Do Warm Colors Really Advance – and Cool Colors Recede?

When it comes to colors, like paint colors you might want to use on interior walls, you may have heard someone advise that warm colors advance (or seem to come toward the eye) and cool colors recede. (or seem to go away from the eye). Find out whether or not this is true, and how you can use this information as you choose interior paint colors, art, accessories and décor.

the color wheel with warm colors and cool colorsIf you’ve ever seen a color wheel, you’ll see that it’s about evenly split into two halves. One half has what are considered “warm” colors while the other half has those classified as “cool.” Colors on the warm half of the wheel are usually in the purple-y red, red, orange, yellow and yellow green tones, while those on the cool side include purple-y blue, blue, teal or aqua, green and spring green (or green yellow).

This article on explains the color wheel further . For instance, why are certain colors “warm” and others “cool?” The truth is, colors aren’t really colors. That is to say that colors are wavelengths of light and the reason they appear different to our eyes isn’t because of hue or pigment, but temperature (hence the warm and cool classifications, since colors are created by different temperature wavelengths!)

Many times the fears people have when it comes to choosing bold colors for walls, bedding or large accessories in their homes can be completely allayed if they understand the difference between warm colors – which tend to draw “in” or toward the eye – and cool colors, whose cooler temperatures seem like they are further away than neutral or warm counterparts in a space.

Here’s when you might choose warm colors, to advance, or draw toward the eye:

  • To make a large room feel cozier (such as a family room or great room)
  • To make a room feel warmer (such as when you live in a colder climate, or a climate that gets little sun)
  • To make a large, sparsely furnished room seem more intimate
  • To create a glow for evening dinner parties (especially paired with the right lighting)
  • When you want a room that feels more energetic or exciting

Conversely, here’s when you might choose cool colors which would seem to recede from the eye:

  • To make a small space feel bigger – such as an entry way, smaller bedroom or a bathroom
  • To accentuate opposite or light colored accessories, art or furnishings
  • In rooms where you want to set a more soothing and relaxing mood
  • To create balance in rooms with a lot of warm colors