Understanding Warm and Cool Colors

Warm and cool color swatches

The Spruce

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Color is one of the most important aspects of the design of any room. It can create a mood or evoke memories of a far off, distant place. Colors can even make you smile, relieve your stress, and help you wander off into a good night's sleep. So how do you know which colors are best for each task? That's a good question. Designers are always throwing around terms such as warm colors and cool colors. But what do they mean? Gaining an understanding of these terms will help you determine what to look for when choosing colors for your home decor.

Warm Colors

Warm colors consist of orange, red, yellow, and combinations of these and similar colors. As the name indicates, they tend to make you think of warm things, such as sunlight and heat. Visually, warm colors look as though they come closer, or advance (as do dark colors), which is why they're often used to make large rooms seem cozier. If you have a huge bedroom that you want to look more intimate, try painting it a warm color such as terra-cotta or brown to make it feel cozier.

Warm paint colors
The Spruce

Cool Colors

Cool colors are typified by blue, green, and light purple. They can calm and soothe. Where warm colors remind you of heat and sunshine, cool colors remind you of water and sky, even ice and snow. Unlike warm colors, cool colors look as though they recede, making them great for small rooms that you want to appear larger. If you have a tiny bedroom or powder room that you want to enlarge visually, try painting a color such as light blue to make it seem more spacious.

Cool paint colors
The Spruce

Color Emotion

Warm colors are associated with heightened emotions and passion as well as joy and playfulness. Think of the vibrancy of a bright orange or the intensity of a deep, rich red. Warm colors can be stimulating, making them a good choice for rooms that see a lot of activity. Cool colors make you feel calm, relaxed, and refreshed. Their receding effect can even make you meditative, as though you are losing yourself in an endless blue sky. That's why cool hues are natural for bedrooms and baths, places where you go to unwind and relax.

warm vs. cool colors

The Spruce / Wenjia Tang

Light and Temperature

Can color make you feel warmer or cooler? Sure it can, just like it can make a room appear brighter or darker. If you live in a climate that's hot most of the year, you might prefer a decorating scheme that's dominated by cool colors. Likewise, if you want to feel warmer in your home or specific space, warm colors can help. The effect that color has on visible light may be even more important than temperature. However, perceived brightness has more to do with the lightness of color than whether it's warm or cool. Lighter colors reflect more light than darker and deeper colors. If you want a brighten a space that's short on the sun or artificial light, choose light-reflecting colors. To tone down a room that gets a lot of light, or to add contrast to the brightness, select dark colors, whether warm or cool.

Create Balance

An important thing to remember when dealing with warm and cool colors is that no room should have just one. If you want your room to be cozy, use warm colors for the dominant scheme and add a few elements that incorporate cool colors (and vice versa). As with all elements of decorating it's important to have some balance and contrast.

When choosing colors to use for your home decor projects, it's important to think about the mood you want to create and whether you want it to feel light and airy or cozy and intimate. Knowing the difference between warm and cool colors is the first step.