February 20, 2016

Factors to Consider During the Colour and Paint Selection Process

For most, colour selection within the architectural environment is based primarily on trends… and to a larger degree, on one’s own personal colour preferences and sense of visual aesthetics. Such an approach falls short of harnessing the functional aspects of colour that could essentially benefit the end-user. We need not assume that current trends and personal design traits are sufficient justification for the creation of a suitable architectonic environment.

Mahnke et. Al (2007) in his book Color-Communication in Architectural Space states that, ‘Trends in fashion and consumer goods might in fact be prepared and strategically planned for the economy, but this would be erroneous in the field of architecture or interior design. Responding to a trend would not respect the need for effective color design, which is based on applied psychology. Short-lived variations in interior design follow a hasty, disposable mentality, and contradict serious and fundamental design philosophies’. Specialised colour designers work under the guidance of this statement in their quest to create environments that best suit the end-users, implying that for them, trend colours are not a priority in their colour choices.

Functional Colour Design needs to be factored into the specification process. This approach not only takes into consideration the ergonomic role of colour, but the human psycho-physiological reaction to colour, including, the psychological, neuropsychological, visual ergonomic and psychosomatic effects of hues within the built environment.

The emotional content (also known as the ‘emotional loading’) of an environment is one the most important goals of appropriate architectural/environmental design. Colour plays a major part since it determines the overall mood or ambiance of an interior space. It is the goal of the professional colour specifier to create places and spaces that will not unnecessarily burden the mental and physical well-being of inhabitants.

For architectural exteriors, colour can modulate a building and bring it in harmony with its surround. In its colouration, individual buildings may appear well proportioned or distorted. Buildings exhibiting the same or similar design can be given individuality through colour characterisations.
For both interiors and exteriors, colour can differentiate elements, contain, equalise, unite, accentuate, underline or draw attention to architectural proportions/dimensions.

For interior spaces, the architectural dimensions and type of natural and/or artificial lighting play a pivotal role in the colour selection process. Small spaces suffering from inadequate lighting would not benefit from the use of dark and intense colours, as these have the ability to create a ‘caving-in effect’ which makes a small, confined space look even smaller than it actually is. Understanding the type of lighting within the building and ensuring that colours are selected under identical lighting conditions will play a key role in ascertaining colour consistency. ‘Brush-out samples’ of selected colours are always recommended before one commits to placing a paint order for purchase.

It is vital to understand that apart from the decorative role of colour within a given interior space, its main function is that of mood creation. It is the colour specifier’s responsibility to ensure that the palette chosen serves this key function and arouses the appropriate feelings it is intended to.

The architectural style of a building plays a part in determining the colours one chooses and uses. Are there any architectural features of interest such as pillars, columns etc. worthy of accentuating in an accent colour? Only attractive features deserve highlighting… ensuring too that the accents chosen compliment and remain in harmony with other surround colours. The overall success of the aesthetic appeal of any design space lies in how well all colours harmonise within the scheme. It is essential to look at the colours of existing fixed fittings and finishes within the architectural space, including, but not limited to flooring, paving, roofing material, built-in features etc.

For walls that have been formerly painted in dark, bold and intense colours and at a later point in time require a lighter palette colour make-over, priming in a white to light-grey undercoat should be done prior. This improves paint coverage and ensures that the new top coats of the colour applied are as close as possible to the original colour/s selected.

Remember that the more intense a colour is, the more likely it is to fade. Dark, bold and intense hues absorb heat and are prone to moisture problems than the lighter shades. This aspect should always be considered when selecting exterior colour palettes… and those of north facing interiors.

Surfaces should always be well prepared before applying any paint coating system. Uneven, cracked and defective walls cast shadow effects which will consequently affect the chosen colour’s overall appearance.

Badly plastered walls do not benefit from glossy paints whatsoever. The glossier the surface, the more likely it will highlight imperfections, brush strokes and touch-up marks. Matt finishes are, in general, recommended for such walls.

Bearing in mind that painting is a specialised trade skill, requiring ‘above-average’ workmanship, a professional applicator is advised for all paint projects. Some of the key factors to consider when painting interior and exterior surfaces shall be highlighted in the article hereon following.


Meerwein, G., Rodeck, B. & Mahnke F., (2007), Colour: Communication in Architectural Space, Birkhauser, Basel, Switzerland

About Shane Weeden

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