How Light Affects Colour

An extraordinary response to light is our paint’s most distinctive asset, but while we – and you – love the beautiful, unexpected results of different light sources meeting our colours, this can add an extra layer of complexity when choosing how to redecorate.

Our brief guide will give you some options for making the most of different light, whether that means embracing it wholeheartedly, or offsetting it with a few clever tricks.

Natural Light

The quality of the light, the time of day, and even the time of year can change how we perceive colour under natural light. This means it can be difficult to pin down every element that might play tricks with your paint colour, but we do have a top tip for outwitting unfavourable light conditions. It all comes down to considering the aspect of the room you’re painting – whether it faces east, west, north, or south. 

Painted in Blackened No.2011 | Modern Emulsion & Calamine No. 230 | Estate Emulsion

Painted in Cornforth White No. 228 | Estate Emulsion

South Facing Spaces

In fine weather, south facing rooms can be filled with warm light from dawn until dusk, making them among the easiest rooms to choose a palette for.

Using soft, pale tones on the walls of a south facing room is a great way to maximise the feeling of light and space. Blues, such as Pavilion Blue and Borrowed Light, create a calming aquatic feel, while Warm Neutrals like Joa’s White will create a warmer feel. For a crisp, fresh look no matter your wall colour, try a bright white on woodwork.

Painted in Borrowed Light No.235 & Hague Blue No.30 | Modern Emulsion; Wimborne White No.239 | Modern Eggshell

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North Facing Rooms

Painted in Railings No.31 | Dead Flat

Northern light tends to bring out the cooler tones within a colour, so if you’re using a lighter tone, avoid anything with a green or grey base. Yellow based colours like Yellow Ground, New White and White Tie will help to bounce as much light as possible around the room. If you have the space, hanging a mirror to reflect the light will do the trick, too.

Another approach is not to fight nature, but to embrace the cooler light that comes into your north facing room with darker wall colours such as Railings or Down Pipe, which create a cosy, cocooning feel.

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West Facing Rooms

When decorating a west facing room, it’s useful to consider when you’ll be using it most. Light in west facing spaces is cooler in the morning and brighter in the afternoon.

In west facing rooms, the warm tones of Middleton Pink or Setting Plaster are excellent options for making the most of golden, late afternoon light, while Slipper Satin or Shaded White will look cool in the morning but balance the warmer light later in the day. Alternatively, embrace the changing nature of these spaces with a chameleon shade like Light Blue, which subtly shifts between blue and silver depending on the light.

Painted in Setting Plaster No.231 | Modern Emulsion and Modern Eggshell, Wimborne White No.239 | Modern Eggshell

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Decorating East Facing Rooms

East facing rooms are the opposite of west facing rooms, enjoying the most sun in the morning and cooler, muted light in the evening. So, again, the key is thinking about when you’re going to use the space.

If you mainly use the space later in the day, embracing the cooler evening light with light blues and greens can have a beautifully soft and calming effect – try Blue Ground or Teresa’s Green. Or use a deep, dark shade like Inchyra Blue or Hopper Head to create a cocooning, protective feel. If you use the room during the day, make the most of the morning sun with bright, lively shades like Whirlybird or the aptly named Breakfast Room Green.

Painted in Teresa's Green No.236 | Modern Emulsion and Modern Eggshell

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Artificial Light

Just like natural light, artificial lighting can affect how colours appear. Halogen and incandescent bulbs emit yellow light, which makes wall colours appear warmer, while cool white bulbs tend to give off a bluer light, giving paint a cooler cast. For the truest representation of your chosen wall colour, you may want to try a neutral white bulb, which most accurately replicates daylight.

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