Complex colors incorporate a wider variety of hues than simple, clear colors do, mixing in gray for added muted-ness and sophistication. Whereas most commercial paint colors mix 2-3 tones, including black, full-spectrum paints are defined by their inclusion of a higher number of colors from across the spectrum, and their exclusion of black. The rationale is that black absorbs all light, whereas the rest of the color wheel reflects it at different wavelengths. The net result of omitting black pigments from paint, then, is said to be improved reflectivity and a variable hue that changes with the light throughout the day. Plus, decades of color research has revealed that most people find muted, complex colors to look more “expensive.”
Traditionally, variability in the perception of paint color was considered undesirable by paint companies, designers, and consumers alike. More recently, however, those in the know have come to embrace full-spectrum colors as offering a more custom look and bringing indoor environments into closer alignment with the natural phenomena of changing light, daily and seasonally.
Full-spectrum colors are also considered by many to be better at mimicking the colors found in nature. For example, the painted stucco siding overlooking this Santa Cruz courtyard is as close to natural color as one can get, blending in with the shrubbery so well you’d think the color was achieved by rubbing the wall with moss. In this hue, we see undertones that span the warm end of the spectrum from yellow to sienna, and, of course, a dash of gray, and blue as the foundation for green.An interesting tidbit: Green’s medium light wavelength matches that of human vision, which explains why green is so relaxing to the eye. Since it blends into the background of our awareness, just as green grass did for early humans on the savannah, it allows other colors (like a hungry tiger’s orange coat or this periwinkle door) to pop more strongly against it.
The greatest asset of complex and full-spectrum colors is that they defy easy classification and, as a sommelier does with wine, a trained eye can tease out the multiple hues and undertones. They often take as their base one of the tertiary colors on the color wheel. These are the hues that lie somewhere between the primaries and secondaries. These bathroom walls, for example, are not quite blue (a primary) and not quite green (a secondary) but a mixture of the two that we commonly call teal. Full-spectrum paints start with this tertiary base and add sometimes as many as 15 pigments, in the case of Donald Kaufman or CJ Volk’s full-spectrum paints, to create a supremely complex and custom-looking color.
Likewise, this photo shows a rich amber paint, which is itself a mixture of at least yellow, orange, and red-brown sienna. We’re often tempted to add white to paint in order to tone it down, but all white does is brighten, rather than soften. On the other hand, adding a complex gray that contains a bit of every color, or adding a touch of your base color’s complement will add richness and depth.
We all have a tendency to view paint as color, but material as something different. Color expert, Janice Lindsay, has observed that in selecting an exterior paint color, for example, many clients neglect to factor in the color of their stone or brick until she color-matches the “real” material to a paint chip. Bauhaus Custom Homes made no such lapse in their palette selection for this bedroom. The shaggy throw at the foot of the bed picks up the hushed cinnamon shades in the brick, and the rest of the decor is restricted to warm neutrals that harmonize with the rest. Using white on the tufted headboard ensures that it stands out; you may have heard the old truism that light colors advance while dark colors recede. As a rule of thumb, if you want to make something stand out, let it be the lightest thing in the room.
Though the color palette is simple and soothing, there’s actually a lot of complexity and multiple embodiments of sound color theory going on here. First, the room is blessed with abundant light, making white an appropriate choice for the substantial cabinetry. In a dimmer space, white cabinets would have leaned gray, reducing the impact and possibly even clashing with the complex gray-blue island. The paint color of both the island, the window wall, and the coordinating tile backsplash minimizes contrast to reduce color fatigue, and the warm wood elements complement and balance the cooler tones in the room.