Color: The Return of Dirty

10 Rooms Design | Blog | Color 101 | The Return Of Dirty

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You’ve probably heard industry folk use the terms clean and dirty when referring to color. Another layer of designspeak to add to the noise. It can be so overwhelming to try and sort through all of this terminology when all you want is to figure out what color paint to buy, right? Since I get monthly questions about this, thought I’d break it down a little.

All colors are made up of pigment and or white/black. Some colors, like those below, are simply a hues found on the color wheel. These are considered “clean” colors, because they have not been mixed with any other hue, simply left pure or tinted with black/white.



10 Rooms Design Clean Color Via This Is Glamourous

10 Rooms Design via Apartment Therapy Clean Dirty color post

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In contrast to all this clean, when we take a color from the color wheel and mix it with another color from the color wheel we are changing the the base hue. It now becomes a more complex color.

So when does a color go from clean to dirty?

***If we mix a color with another color/colors that are complimentary (across the color wheel) or close to complimentary, the result ventures into the dirty category.***

Why is this? Any compliments mixed together create brown. When you mix these hues you will be, in effect, “dirtying” the color by adding brown. Think of it as layering in warm tones to each and every color.



Here are a few examples, to illustrate.



This is what it looks like in interiors..


10 Rooms Design via Wit and Delight Clean Dirty Color Post

10 Rooms Design via Popsugar Clean Dirty Color Post

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Why do you care about this? When choosing a palette for your home, this is what you need to remember:

Clean color works especially well with cool greys, because neither contain brown.

Dirty color works well with warm greys and warm neutrals because they both contain brown.

Helpful, yes?

The past several years, cool greys have reigned supreme. That meant the colors we paired with grey were clean. The pendulum has begun to swing, however. It seems we have recovered from the overwhelming dark brown trend of the late 90’s and early 00’s and are ready to accept earthy tones back into our lives. There is a marked return to camel and rust in fashion, and the interiors trends are never far behind. That means we are going to begin seeing more complex color edging back into our homes in the near future. Dirty is back, people!



How the Natural Light in Your Space Affects Color Choices


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When choosing color with a client the first thing I do is determine which direction the windows in their space are facing, which tells me what the natural light in each room is. This, along with the amount of light available,  is one of the most important factors when considering color selections!


Clients aren’t always aware what a difference there is in north, south east or west facing room,
so I’ve been playing around with a photo so you can see how light changes color…


The light from the North –
north facing rooms are the darkest in the home.
Although most artists prefer to use this light because of it’s consistency through the day,
it will cause everything in the space to appear, and feel, cooler.
Adding warm hues through paint and accents are important to make the space feel welcoming.






The light from the South –
south facing rooms are brightest in the house.
These spaces, like north facing rooms, have consistent light all day –
the difference is it is a warmer, bright light that intensifies any color placed within it.
Unless you love the energizing effect of intense hues, use softer tones here.






The light from the East –
these rooms obviously light up in the morning,
and that means determining what time of day they will be used most frequently.
The light from the east is bright and white, and tends to wash out color,
so a more saturated palette may be used here.
If the space will be used more in the afternoon or evening,
a warmer palette will help to balance the lack of natural light.



exposureast exposureeastwest



The light from the West –
the afternoon/evening light from the west tends to be orange based.
If the space will be used during these times, you will definitely want cool tones here for balance.
Morning use of a west-facing space will mean that more warm tones
can be used without becoming overwhelming.






Very rarely do buildings face a direction squarely, and often there is windows on multiple walls,
so usually rooms receive a combination of light.






This is the reason you have to bring paint swatches home to check out how they appear in your space!

This is also the reason that quite often designers will swatch the paint directly on various walls in the space, just to ensure they like the combination of color and light.



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I hope that helps you when thinking about a new palette for your home 🙂

I should mention that climate also has a big effect on light – generally speaking, in a sunnier clime, the more intense and cool tones work well, whereas places with long grey winters should really stick with lighter and warmer palettes.

Perhaps that is another post! Will work on that one for you… x am


How to Tell the Difference Between Grey, Gray, Greige, Beige and Taupe


***This was the most popular post on our first blog, and so it’s being added to the archives here, with a few updated photos!***


Yesterday, I was speaking to a client about the difference between gray, grey, greige, beige and taupe.


It’s a conversation I have A LOT!


I thought perhaps a post about how I explain it to my clients
would be helpful to sort through these terms more easily,
and so here we are 🙂



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First off, for our purposes,
gray (American spelling) and grey (Canada, the UK and Australia) are the same thing.
Just like color (American) and colour (Canada, UK and Australia).
In some technical circles, gray would describe only the grays from the grayscale,
but we’re not all that fancy here at 10 Rooms, are we?!


I’m trying to make this simpler, not more difficult…



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Let’s just start off by saying true grey is any mixture of black and white.
That means that black, white and grey are the only true neutrals.



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That said, when we are discussing colour,
we generally include more than just those colours.


Once pigment is added to a mixture of black and white (grey),
it actually becomes a colour,
although the undertone may be almost imperceptible to the eye.



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Therefore, grey, as we know it, can actually have any undertone,
but only purple, green or blue can be added in larger quantities
for the colour to retain it’s title as grey, because these will all produce cool tones.


Are you asleep yet?!!


Lets’ define grey as
black + white = grey
black + white + green/blue/purple = grey.



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Sound good?


Now let’s head into the beige territory.


Beige basically describes the umpteen versions of light brown.
To make brown you add complements from the colour wheel.



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When you add complements,
what you are actually adding are all the primaries together in varying amounts.


Blue + orange
is actually
blue + yellow & red.


Yellow + purple
is actually
yellow + blue & red.


Red + green
is actually
red + yellow & blue.



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That is why adding complements always makes a brown,
and why adding different complements creates different browns,
usually ones that are predominantly yellow, red, or occasionally orange.



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So, we know beige contains some red and some yellow, and some blue,
but what else is in it?


White lightens up your brown to beige.


So lets define beige as

white + red & or yellow + a little blue = beige.



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So where does greige fit in?


To grey down beige, you simply add black, because the white is already present.


Let’s define greige as

white + black + red & or yellow + perhaps a little blue = greige



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Yes, that would be the entire colour wheel!


That’s quite a colour-techy way to look at things,
but I think it’s helpful to understand the way colours interact,
and then it all makes sense, doesn’t it?


SO –

when you’re looking at a colour, and trying to determine what it actually is,
you need to look at the subtle undertones.


If it’s cool, with a blue, purple, or green tint, it’s a grey.
(I wrote a post about choosing the right grey, here)



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If it’s warm, with a red, orange or yellow undertone visible, it’s a beige.



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And if it’s warm, but contains black, it’s a greige (or as so many people say, a warm grey)



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Does that makes sense, lovelies?


If you have more questions, please leave them in the comments, and I will respond tout de suite – x


Happy friday… hope your weekend is filled with love and laughs…


x am



*oh – and taupe?
That’s just a fancy way of describing a red-based beige,
with a little green thrown in,
so that what you end up with is a slight dirty pinky-beige.
It’s not actually a group of colours, but different variations of the same mix.*