Colour explained: everything you need to know about red paint
Seeing red – not such a bad thing after all. The colour of sweet, sweet amour, passion and fervour; the colour of summer strawberries, of ripe and juicy tomatoes, of sweet and tempting cherries; the colour of romantic roses and jolly poppies; the colour of Christmas – there’s a whole lot of good to say about matters rouge. But when it comes to painting with it, you can’t help but feel you need to be amongst the brave-hearted because put it in a room and red’s no shrinking violet. Ready-made confidence coming right up in which case as we take on red paint, your perfect match and the best rooms in which to set it loose.
Let’s talk undertones
From your most unassuming whites to complex greens, every colour on the spectrum has hidden depths. In the world of interiors, we call those depths undertones – the base colour (or colours) that give a colour its soul.
In the case of reds, take a sultry scarlet hue and give it a brown undertone and it’ll become much more earthy and approachable. Or crimson with a navy blue base becomes cooled-down and a bit more plummy than pillar-box red whereas a cobalt blue base livens thinks up and makes a red sharp and strong. Point being, undertones make a heck of a difference to the finished product, so paying attention to them will give you a far better understanding of the red you’re questioning and whether or not the two of you will get along.
In our current palette of two Merlot-mellow reds, we use three principal undertones:
Brown: to what does brown inartistically link? If your first guess was chocolate, you’d be right, and its velvet character is 100% detectable in a brown base, but the answer we were looking for was the earth, the soil, the ground beneath your feet. Focus on that latter description, because brown undertones make a red incredibly grounding. We use them in warm Red 01 – a deep and rich red for sure, but repeat after us – velvety and grounding, velvety and grounding, velvety and grounding.
Grey: grey is what’s known as adding tone and you’ll find some of it alongside brown in terracotta Red 03. Depending on what depth of grey you go for – from dramatic charcoal ro softly-softly dove grey – and the amount of it, it’ll add a touch of coolness and a level of duskiness. Red 01 only has a smidge – making it a comforting, warm red rather than a fiery one with a soft, dusted note that stops it from being overbearing in a room, even if you use it across all of your walls.
Pink: red and pink might sit closely together on the spectrum, but, that doesn’t mean they’re cut from the exact same cloth. Red and pink are separate colours (read up on our pink guide here) and that means that pink can be used as an undertone to mix things up. Just as we do in terracotta-toned Red 03. Pink in the base, especially the blush variety that we’ve used, takes red into peachy territory. A wise undertone if you want your red to be more of a gentle blush.
Drop a tint. Throw some shade
It’s not just undertone that determine a red’s character profile. When concocting colour recipes, it’s a delicate balance of adding different degrees of tint (essentially, adding white) and dots vs dollops of shade (in other words, black).
Burgundy red for example will have a whole lot more shade added to it than raspberry reds that will still have some shade going on but a little tint to give it lift. In terms of our reds, needless to say it’s Red 01 that’s more shaded, deep and moody, ideal for cosy settings. Terracotta Red 03 paint on the other hand is into its tints and so go for that if you’re seeking a fresher, perkier red.
Colour compatibility and room direction
There are rumours that reds don’t work in rooms that get lots of warm, sunny afternoon light. Let us be the myth debunkers in which case as they 100% do, but it’s about finding the right sort of red. That’s a statement true of every sort of room whether it’s a sun-loving and southerly space or one that looks out to the East. So, without further ado, let’s do some room direction matchmaking – the final step to finding your ravishing red.
North-facing rooms: warm reds to fight the chill
Take the Great British climate as your cue here – heading north means getting cool. Rooms that are north-facing receive a colder light that’s a bit bluer and so the best reds are those that balance out the cold front, like warm burnt umber Red 01.
East-facing rooms: reds without a grey base
It’s really important that in an east- or west-facing room that you take the time to study your peel-and-stick samples in both the morning and afternoon. Why? Because the light in these two room categories see the most change and your chosen colour can look dramatically different depending on the time of day.
An east-facing room gets most of its natural light in the morning when it’ll feel bright and clear (not cool like in a northerly room), but come the afternoon, the light is lessened and the room a touch more shadowed. The golden rule is to choose a colour that best suits the light at the time of day you’ll use the room most. And if it’s all day long, then go for a soft red without any grey in its base like Red 03. In an east-facing room, it can come forward too much and flatten things.
West-facing rooms: pretty peachy reds
East and west-facing rooms have a lot in common – in that they see the most changeable light. That being said, they also have buckets of differences too – in that what we said of an easterly room is the exact opposite in a west-facing spot. Colours are more shaded in the morning here with grey tones being enhanced, whereas in the afternoon, things get sunnier. Once again, a colour like Red 03 is a good choice as its gentle peachy notes will feel almost like a comforting neutral in the morning, whereas in late afternoon or early evening light its rosy glow will be enjoyed in all its glory.