Bailiwick Interior Design


Color, in The Eye of the Beholder

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, when it comes to seeing color, each beholder may see something slightly different. Not just pleasing tones but variations in hue and saturation can differ from person to person. So when someone announces their dislike for a paint swatch that you simply adore, take heart, it may be they are seeing, what in your mind is the most amazing color in the world, the color in a totally separate mind frame. It’s not your sense of style or taste, it’s your eyes and there is science behind it!

A growing number of color perception experts are trying to understand where individual differences come from. “It’s still one of the big mysteries in our field,” says Mike Webster, Ph.D., director of the visual perception lab at the University of Nevada, Reno. “People can report the same color even when their eyes filter the light in very different ways.”

Many factors can affect how we see color. Here are three special cases where you should keep views in color perception in mind:

  • Older Population: The lens of the human eye becomes progressively more yellow as we age. By the time we reach 70, we see the world through a lens roughly the color of ginger ale. And studies have shown that we need 3x more light when we are 60 than when we were 20 years old – that’s a lot of light!

Tip: The yellow filter affects older peoples’ ability to distinguish between blues and purples the most. Use rich, saturated colors and lots of lighting and contrast is special needs cases.

  • Northern Climate Homes: In some northern climates in North America, full-spectrum daylight is filtered in such a way that the red and orange end of the spectrum is somewhat blocked while the blue end passes unhindered. Without careful consideration, this blue-heavy light can make some paint colors appear greenish.

Tip: When testing paint colors for a room, be sure to test them on white surfaces so the color and on all the walls of the room and in BOTH incandescent AND artificial lighting. If you are choosing a color for an open floor plan be sure to test the color in both northern and southern exposure areas of the space.

  • Color Vision Disorders: Eight percent of Caucasian men have some degree of red-green colorblindness, where orange, red and green typically appear gold, and colors such as violet, lavender, purple and blue are virtually indistinguishable from each other.

Tip: Take a quick color perception test such as the online Ishihara test. If you have a mild deficiency, avoid reds and greens. 

All of these tips will help avoid rolling eyes and turned up noses at colors you choose when decorating your home.


Carrie Oesmann