Color and Light – its a tricky relationship.


I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful seminar last week regarding color and how it is affected by light.

If you don’t already know, I hold some very strong feelings about color and its proper use and application. This class was wonderful because we were instructed on many things including how we perceive color, how color and light are measured, the tricks that light can play on us when we see color in different environments, and how technology has changed over the last 2-3 years.

One big thing that I was excited to learn is that color is actually light! Well, it is the way that light reflects from the objects that we view. Different colors give off different wavelengths and it is all very scientific. Leonardo DaVinci was the one that discovered that white light is the presence of all colors in the spectrum and black is the absence of color. So it is kind of the opposite of what they taught in painting class, because in painting class we were using pigment. Here is an image that might help you.

So, what is color really then?

Well, color is the sensation caused by certain qualities the eye recognizes and the brain interprets. I am not going to get in to all of the nitty-gritty details of spectral primary colors vs compliments or pigments, but trust me when I say it gets pretty complex.

But hey, guess what? We can see 7,000,000 different colors!! (And I wonder why my clients stress so much about this decision?)

How color and light are measured.

Color actually has a temperature and this temperature is measured in Kelvin. The Kelvin scale starts at 1,000 and goes all the way up to 10,000. Here is how it was put it into perspective for me:

1,000 Kelvin is quality of light that a candle flame produces. So we are talking deep, warm, low temperature light.

10,000 Kelvin is very high temperature! They put it this way: when you turn on your gas fireplace and see that thin blue line of flame at the edge…that is about 10,000 Kelvin. Cool in color, but hot in temperature.

So…what does that have to do with you?

Well, since the US government recently mandated that most incandescent bulbs cease being produced, it has a lot to do with you. I am sure you have noticed that going to the store to buy a replacement light bulb has become, well, a bit more confusing than it used to be. (And a little bit more expensive up front as well.)

You are going to start seeing kelvin numbers printed on the labels of the bulbs (or “lamps” as they are called in the industry). You will see things like “cool white,” or “warm white,” maybe you have been tricked by the “full-spectrum” name as well?

While you may be frustrated by these changes, they are really super good for your pocket book and the environment. Mass consumer savings were projected to be around $40 billion in energy costs over the next 20 years, and the new CFL or LED bulbs burn anywhere from 70-80% more efficiently!

However, you will notice a difference in the way your light looks so take note. For most of my residential applications I recommend what you would see as “warm white” or less than 3,000 Kelvin temperature lamps. Commercial applications are going to vary depending on use, but the positives about these replacements are that you wont see that annoying “flickering” at the office when the overhead lighting is about to go out, and the light spread is much more even.

Now I get to talk about what I can do for my clients, as well as a little color trick I learned about called, Metamerism.

Have you ever taken that paint swatch home, looked at it, and thought, “Now that is not the same color I picked in the store?” Or maybe you put on black dress pants and a suit jacket at home and the color totally matched, until you got to the office! Yep: metamarism. We can observe color metamarism either when the light source changes, the surrounding colors change, or when objects are presented at different angles.

This is why I encourage clients to not only wait, but to hang the full-sized paint samples (that I have privy to) as well as fabric swatches, tile samples, etc. Look at these things Morning, noon, and night. Lay tiles horizontally as they will be on the floor, drape fabric over the pillows at the right angles, and place them under the actual lighting that you are going to have in the fixtures in your space before painting. I know many of my clients are eager to get painted and done, but spending thousands of dollars on painting, or a custom order on drapery, only to be disappointed is not worth it. Wait a week. Wait until I can get you the best samples, and lets explore and talk about color and light in your project together!

I hope you learned something awesome today, and I am so happy I went to hear Christie with Sherwin Williams give this lecture.

As always, Design With A Spark!


*spark interiors claims no ownership to any images presented*



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