Building Today, Volume 1 Number 2 (January 1937)
Colours for Cold Days
Colours for Cold Days
Here's a suggestion for you, Mrs. Housewife: You have your summer frocks and winter frocks—why not spring and autumn dresses for your living-rooms ? Just change your curtains and cushions and rugs next autumn—you will be delighted with the possibilities for new colour harmonies—and, incidentally, you will see new beauties in your present furnishings when you put them back the following spring.
In home-decoration dark days bring their own difficulties. Both heat and light become now more precious, but they are to some extent mutually exclusive. Artificial heat and light, moreover, enter the room from sources of their own, and this calls for rearrangement after summer—-yet balance must be maintained. Colour comes in, Indeed, heat, light and colour are intimately connected—for natural heat and light, coming to us together from the sun, are obviously akin, and light is a mixture of all colours.
Black and white are the extremes of colour. A white object is white because it gives back the light that falls upon it, i.e. it reflects all coloured rays. Black is the absence of colour. A black object is black because it does not reflect any light: instead it absorbs any light or heat rays falling upon it. Thus black bodies are perpetually warmer than white bodies.
This actual state of affairs is enhanced by a deep-seated memory of our past experiences. White, the colour of snow and frost and cloud, always calls up in the subconscious mind a vague suggestion of cold. Not for nothing are dairies painted in white or cream. And, conversely, white upholstery in winter would give us the shivers.page 31
A glance at this cosy corner of a modern living-room will show you the idea. With a floor of polished deep red jarrah, light buff coloured walls and woodwork, and chairs in a soft fawny gray, we suggest, for the dark days: the rugs of pale fawn with pattern in deep red or brown or black, cushions and hangings in golds and browns and, of course, from your garden, autumn flowers or foliage. When spring is in: curtains green and silver, rug in silver grey, cushions a soft pale green, and, just to complete the picture, a couple of posy bowls packed full with violets!
Glossy surfaces are similar to white ones, for they reflect light as white does.
But then, again, as light is especially welcome in winter, light or shiny curtains are then particularly appropriate.
Similar considerations apply to heating stoves, radiators and pipes: the most efficient ones are dull and black: highly polished and coloured stoves mean as much as twenty per cent. loss of efficiency. Colour is often worth while, of course; but it makes a bigger stove necessary.
Now that the fireplace is again to be the psychological centre of the room, light on the recently-deserted hearth becomes essential once more. But this does not mean that lights should be placed over the mantelpiece. There they would irritate those sitting around the fire.
Artificial light differs from daylight chiefly in its concentration in a comparatively small point. If a small point of light is to illuminate a room as adequately as a big window it is bound to glitter.page 32
Hence shades, of course; but shades absorb the light itself in proportion to their efficiency as shades. They thus call for the multiplication of light-points. Hand or reading lamps are not only utilitarian, but decorative also. They should be placed irregularly and yet give an effect of balance.
Mirrors, naturally, should be placed where their reflections will not worry those who would sit at ease. Mirrors over the mantelpiece have long been conventional: their place is more often in dark corners where they can be ornamental as well as useful.
Colour gives a clear-cut message. Here the effect of memory already mentioned is even stronger. The colours of fire and flame and sun and rich warm blood take on the other attributes of these things, whereas blues and greens call up a hint of the coolness of sea, sky and foliage. And so the blue or green furnishings—curtains, covers and cushions—that have made the room a delightfully cool retreat in summer can now give way to those of warmer hues, making the room a cheerful place on cold, wet days. And the gain in cheerfulness and warmth can be obtained without sacrifice, a study in contrasts merely yielding to an equally charming study in harmony, or conversely.
There is further good fortune in that these warm colours are just those which are made more brilliant by artificial light.
Moreover, there seems to be some subtle interrelationship between warm black and these other warm colours. Certainly black is the foil for the gay reds and yellows, as white sets off greens, blues and violets. Colours seen against black remain pure and yet appear brighter by contrast. This can be seen by partly covering a coloured cloth with a black one, gazing at the junction of the cloths for a while and then suddenly removing the black, when the colour formerly covered shines out brighter than the rest of the cloth of the same colour. So it is when our eye wanders over a scheme containing touches of black—after the black the colours appear extra rich and vivid.