When Color Goes Bad: Avoiding the Unpleasant Surprise

It’s hard enough to select the right color, but worse yet when it changes once you get it in the room. Here’s why that happens, and tips on how to avoid it.

 An architect I studied under in college in the mid-1970s had designed a glorious space—cathedral ceilings, stark white walls, and ruby red carpet. It was stunningly beautiful.  But every sunny afternoon, as light flooded the room, the walls turned pink. 


It wasn’t at all what he planned.

Colors reflect on each other and alter the way we “read” a room. A gold and red leafy tapestry fabric I specified once blended into orange under incandescent light.  A small blue-and-yellow checked wallpaper turned green when viewed from across the room. And taupe walls in a living room had a plum cast in the morning and appeared golden at night. In another house, gray walls became slate green in daylight hours.

Lighting makes such a huge difference in color selection. I selected a vintage Japanese obi under incandescent lamps, thinking the embroidery was a warm medium brown against the light olive background. When I looked again the next morning, as sunlight poured in the windows, those flowers were marigold. It was beautiful, but not as all as it appeared the evening before.

The phenomenon of metamarism most often occurs when colors which appear to match under one light source no longer match when viewed under another light source.

You’re probably more familiar with this in clothing–when you leave home thinking that your tights and your skirt match, and once in the office, they clash.  Or you look down to discover one blue sock and one black one, and the shirt that looked teal online is actually green.           

To avoid color surprises:

• Swatch before you paint, and look at the swatch on every wall over several days. My favorite way to do this is to use a light-weight board that can be moved from wall to wall.

• Look at fabrics, wallcoverings, art and rugs up close and from across the room.

• Look at every color in the room under the light in which it will be installed.

• If you must select colors near dusk or after dark, use something akin to an Ott light, halogen, LED or Xenon, of which emit reasonably clear, clean white light.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kate Smith October 17, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Great advice Rebecca.
jan November 07, 2012 at 05:35 PM
I think we've all been surprised by colors. We had very light walls, that at dusk appeared a deep pink, but in daylight was almost white. Not unpleasant, but not what I had planned either.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »