Exposure, Reflection, and a Lil’ Thing Called Metamerism…
You’ll see a lot on Pinterest about ‘No Fail Neutrals / The Top 10 No Fail Paint Colours…’ and I’m here to burst your bubble and tell you, ‘there is no such thing as a no fail neutral’.
Why? Oh Lordy, where do I start.
Well the first place I’ll start is with YOU. And there are 2 types of ‘you’.
The Easy to Please You: You want a great paint colour, but not at all costs. (Men often fall into this category).
- You quickly narrow it down to 2-3 colours, pick one and run with it – no paint samples, no muss no fuss
- You may notice that it looks a bit different from wall to wall, but you aren’t too worried about it
The Anal, Head-Bangin’ You: You absolutely AGONIZE over picking the right paint colour and it can take weeks, if not months to come to a decision and even THEN you second guess yourself.
- You pick up dozens of paint samples and have them taped to or painted on your walls
- You agonize over how each colour changes on each wall – more green there, more orange there and maybe a bit pink over there!
- There are empty wine bottles on your floor and dents in your wall from all of the head banging
Yes, my lovely, this article is for you.
So, take a deep breath and realize that sometimes you are up against Mother Nature and a wild assortment of other things that can make it challenging to pick the PERFECT colour for EVERY corner of EVERY wall. That is reality.
The idea behind a ‘No Fail Neutral’ as that they will work in any room, in any conditions – hence the ‘no fail’. This means that no matter what your exposure is, your carpet, your countertop or your personal tastes – these colours won’t fail. But many will…
Metamerism is the cold hard fact that paint colours will change depending on their environment. Exposure, reflection, artificial lighting – these things WILL greatly affect how a colour may look in your home. And yes, there is MUCH MORE SCIENCE involved in all of this than ANY OF US really care to know about, so this is about keeping things a bit more ‘KD and box o’ wine’, rather than ‘quiche and caviar’.
Some colors will be more affected by metamerism than others. Gray, gray-blue, gray-green, lavender, mauve and taupe (basically the cooler side of the neutrals) are the colours that are the most affected by this and seriously, if you try to work around it you’ll wind up spinning in circles.
Also, the more ‘colours’ that a paint colour has in it, the more susceptible it can be to metamerism. You’ll find that paint colours that are made up of only 2-3 colours mixed together will be a bit more predictable than colours that are a blend of 5+.
Are you bored yet? I AM! Just joking. Kind of.
Let’s take a look at some of the different parts of metamerism (OH THE JOY!!!)
Read more: The Best Gray Paint Colours
That beautiful off-white that looked subtle and warm in your south facing room may look cold and grayish in your north facing room. Why? Because paint colours can be greatly affected by your exposure.
- North facing light: Gray with a blueish cast
- South facing light: yellow
- East and West: Well, they are a hot mess as they change drastically from morning to afternoon, so we may as well not even go there
You can’t expect a colour to act the same way on every wall in every room (particularly lighter and more neutral, cool colours) as they are easily affected by the quality of the natural light coming into the room.
I hear this ALL the time with my Online Consulting clients, ‘Every colour that I’ve looked at looks green in my room’ – and most often these are colours that simply have NO green in them! One look at the photos they send shows me WHY every colour is taking on a green hue – reflection. Outside those windows there are usually expanses of bright green grass, landscaping that is close to the window or a large bank of trees.
I had another client who didn’t understand why samples were looking pinkish in her room – there is no such thing as pink natural light (unless you get an epic sunset). One look at her photos showed me a deck that was stained in a lovely rich red – the same lovely red that was reflecting on to her walls!
So, while the best intentions might pick the perfect beige that ‘seems’ to be as neutral as neutral can get, this same neutral can change more than a chameleon as you go from one end of a wall to the other.
BTW: There’s not much you can do about this, short of shutting your drapes…or your eyes.
Why can’t you do anything? Well, for example, if you had a lot of green coming in the room, a natural way to combat this would be with red – to balance things out a bit. What does red become when it’s lightened? Pink. And while pink has it’s place, it’s usually better on ham than on walls. Sure, the walls that pick up the green reflection might seem a bit more neutral, but on the other walls and in the evening, you actually have to LIVE with this pinkish colour that you’ve chosen.
Funny enough, this is one of the trickiest parts. The type of light bulbs you use can greatly affect how your paint colour looks. And sure, this is something you ACTUALLY have control over, however, sometimes the type of light bulb that lets a paint colour look it’s most authentic is the one that you don’t feel the most comfortable living in.
- Incandescent bulbs: Tends to be a warmer light, enhancing colours like red, yellow and orange. Dulls cooler colours
- Fluorescents: A cool light that enhances blues and greens. Dulls warmer colours
- CFL’s: You have to watch these ones as it all depends on the Kelvin rating. A lower rating = warmer bulb. A higher rating = a cooler light, more like natural ‘daylight’.
- Halogen: Can enhance colours slightly, resembles daylight to a degree
- LED’s: The light that will make most paint colours look their most authentic.
I will be doing a blog post in the future re: light bulbs, so stay tuned. For now, let’s check out some lamp shades…
A big part of the lighting is the colour of the shade. White shades give off a more clear, bright, cool light. Amber shades or coloured shades will reflect a tinted light on to the walls as the light filters through it – regardless of the type of bulb (even though the bulb will still influence things).
So, you can stop wondering why you can’t seem to find the perfect paint colour, take a deep breath and find the paint colour that fits the bill most of the time. Sure, it might look a bit grayish here or a bit yellowish there, but as long as it has the bones you are looking for then go for it!
And if all else fails, you know who to call (wink wink).
Here's some other ideas for you!