How do we tell the true neutrals from the comfort colours, and what is the difference?
Ice-cream, coffee, chocolate, are just a few of the 'comfort' colour palette that makes us salivate. Why is it that the beiges, browns and warm white foods taste so good and evoke reassuring feelings of home and of comfort? There has been a trend in recent years to call these comfort colours “neutrals”. But this name is technically incorrect.
The term 'neutral' in Interior Design and Decorating means ‘without colour’. The true neutrals are black, white and grey. To call the beiges, browns and creams ‘neutrals’ muddies the waters so to speak and creates confusion.
Let's turn to Colour Psychology to give clarity to the confusion around what is a true neutral colour palette, what is not, and what this means to how we perceive and use colour.
In scientific terms, colour is simply the range of visible light that humans can see. Black, white and grey (grey being black and white mixed together), are not in the visible spectrum of light which goes only from violet to red. The longest visible wavelength is red and the shortest is violet, as seen in the rainbow and explains why it is curved.
The seven colours of the spectrum, in order of decreasing wave length are described commonly as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. These form the basis for the 12-Sectioned Colour Wheel which is used universally to create all colours. When we add the 3 true neutrals – black, white and grey, we are shading, tinting and toning the colours from the colour wheel and this gives an infinite palette of colours for us to choose from.
The Importance of the True Neutrals
So, does this mean that black and white aren’t real colours? In physics (the study of the physical properties of things), black, white and grey don't count as colours. In terms of interior design, they are the true neutrals by virtue of the fact that they are not on the colour spectrum. But that doesn't mean black, white and grey are not important in our colour palette. They are!
In Colour Psychology, the addition of the true neutrals to the colours of the colour wheel changes the emotional energy of each colour. From the softening of white to the impartiality of grey, to the protection of black, these neutrals help us to process our emotions on a deep subconscious level.
So how am I affected, you may ask?
That warming morning cup of black tea or coffee you are holding is made up of the primary colours red and yellow, which together make up orange. To this is added a hint of black, which gives it a brownish-black look. Orange is the colour that relates to emotions. It offers self-confidence amidst stressful situations. The black in black tea or coffee is protective of your emotions. Now you are creating the perfect colour palette to kickstart your day. Add some rich creamy, milk and/or sugar, and you have the makings of some clear thinking, self-soothing time to prepare for the day ahead… now add dark chocolate for some truly self-soothing indulgence.
The Colour Wheel & The True Neutrals
When the neutrals black, white and grey are added to the 12 colours of the traditional colour wheel, we end up with a palette of 51 colours. It is the tints, tones and shades, that help us to give voice to a broader range of emotions. In terms of colour, we reach instinctively for what we need. Using Colour Psychology, we see the full range of emotions that the combination of colours, or colours plus the neutrals describe.
The personal colour palette you select describes a mood or feeling that is personal to you at that moment and this changes from day to day. If you listen to yourself, colour can support how you are feeling which will help improve your day. Every day, you reach for a colour or colours that you subconsciously feel will fortify and support you at this particular moment.
Understanding Colour Psychology gives you the power to choose your emotional response to your day and to take corrective action by choosing another colour combination when required. What if you know you have a very busy day ahead but are feeling tired and unmotivated? Wearing red, or red with the neutrals added, will support you and help to get you going for the day.
While the true neutrals black, white and grey, can stand alone, though somewhat aloof in your home decor, their true power lies in adding shade, tint, and tone to the colours of the colour wheel. Black, white and grey play an important role in adding a richness and excitement that expands the selection of colours, and the experience of colour, in our lives.