Colour has been studied by scientists (Leone Battista Alberti around 1435) and artists like Leonardo da Vinci (circa 1490), for centuries. The physical properties of light, how it travels and what it means in scientific terms are not particularly helpful to the designer. This is because we do not see light in its pure form but through the tissues of our eyes which deliver information to the optical nerve – information that our brains then try to make sense of. The human mind creates optical illusions and effects which are very important in how we experience the light and colour around us. Understanding these effects is very important to good design.
If any pure colour pigment is mixed with white, grey or black you get a neutral colour. Neutral colours are used extensively in modern colour schemes. However if you place them next to a deeper colour their colour will appear to change – the neutral colour seem to develop the contrasting/complementary colour to the deeper hue. Complementary colours cancel one another out to produce a grey, white or black. So for example a strong green colour against a gray wall makes the gray wall look redder. This is because our brains look for differences in the visual information they receive and essentially exaggerate them so that edges and objects are identified more accurately.
Colour is really important to communicate or even change people’s moods. This is because we associate colours with particular things. So we see certain colours as warm and usually invigorating and other colours as cool and relaxing.
A quick trawl through a book shop or the internet will the reveal the names of lots of sorts of colour schemes – Triadic, Split-analogous, Monochromatic etc. We will not go over these here because what they mean is not really important. What is important is for you to think about where you are using your colour, which colours you like and how big your space is. In general light colours and large single colour blocks increase the feel of space. Lots of colour in smaller blocks is more invigorating but can make a small space feel cluttered. If you want some statement colours choose a very neutral colour to act as a base and then add your brighter splashes. Alternatively use a single colour but use hues of it – slighter darker and lighter versions. The different hues approach is also great for creating a calm colour scheme, but start with a more neutral, less saturated colour.
Once you have an idea of the colours you really want to use and the brightness versus neutrality of your overall scheme you can use one of the many excellent on-line colour scheme generators for inspiration. Personally I like this one – http://colorschemedesigner.com/ If you are looking for general inspiration then go onto pinterest and search for some colours or room names. You can quickly access large catalogues of high quality, hand selected image galleries.