Color Post: How Texture and Sheen Affect Color Choices

I've had this image floating around in my mind for a bit now.
When I first saw it, I remember
thinking how much I wanted to step into the other side and be bathed in that pink perfection.
This was a room at the Mondrian Scottsdale, which, sadly, does not exist any longer.

(Before you delve into this post, I'm giving you fair warning that it is pretty technical and wordy,
but it's something I explain to clients, and this helps to understand color a bit better.
I've tried to limit the scientific boring bits :)

This tinted mirror illustrates beautifully the idea of reflected light and color -
 the pink acting as a lens to the reflection.
This coloration could have almost been achieved by a vibrant sunset, with all the rosy color of the light coming into the space reflected back off the white finishes present here.

The color of an object is not contained within the object.
The color is the result of our eyes interpreting the light
 which is being reflected back by that object.

How does that work?
The light spectrum consists of a range of frequencies,
each of which corresponds to a specific color.
When visible light shines upon an object and a specific frequency is absorbed,
that color will not make it to our eyes.
Any visible light that is not absorbed and is reflected back to us
will contribute to the appearance of the object.

This means when you see orange, for example, 
all the colors (blue) except red and yellow are being absorbed by that object,
 and the orange is being reflected back to you.

A turquoise object is absorbing all the red, and some yellow,
and is reflecting back blue and some yellow.

Easy to understand, right?
So how does this affect color choices within your space?

With high gloss accessories everywhere
and more and more clients exploring the idea of high gloss walls,
texture and sheen are a hot color topics.
You may not ever consider color a HOT topic :)
but in my color-obsessed universe.. it is!

Texture and sheen control the amount of reflected light and color an object sends back to our eyes.

The amount of sheen upon an object determines 
how much of that color is reflected and how much is absorbed.
A flat finish paint or textile absorbs more light, because the surface is rough and the light is refracted back in many directions. This makes the color appears darker.

A high sheen means a smooth surface, therefore more light is reflected. 
The color is more difficult for your eye to interpret 
because of the white light shining back toward your eye,
the result being that the color appears lighter than it actually is.

This affects your color choices in two main ways -

First, color distortion - the velvet your sofa is being upholstered in and the color for your walls
 may look identical in small swatches and samples,
 but they will appear differently in your space because of the sheen difference.
It is very important to bring in samples on your walls/furnishings/floors when using a high sheen finish to ensure the color appears as you would like it.
The end result will be different in every space because of the amount of light and the finishes around it.

Second, the reflected light and color - remember how your eye sees reflected light as color?
We see white when all the color wavelengths are present and being reflected back.
But what happens if you place a white sofa in a green room?
Why does the white take on a greenish hue?
This is because the white will not absorb the green wavelengths that are being directed
 at it from the green on the walls - they reflect it back to you.
The same will happen to a yellow sofa in a green room - they will reflect back the green wavelengths, causing the yellow to become cooler than it actually is.

This means that when choosing the textures and finishes for a color scheme
 you must be aware that the colors will reflect back onto the other elements in the room,
 and how much so is controlled by the finish and amount of light present.

Thats a bit of information overload, isn't it?!

Did I ramble too much or did you get the main point?
Sheen and texture affect color by affecting the amount of reflected light and color.

Do these posts help you to understand color a bit more easily?
That's my hope :)

I will be working on a whole series of posts in the next couple of months
 dealing with how to choose a color palette in your space.
Next week I'll post the overview :)

Hope you'll pop by!

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A Delightful Design said...

I was just thinking that I hope Anne-Marie takes a break from working out to post something today. ;-)
Loved this post. I am obsessed with high gloss walls. I have a few of these images on my blog but that glossy hallway is being saved to my "New House" folder!

Can't wait for the rest of this series!!

Sarah said...

Thank you for this. I feel like I am getting an online color course!

barbara@hodge:podge said...

That was a great informative post for us "average" colour inept folks! Never though of it, the effects of sheen on colour.

Looking forward to the next post!

Paddy said...

Loved it. Particularly practical was the example of white couch in green room.

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