Cool Colors Versus Warm Colors in Interior Design

ECOS Paints 07/22/2021
Cool Colors Versus Warm Colors in Interior Design

The color wheel is the foundation upon which many room designs are built. But all the subtle differences in hue and tone can leave those of us without a background in art or interior design overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are some relatively simple principles we can keep in mind as we puzzle through our rooms’ décor, and cool vs. warm colors in interior design is one of them.

What Are Warm and Cool Colors?

When someone talks about “warm” and “cool” colors, they refer to the two sides of the color spectrum. Imagine dividing a rainbow in half between yellow and green. The colors on the left side of the spectrum—red, orange, and yellow—are considered warm colors. The colors on the other side of the spectrum—green, blue, and purple—are considered cool colors.

Both sets of colors tend to impact emotions in different ways. The emotions you want those who enter the room to experience will impact which colors you want to use.

How Cool Colors Impact a Space

Larger Perceived Space

When we think of cool colors, we often think of the outdoors: the distant sky, a grassy field. They suggest wide, open spaces. Because of that, cool colors tend to “recede” in our vision, and rooms with walls painted these colors tend to look more open and spacious. This makes cool colors a good choice for making smaller rooms seem larger.


When you think of someone who is emotionally “cool,” we imagine them to be calm. Cool colors tend to have a similar emotional impact on us, making us feel tranquil and at ease. Rooms that you want to associate with feelings of peace, such as bedrooms or bathrooms, often do well with cool colors.

Focus and Productivity

Even though cool colors herald calm emotions, that doesn’t mean they cause laziness. Cool colors are also associated with mental productivity and focus. Blue is especially popular among those who need to focus on intellectual tasks that require a great deal of concentration. If you’re looking for ways to add color to your home office, blue may be the color for you.

How Warm Colors Impact a Space

More Intimate Perceived Space

While cools tend to recede, warm colors seem to approach the person looking at them. Because of this, warm-colored walls will appear closer than cool walls. This makes a room feel more intimate and secure. If there are spaces that seem uninviting because they’re stark or overlarge, they can be turned into cozy, inviting places by using warm colors.

Energy and Creativity

Warm colors are the most attention-grabbing on the color wheel. That’s why you so often see them on warning signs and objects we’re supposed to see at a distance—such as taxicabs, for example. This attention-grabbing nature wakes us up, energizing us when we see such colors. Warm colors are also commonly associated with creativity, making them the perfect addition to an artistic aesthetic.

Cheerfulness and Positivity

Many of our associations with warm colors are cheerful ones—bright sunshine, colorful flowers, warm campfires. When placed in a room, these colors tend to make us feel hopeful, happy, and ready for fun and enjoyment. Designers often favor warm colors for rooms where you might entertain guests, such as a dining room or family room.

Tips for Combining Cool and Warm Colors

Even though warm and cool colors are on opposite ends of the spectrum, both visually and emotionally, that doesn’t mean you can’t use both of them in the same room design. In fact, combining them may help create a more balanced look in a space. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind when using both warm and cool colors in interior design,

Pay Attention To Undertones

When you look at paint, you typically see two colors. The first is an overtone—the dominant color you see. The second is an undertone that you can’t see. This controls the shade of the color. A color can be a cool color with a warm undertone or a warm color with a cool undertone. One way to tell is by taking the shade of a color and comparing it to a “true” version of that color.

For example, our “Party Time” (1109) is pretty close to a true red. Compare that to the color “Siren” (1117). They’re both red, but “Siren” feels cooler than “Party Time.” It’s because “Siren” has cooler undertones. Even if two colors’ overtones’ are on opposite ends of the color wheel, they will meld well in a room design if the undertones are both cool or both warm.

60/30/10 Rule

The 60/30/10 rule helps you build a color scheme by having you choose three colors. The first color is the one you are primarily featuring and takes up 60 percent of the space. The second color is a neutral color which takes up 30 percent, and the third is an accent color that takes up 10 percent. The rule is designed to help the colors in the room feel balanced instead of chaotic.

A Note on Neutrals

As a rule, neutral colors such as white, black, grey are considered neither warm nor cool. However, a color may appear to lean more toward one side of the spectrum, depending on its undertones. For instance, a cream color with a yellow undertone will appear warm, while a grey with blue undertones may seem cool. Brown, which has yellow or orange undertones, is considered warm.

Go Beyond Paint

Sometimes when we think of incorporating colors into a room, we get stuck on the idea of paint colors. But paint is only one aspect of the room where color comes into play. One’s flooring, for instance, has a lot to add to the color scheme of the room, including whether the room swings more to the warm or cool side of the spectrum. All-white tile will often look cooler than brown wood flooring.

Whether you want a warm cozy corner or a cool, relaxing paradise, ECOS Paints is here to equip you with the best colors from all over the color wheel. Our zero VOC* paints have the warmest warms, and the coolest cools to give you a truly balanced room.

*Zero VOC - Conforms to CDPH 01350 (VOC emissions test taken at 11, 12, & 14 days for classroom and office use).

Cool Colors Versus Warm Colors in Interior Design

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