Musings on Design



Interior Design and Decorating Services In Guelph and Surrounding Areas

Copyright Ocean Bottega

Layered interiors, colourful style, relaxed living, fun attitude, timeless life

paula clarke

Love the Home You're In


Ocean Bottega Interiors


Have you ever wondered why some colour combinations look so amazing together? Have you considered why one object can catch your attention and another disappear into the background? Have you tried to work with more than one colour and ended up with a jarring effect? The reason these things are happening has to do with the mathematics of colour.

Colour has a natural relationship to the wheel, the colour wheel that is. Where does the math come in? Well, the wheel, a circle, is based on having 360 degrees. This means that every colour and where it’s placed on the colour wheel has an inherent mathematical relationship to all the other colours. A typical colour wheel is made up of Primary and Secondary colours and has all six colours on it arranged in the order you would see them in a rainbow. The primaries occur at 120 degrees apart from each other and the secondaries occur between the primaries that created them, again 120 degrees apart.

Colours that are 180 degrees apart have a unique relationship to each other. They are polar opposites. But there is more to this than meets the eye. They are the most intense relationships because of their polarity. These combinations are Blue & Orange, Yellow & Purple, and of course the Christmas classic Red & Green. When colours 180 degrees apart on the wheel are placed side by side they 'energize' each other or intensify the way we perceive them. The only combination that has a higher contrast and therefore would attract your eye before the complementaries is black and white. 

Notice the first colour in each combination is a primary colour and the second is a secondary colour { mixed from the two other primary colours }.  These colour combinations are known as complements because you have a representation of the full complement { a completion of a group } of colours on the wheel contained in each combination. When these complements are mixed together they make a perfect neutral grey, the resulting 'mud' we all know from mixing every colour together as kids. If you want to tone down a colour the best way to do it is to add a little of it’s complement. You can make all kinds of subtle variations of a colour by adding different amounts of it’s compliment. Many rooms and paintings are created just using complementary colour. 

The importance of these polarities is in their attention grabbing properties. We want to see the ornaments on our Christmas tree so we use red because we know they will stand out. Artists and designers will use complimentary colours to attract your attention to a focal point in a piece of art or a room. Complimentary colour is everywhere in nature. It’s purpose is to help attract a mate, 'Come on over here , my sweet honey.'  or send a warning signal, 'Toxic! I can kill you!'.

If you want to hide something in plain sight make it the same colour as it’s surroundings. Now you have camouflage, a characteristic many animals use as a survival strategy to hide from predators. My youngest loves to watch Skinwars on Netflix, a body painting competition show. Even I have become fascinated, lol! They do an episode called "Hiding in plain sight", where a model is painted into a complex background. By colour matching the background to the model he/she becomes invisible. Colours nearest each other or that occupy the same spot on the wheel have what I call great 'Hiding Factor' because they have so much in common. The take away? If you want to disguise an unattractive feature make it the same colour as it's surroundings. 

Harmonious colour combinations can be created by choosing colours that are 120 degrees, 90, 60, 45, 30, 20 and 10 degrees apart, numbers that can be divided evenly into 360. Because of their position on the wheel they have qualities in common like hue { the name of a colour which is dependent on it’s dominant wavelength }, degree of lightness or darkness { some colours are brighter like Yellow and some darker like Purple } and temperature { the warmth or coolness of a given colour }. The closer together colours are on the wheel such as analogous colours { colours that are side by side } the more they have in common with each other. Colours closer together are less contrasting and consequently we perceive them as more calming. As the gap narrows in degrees more harmony is created.

When you start looking at the spacing of colours on the colour wheel you can create relaxing and harmonious colour combinations as well as combinations that energize and say “Look at me!”. Its all in the mathematics of colour.

Thought for Food

Look around your house or apartment { or bedroom } at any art you might have hanging on your walls. Posters count. List the main colours being used starting with the brightest colours. Can you identify a focal point or articulate what the artist wants you to see? Can you identify a colour scheme? Can you use this process with rooms you see in a magazine or online?

Make a scrap book or Pinterest board of images and rooms you enjoy looking at. Do you notice any trends in what you like? For example, I love almost anything if it's white. I also love bold colour schemes. I love the jewel tones and when it comes to style I like most things if the colour is there. Conclusion: I am driven first by colour and have flexible and evolving tastes when it comes to style. For me, colour equals fun! Who doesn't love some fun in their lives?


The mathematics of colour