. It wasn’t the biggest house in the world and we were set in the woods surrounded by lots of trees. So, even though daylight would come through the windows, during the summer it was never a bright house because of the constant canopy of surrounding trees. It was in fact a very dark house. And so we ran with that and used a lot of dark colours – we actually painted the whole house in one colour – and created a melting effect, which we then piled a load of textures into.

We like to use the term “melting effect” to describe where we blend the same colour across the whole room, from skirting boards to the ceiling, to create the idea that the colour is melting into the whole space and blending the room altogether.

If you’re trying to make a room feel bigger, you need to look at how it is laid out to maximise space as much as you can. The idea of not using colour and going all-white in a smaller space to make it feel bigger is a misconception of what’s really going to happen with that space. It’s all about the size of the furniture and how you place it to make that space feel right. Funnily enough, for a small space you should actually go bigger with the furniture and aim for less clutter.

Choosing the correct paint is your next step. A few years ago, we used to regularly use a matte paint that had added marble to it, which created a unique reflective texture to the finish. Nowadays, we stick fast to a completely flat, matte finish, because it can create some interesting shadows and contrasts that you can use to your advantage in a scheme. We stay away from anything that has too much sheen. Generally what we often do is bring those colours across the entire room, as mentioned before in the melting effect. This allows for an interesting contrast between both the ceiling and walls, and even though it is the same paint and colour, various shadows and tones are reflected at various points of the day.

When it comes to selecting paint colours and textures, it is essential to be mindful of the quality of the brand you are working with. As with many things in life, you pay for what you get regarding a product’s quality, and much is the same when it comes to paint.

The way light interacts with your paint choice will depend entirely on its quality, and not necessarily its colour. If you are using paint that has a lot of sheen to it, it’s going to cause chaos with the lighting. If you stay with the higher-end brands, you’re not going to have the same issues of uncontrollable light reflections or light absorptions.

Light temperatures, lux levels and overall quality of lamps are extremely important as well;  you have to be really careful with your light source choice. When completing a project, we ensure to leave one of each type of light source with our client for any inevitable replacements to make sure the correct quality lamp is used.

A lot of how the lighting interacts with the room’s colours comes down to the programming too. For instance, if you are using reds in a room and rich-toned velvet, you will experience a lot of light and colour changes. Velvet has a lot of reflective qualities to it, but when brushed by hand in another direction, it fills with dark tones. Once you put light onto that fabric, you can exacerbate those effects.

Colour and light spill from decorative fixtures is another aspect to consider in a space. If you have spent a lot of care on a particular wall finish and colour that you do not want to be disrupted by coloured light spill from a decorative shade, for example, there are things you can do to minimise this. Taking shades as an example further, there are things you can use such as a blackout lining. This allows the light to flow directionally upwards and downwards, but it does not spill through the fabric of the shade. This works in favour of both the wall treatment behind the lamp, as well as for the fabric or finish of the shade itself not losing its impact through backlighting. It allows you to be really selective with your light output. Alternatively, you can use an opaque lining that does allow for light to dissipate through the shade and create an overall soft illumination. This is the most typical finish for a shade, however, the blackout linings create a unique aesthetic that allows for the shade to stand out as a piece of art on its own. If you are using a colour scheme much the same as our melt effect that runs the colour across the entire room, wall lamp shades are something that needs careful consideration if you are matching them to the wall colour, as an opaque lining illumination will change its colour completely.

Undertones of paints can vastly change how a colour is perceived during the day and night. For a recent residential project, Hollandbury Park, I used a dark blue colour in a bedroom that had really dark green undertones. The room was designed with nighttime in mind, as a space that is used mostly in times of darkness. The way the colour changed throughout different times of day was drastic, and again with the bedside lamps during the evening and early morning. The colour temperature of your electric lighting against paint colours with cooler or warmer undertones is also worth considering, as it will impact the overall feel of the space during hours of darkness.