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Playing with your room’s proportion

From the Resene decorating blog

Proportion is an important but often forgotten aspect of decorating your interiors.

The darker tones against the contrasting yellow make this dining nook appear larger

The darker tones of Resene Quarter Stack against the contrasting yellow Resene Hypnotic and walls, chairs and small vase in Resene Quarter Surrender, make this small dining nook feel much larger than it is.

The eclectic mix of furniture is coordinated together by painting them in the same colour. The table is painted in Resene Half Carefree, the candlestick and tall vase are in Resene Sublime and the floor is in Resene Half Duck Egg Blue. Pendant light and mug from Citta, cushions from Shut the Front Door, wooden fruit from Kikki K. Project by Emily Somerville-Ryan, image by Wendy Fenwick.

You might think you're stuck with a poky bathroom or a long narrow living room, but there are different visual tricks you can employ to change how the room is perceived, without having to take on major renovations.

Colour change

Colour can be a very helpful tool to create optical illusions, making the most of your room’s best features, camouflaging others and bringing the room into balance.

For example warm yellow and red colours like Resene Pohutukawa and Resene Hacienda can bring in the walls of large, uninviting spaces, making them feel closer and cosier.

Cooler shades of green and blue such as Resene Reservoir and Resene Hemisphere can make walls recede and give the impression of more space, making them a good choice for smaller, narrow rooms.

Scaling down

You can also combine colours to change your perception of a room’s shape and size.

For example, to scale down large rooms use a dark colour on all the walls, but don’t go all the way to the ceiling.

Paint the top section of the walls and the ceiling in the same contrasting colour. Combinations to try are deep blue Resene Indian Ink on the lower walls with ceilings in Resene Eighth Tea. But you can create the same effect with a less dramatic, more neutral combination such as Resene Perfect Taupe on the walls and Resene Half Thorndon Cream up high.

Alternatively, if you want to lower an over-high ceiling, paint your lower walls a lighter shade and paint the ceiling and upper section of the wall in a dark shade.

How high you make the change in colour will depend on the dimensions of your room, and what you’re trying to achieve but a good place to start is to go to just above the tops of your doors.

The thing to remember is that your eye will be drawn to the line where the colour changes. It’s essentially telling your brain that one part of the room stops at the line and another begins, which changes how we view the room.

To really scale down a large space you could paint your ceiling and walls in a darker colour down about three-quarters of the wall. Then paint your flooring and lower walls in your chosen lighter shade.

To shorten a long, narrow room, paint the long walls in a lighter colour, and the end walls in a darker colour to make the room feel shorter.

A dramatic home office with bold use of shapes and contrast

Bold use of shapes and contrast within a monochrome palette carve out a dramatic space for this home office. The colour of the main wall and floor is Resene Ravine. The office square is Resene Pumice. The desk and bookshelf are Resene Blue Smoke and the chair is Resene Harp. The rubbish bin is Resene Armadillo, the ladder is Resene Pewter and the magazine file and plant pot are Resene Yucca. The vases, bowls and smaller accessories are painted in Resene Napa, Resene Yucca, Resene Blue Smoke, Resene Pewter, Resene Ravine, Resene Haven, Resene Pumice and Resene Harp. Chair from Freedom, earthenware pot from Allium, ceramic vessel from Citta, artwork from Etsy/Noamaart. Project by Vanessa Nouwens, image by Wendy Fenwick.

Scaling up

To add a sense of space and airiness to a smaller room, paint your walls and ceilings in the same colour then paint the ceiling in a lighter colour. For example, for a serene beachy feel in a small lounge try painting the walls and floor in Resene Calypso and paint the ceiling in a pale, warm neutral such as Resene Barely There. It will help make the room feel much more open, as though the ceiling has been lifted.

To add a sense of width to a room, paint the floor and ceiling in the same or similar darker colour, then make the walls a lighter shade. Try something bold like a ceiling and floor in charcoal Resene Porter with walls in fresh Resene White Pointer, or go more minimalist by using different colour intensities of Resene Thorndon Cream; triple strength on the floor and ceiling, and quarter strength on the walls.

Add stripes

If you want to go for something unexpected, vertical stripes will also make a space feel taller – just as horizontal stripes will make a space feel smaller and more contained.

Resene Wallpaper can be a really impactful and simple solution to adding stripes. Try the teal-toned stripes of Resene Wallpaper Collection E300135 or the muted neutrals of Resene Wallpaper Collection MR70709.

This stripe effect is also worth remembering if you’re putting in a fence or deck outside. The direction you lay your timber will change how long or wide your outdoor area feels. Looking along long lengths of timber will elongate your space, while upright posts will shorten the space and make your garden feel more compact.

A living area with dark and light colours

Darker lower walls in Resene Karaka anchor this living area while the upper walls in pale Resene Pewter make the space feel light and airy.

The floor is Resene White Pointer while the coffee table is Resene Bud, and the bookshelf has a Resene Eagle interior with Resene Soothe exterior. The striped planter is Resene Karaka, Resene Pewter and Resene Bud. The bowl on the table is Resene Just Dance with coasters in Resene Karaka, Resene Soothe, Resene Bud and Resene Pewter. On the shelves the small round bud vase is Resene Pewter, the bottle vase is Resene Soothe, and the tall vase is Resene Pewter. Project by Vanessa Nouwens, image by Bryce Carleton. Canvas, throw, cushions from Shut the Front Door, rug and tree from Freedom, mug and thistle cushion from Citta, velvet cushion and sofa from Contempa, pots from Kmart.

A penguin themed kids bedroom

The two-tone walls, with tonally matched floor and furniture, not only make this child’s bedroom seem bigger and taller, but they also keep it nicely on its penguin theme.

The upper walls and the top of the dresser are in Resene Quarter Frozen with the lower wall, the rest of the dresser and the floor in Resene Spinnaker. The iceberg painted ‘headboard’ is Resene Sea Fog, Resene Frozen and Resene Blue Moon. The shelf and dimpled vase are Resene Frozen, with the box in Resene Matisse. The pencil cup and the vase on the dresser are Resene Fuel Yellow The pendant light is Resene Bright Spark. The dark vase is Resene Bullitt. Duvet, pillowcases, blanket from Citta, penguin puppet from Toyco. Project by Laura Lynn Johnston, image by Bryce Carleton.

A note about dark colours

While it is true that dark colours tend to advance making spaces feel smaller, and light colours tend to recede making rooms seem larger, it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t use dark colours in a small space.

For a start, you may want a bedroom, sitting area or study to feel cosy and contained. But by blurring the edges of your room, the dark colours can recede to create the sense of one continuous space. The trick to doing this is to have fewer visual edges. Paint trims in a similar dark shade to the walls and try Resene testpots in different dark shades to see how they play with the light in your room.

Try darker side walls with a lighter colour on the end, particularly around a window to make your space feel longer, or try the reverse with darker end walls and lighter long side walls to make your room feel wider.

Colour outdoors

You can use colour to play with scale outdoors as well. Paint patio ceilings or shelter screens lighter or darker to make your space feel bigger or cosier.

When it comes to painting or staining your fences, think about the colours around the fence. A dark fence on its own may feel like it’s hemming your garden in, but behind shrubbery and fines, a dark stain like Resene Woodsman Shadow Match or Resene Woodsman Canopy will recede, softening the edges of your section.

Optical illusion tips and tricks

Resene Just Dance

Resene Porter

May 17, 2022

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