The Optical Illusions of Paint

The sitting room makeover had stalled for a while due to illness and other life interruptions, but I'm finally motoring along again now. The last couple of weeks have mostly been spent painting, and what a difference it has made to the room! Paint has an amazing ability to transform a space, and I became very aware of that as I was working on the sitting room. The walls and woodwork changed dramatically and it surprised me to see how much colour can affect our perception of space.  

When we first moved into the house, I painted the room warm white with a fresh green in the alcoves either side of the chimney (see the before pics here). As started to prepare for the makeover, I snapped this pic of the empty space.

The House that Will | Sitting Room Makeover: The Optical Illusions of PaintWhite Walls, Green Alcoves

One of the things I had liked about this colour scheme was that painting a cooler shade in the alcoves made them appear deeper. If you are familiar with colour theory, you will see what I mean. But if you haven't come across these ideas before, then the basic idea is that warm colours are reds, oranges, yellows, and browns; and cool colours are blues, greens, purples, and greys. Warm colours are considered stimulative and cool colours are considered relaxing. Lighter tints appear to advance and warmer colours seem to pop, wheareas cooler colours and darker shades appear to recede. Black and white are neutral, cream and beige are considered warm neutrals, and grey is a cool neutral.

Lighter tints appear to advance and warmer colours seem to pop, wheareas cooler colours and darker shades appear to recede. 

Once you are aware of this, you can use those effects to your advantage. Our kitchen-dining room is quite a long room (even more so because it opens into the sun lounge) and I didn't want it to feel like such a long, open space. Most of the walls are a pale duck-egg blue, so I put a bold wallpaper with large red flowers on one of the shorter walls. The warm reds on the short wall "pop" more than the pale blue on the long walls, so everything seems more in balance. (See the dining room here). 

Now let's see this theory at work in the sitting room ...

The first task I had was to overpaint the green in order to create a uniform base for the new paint. By just painting those small areas a different colour, the whole room seemed to change dramatically.

The House that Will | Sitting Room Makeover: The Optical Illusions of PaintWhite Walls, Pine Skirting

The alcoves don't seem so deep now and the room as a whole is starting to feel more rectangular, as though that wall has been lengthened. That is because it is no longer visually broken up into chunks of green - white - green; instead, it reads as one continuous white wall. So, while we lose apparent depth in the alcoves, we gain the appearance of a longer wall along that side of the room.

There is also another factor at play here. You may have noticed that the chimney breast originally had no skirting board along its base. This is because I had originally wanted a very minimal look on this chimney breast. Now I do want a fireplace in the sitting room, so we are extending the skirting board around the chimney breast to where the fireplace will go. With that gap filled in now, the skirting board creates a continuous line around the room that further adds to that sense of elongation.  

Next I painted the skirting boards. With no contrast between the wall and the skirting board, the outline effect created by the skirting is eliminated. In fact, since the plastic covering the floor is also almost white, the room has a seemingly borderless appearance - like that often found in an art gallery, for example, where the focus is meant to be on the items in the space rather than on the space itself.

The House that Will | Sitting Room Makeover: The Optical Illusions of PaintWhite Walls, White Skirting

Painting a darker colour onto the walls created contrast with the skirting board again and redefined the space in the room. But whereas we had lighter walls with darker skirting board before, now we have darker walls with lighter skirting board. This creates a different feeling in the room - white is a neutral, so adding a colour gives the space more "presence" than it had previously. 

The House that Will | Sitting Room Makeover: The Optical Illusions of PaintBlue Walls, White Skirting

When I removed the plastic, the floor looked darker - again changing the dynamic in the space. Previously there were two horizontal bands across the room: dark walls on top and light skirting/floor below. Now there are three horizontal stripes: dark above and below (walls and floor), separated by the white trim.

The House that Will | Sitting Room Makeover: The Optical Illusions of PaintBlue Walls, White Skirting, Oak Floors

We spend so much time in this room every day and I am so familiar with it that I can't believe how different it feels. I only painted it, yet everything about it seems changed. It even feels like the room is a different shape than before.

Another change is the relationship of the room to the garden. I now realise how much the green walls seemed to "bring the outdoors in". Now the garden feels like a very separate space, and the window almost looks like a moving picture. Again, this changes the entire atmosphere in the room. It's kinda bizarre! 

The House that Will | Sitting Room Makeover: The Optical Illusions of Paint

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I didn't start out trying to make a colour study of our sitting room, but I was so struck by how different the room appeared each morning that I just had to document it. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Related posts:

One Thing Leads to Another ...

Sitting Room Before

Sitting Room Makeover: Plans

Sitting Room Makeover: Progress

Cushion Cover: Hidden Zipper

Refinishing a Solid wood Floor

DIY Coving Installation