Interior Colors 101: Cool and Warm Tones

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Have you ever felt a certain cold or warm sensation when you enter a room? No, not the air or humidity. It’s just the whole feeling that you feel in that room – like the atmosphere or the invisible vibes. Well, that’s what colors do to you. Colors also play a part in the interior that makes a room seems cool or warm, or even a combination of both.

Color tone 101

Colors basically have two tones: cool tone and warm tone. Each of them has its own charms, like what memory they can evoke, what mood do they spark, and even what level of comfort they can offer you.

Cool colors usually radiate freshness and calmness, typified by blue, green, and light purple. They may remind you of water and sky, makes you imagine those blue hues and darker, mature shades. These colors are usually good choices if you want to visually enlarge a smaller room.

Meanwhile, warm colors are, as its name, heartwarming and summer-like, such as orange, red, yellow, and combinations of these and similar colors. They make you think of sunlight and heat. If you seek to make a large room seems cozier and intimate, these colors are your option


Now, this is what each color tone can do to match your needs.

Cool: Best for private rooms

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Cool colors are said to be calming, refreshing, and relaxing. Thus, they are suitable for private rooms such as bedrooms, bathrooms, home offices, and study or reading rooms. The blue side of the spectrum, along with cool browns and grays and the cool off whites, own the qualities of coolness and effective to calm our emotions and focus our thoughts.


Warm: Best for social rooms

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They are hot and stimulating to our emotions. That’s why we often find such bright colors like red successful in our consumer society, for example, Coca-Cola and Ferrari. The vibrancy of a bright orange or the intensity of a deep, rich red – they radiate boldness and full brightness.  Therefore, warm colors could be best for your living room, dining room, and kitchen – where you socialize the most or do a lot of activities. These colors will stimulate and encourage warm, social behavior.


Light and temperature

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Colors also play a part in setting up the temperature literally. In other words, they can make the whole air in the room warmer or cooler. Furthermore, they are able to make the room seem brighter or darker as well. Here are the tips: if you live in a climate that’s hot most of the year, you might prefer a decorating scheme that’s dominated by cool colors. Otherwise, if you want to feel warmer in your home or specific space, your colors are the warm ones. Then, to set the brightness, you can take advantage of the lightness of the colors, no matter where they side – warm or cool. If you want a brighten a space that’s short on the sun or artificial light, choose light-reflecting colors. To tone down a room that gets a lot of light, or to add contrast to the brightness, you should choose dark colors.


What about black and white?

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Fun fact: black has a warming effect, while white is cooling. Although they’re not included as colors, they still have these cool and warm properties. To cool down a room in the hot climate, white is such a big help. Therefore, when you paint a room white, try to combine other warmth elements so that your room would still be comfortable. You may play with the furnishing, wall artwork, etc. On the other hand, black is instantly warm so you wouldn’t need it as a whole solid color in your room. Try to paint it a little, or combined it with the other cool complementary color.


Balance and Contrast

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If you’re too caught up in choosing your tone, you can just combine and balance them. A room can have both tones – it’d be more fun to see, though. In fact, no room should have just one. All you have to do is deciding which vibes do you want to have for the room, then choose the dominant color. For instance, if you want your room to be cozy, you can pick the warm colors to be the main and dominant, then add few elements with cool colors as complementary. Again, you can play with the decorations, artwork, or even the houseplants.

However, you may want to keep it lowkey in balancing and contrasting cool and warm colors. Too extreme combinations can be overwhelmed and sophisticated to your room, especially if they end up not blending really well. For example, don’t paint your kitchen green (cool) when you have a terracotta floor (warm) and gold finish hardware (warm); or don’t put down a blue carpet (cool) in your living room if you have brown couches and off white walls (warm). Remember, just choose a bit few complementary to the dominant.


Neutral colors: the collaborator

Neutral colors – such as tans, beiges, ivories, creams, whites, blacks, and grays, are like mutts; they are super flexible mixes where no strong color is evident and they work well in many situations. They don’t have much intensity or saturation, thus they go with any colors and are adaptable to both cool and warm colors. Therefore, you can use them as the base for any of your main colors. Since all colors tend to make brown, neutrals cover a dizzyingly vast landscape of browns that run from the warm, red-brown of milk chocolate, to the cooler taupes and stone colors, to the light beige off whites. See, there is plenty to play with!


80/20 rule

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If you are still figuring out how to mix and match the colors, don’t worry! You can try this trick: 80% of the base color (neutral) and 20% of your main color (warm or cool). The neutral colors could be on your wall, then your main muse for the furnishings and/or the decorations. Or, if you’re braver, try the ‘balance and contrast’ step with 80% for the dominant color and 20% for the few complementary.


Now that you know the basic differences between warm and cool colors, I’m pretty sure you can pull out your interior color makeover or decor game very well. Remember: always think about the mood that you want the room to be, and see your true colors!


You can also find out further about interior colors 101 here:

Understanding warm and cool colors

The best ways to use warm and cool colors

And visit our other articles for more decor inspos:

Earthy Tone Ideas for Home Decor

21 Wall Paint Colors That Go With Dark Brown Furniture

Accent Wall Dos and Don’ts


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