Use color to brighten your space

Kaitlin Miner

With the summer heat setting in, many students are seeking an oasis in the form of an air-conditioned apartment or a residence hall room. However, transforming these living spaces into areas that are fit for an escape from the heat isn’t always easy.

One of the best ways to improve your living space is to add color. Doing so in a small space and on a college student’s budget may seem like a daunting task, but after heeding a few tips, you can start enjoying a little more color in your own space.

Know your colors 

Deciding the feeling you want from your room is the first step in knowing what colors will suit your space best, said Jihyun Song, assistant professor of interior design. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing, calming refuge or a bold, energizing area, different colors will fit different effects better.

For a relaxing, calming effect, cool colors like blues, greens and violets are most appropriate. Warm colors like reds, oranges and yellows are best for a bold, energizing effect.

If you’re unsure about what you direction you want to take in your area, Cigdem Akkurt, associate professor of interior design, recommended looking to nature for inspiration.

“What I suggest to students is to look at nature, especially now. When you look at nature, in general, you can look at the sky, the green grass right now, the lush grass and the flowers in it …. So nature is important,” Akkurt said. “You don’t have to look at nature as the big picture either; take a flower, for instance, and look at it.”

Akkurt also believes having a main piece, “like a couch you adore or something else of sentimental value,” can aid in developing the ambience of the room. Whether you have an inspiration piece that is guiding your color choices or you’re looking toward nature to inspire you, Akkurt believes it’s about discovering what you like about the colors around you.

“You don’t really have to know about the science of color, like the color wheels and stuff. It’s a personal reaction. If you know that something is speaking to you, then you stop and listen to it … or you look and see it,” Akkurt said.

Consider the Context

Knowing the context of your color is also key, Akkurt said. The form, light and materiality will determine how the color will look in a room.

Form is important because it allows you to really think about where you want the color to be in a room.

When looking at the materiality of a room, you should look at the structure of the room, whether it’s made of mostly concrete or is framed by a lot of woodwork. Certain reactions accompany each material, such as the warmth that is evoked in a room with a lot of woodwork.

Considering the light in the space is the most important thing in understanding the context of color, Akkurt said. Knowing where color will appear in a room and how much light will be in the room will help you see how certain colors will actually appear in a room

Mix and match

“It is important to establish early on that it’s not about a color. It’s about the relationship of colors …. A punch of color can be used in a simple way that … can make an impact,” Song said.

Being able to bring different colors together in a space can actually help make a small space appear larger, or vice versa.

Warm colors appear to be closer to us than cool colors, so a room with a cool color palette appears more spacious, Song said. Contrasting warm colors with cool colors can actually make cool colors appear cleaner and crisper, evoking a feeling of calmness.

“Using warm colors in the foreground and cool colors in the background enhances the perception of depth. Cool colors in a background are frequently used to set off areas of warm colors. In a college room, since it’s usually a small room, you can give accents with warmer colors on pillows and other accessories while you’re setting a larger surface area with cool colors.”

It’s also important to use patterns in playing up the size of your room. If you’re working with a small space, using light colors and tones with smaller patterns helps the space appear larger, Akkurt said.

Find your focus

Akkurt believes that, even in small spaces it’s important to have a focal point. A fireplace or other design feature can serve as a great focal point.

Centering the furniture around a focal point in a way that stimulates conversation helps emphasize the focal point, Akkurt said. Once you have a focus, color can be used to help you add focus to that area. 

In many college residence hall rooms and in many students’ apartments, the television serves as the focal point in a room. Surrounding a television with other visually interesting items helps add interest to this area. Using bookshelves with books or some form of greenery are good techniques, said Akkurt.

Books add a personal touch to the room and elicit a certain response from the reader. Greenery, when placed near a window or in a visible area rather than tucked in a corner, helps connect the outdoors and indoors, and helps break that boundary between the room and the outdoor space. Just make sure it’s a plant that requires minimal effort or one that can be easily maintained to ensure that it will stay green.

Posters and artwork can also add personality and interest to a room. Akkurt believes original artwork, perhaps your own or a friend’s, can serve as meaningful focals in themselves.

Photographs can also serve as a personal focal point in a room. Using color, such as one bold wall in a room balanced by cooler colors in the rest of the space, is a good way to draw attention to a focal point, Akkurt said.

Song believes that using a monochromatic color scheme can also help students save money. Picking one hue to decorate in a room and using various tones of that hue helps keep cohesion in a room, and can be easily done if you have a majority of accessories in one color.

Color doesn’t have to be complicated

Akkurt believes testing out a color in your space with different accessories or easily changeable pieces, like slipcovers or rugs, allows you to experiment with what feeling and colors you want to have in a room.

Remember, it’s your space, and, as Song said, “The most important thing about the colors in our room is that it be a reflection of you.”