Varieties of the color blue may differ in hue, chroma (also called saturation, intensity, or colorfulness), or lightness (or value, tone, or brightness), or in two or three of these qualities. Variations in value are also called tints and shades, a tint being a blue or other hue mixed with white, a shade being mixed with black.
Blue is one of the three primary colours in the RYB colour model (traditional colour theory), as well as in the RGB (additive) colour model . It lies between violet and cyan on the spectrum of visible light. The eye perceives blue when observing light with a dominant wavelength between approximately 450 and 495 nanometres. Most blues contain a slight mixture of other colours; azure contains some green, while ultramarine contains some violet. The clear daytime sky and the deep sea appear blue because of an optical effect known as Rayleigh scattering. An optical effect called Tyndall effect explains blue eyes. Distant objects appear more blue because of another optical effect called aerial perspective.
Blue has been an important colour in art and decoration since ancient times. The semi-precious stone lapis lazuli was used in ancient Egypt for jewellery and ornament and later, in the Renaissance, to make the pigment ultramarine, the most expensive of all pigments. In the eighth century Chinese artists used cobalt blue to colour fine blue and white porcelain. In the Middle Ages, European artists used it in the windows of cathedrals. Europeans wore clothing coloured with the vegetable dye woad until it was replaced by the finer indigo from America. In the 19th century, synthetic blue dyes and pigments gradually replaced organic dyes and mineral pigments.
In the art and life of Europe during the early Middle Ages, blue played a minor role. This changed dramatically between 1130 and 1140 in Paris, when the Abbe Suger rebuilt the Saint Denis Basilica. Suger considered that light was the visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He installed stained glass windows coloured with cobalt, which, combined with the light from the red glass, filled the church with a bluish violet light. The church became the marvel of the Christian world, and the colour became known as the “bleu de Saint-Denis”. In the years that followed even more elegant blue stained glass windows were installed in other churches, including at Chartres Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
In the 12th century the Roman Catholic Church dictated that painters in Italy (and the rest of Europe consequently) to paint the Virgin Mary with blue, which became associated with holiness, humility and virtue. In medieval paintings, blue was used to attract the attention of the viewer to the Virgin Mary. Paintings of the mythical King Arthur began to show him dressed in blue.
Blue came into wider use beginning in the Renaissance, when artists began to paint the world with perspective, depth, shadows, and light from a single source. In Renaissance paintings, artists tried to create harmonies between blue and red, lightening the blue with lead white paint and adding shadows and highlights. Raphael was a master of this technique, carefully balancing the reds and the blues so no one colour dominated the picture.
Ultramarine was the most prestigious blue of the Renaissance, being more expensive than gold. Wealthy art patrons commissioned works with the most expensive blues possible. In 1616 Richard Sackville commissioned a portrait of himself by Isaac Oliver with three different blues, including ultramarine pigment for his stockings.
An industry for the manufacture of fine blue and white pottery began in the 14th century in Jingdezhen, China, using white Chinese porcelain decorated with patterns of cobalt blue, imported from Persia.
The early 19th century saw the ancestor of the modern blue business suit, created by Beau Brummel (1776-1840), who set fashion at the London Court. It also saw the invention of blue jeans, a highly popular form of workers’s costume, invented in 1853 by Jacob W. Davis who used metal rivets to strengthen blue denim work clothing in the California gold fields. The invention was funded by San Francisco entrepreneur Levi Strauss, and spread around the world.
Recognizing the emotional power of blue, many artists made it the central element of paintings in the 19th and 20th centuries. They included Pablo Picasso, Pavel Kuznetsov and the Blue Rose art group, and Kandinsky and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) school
Blue room ideas – from sky blue through ocean blue and on to cobalt – bring serenity and tranquillity to any space because they are on the cooler end of the spectrum.
Because cool tones aren’t overpowering – in fact, decorating with blue will often make a room feel like it is receding – room color ideas in these shades often help a small room appear to have more space, which can make them a great choice also for bathrooms and narrow hallways.
Jane Rockett, co-founder of Rockett St George(opens in new tab), says of blue room ideas, ‘Cool blues and deep navy tones promote calmness and are the perfect choice for your living room, bedroom or guest room – typically spaces that you go to for escape and respite.’
Blue living room ideas come in all shapes and sizes – and shades, and tones, and tints. That’s because blue is one of the most multi-functional colors in the interior design spectrum.
Pick cooler shades to make a south-facing space feel positively serene, and warmer tones for east- or north-facing living rooms to keep the space feeling welcoming, and you’ll be spot on.
Plus if you’re looking for living room ideas(opens in new tab) that are calming, even in the busiest of households, this is the color to choose.
Blue can have a sunny disposition – it just needs a little help from the other side of the color wheel. ‘A color we are seeing blue paired with a lot is yellow, the  Pantone Color of the Year,’ says Collins. ‘Royal blue and yellow living room(opens in new tab) schemes are bright, fun and joyful. These can be hard colors to pair together, so I would recommend choosing blue as your main color and the other as your accent.’
In this blue living room, light blue winds its way around the room through an elaborate patterned wallpaper, while both navy blue and bright, cheery yellows punctuate the soft furnishings.
It’s worth noting, too, that if you’re favoring a blue that would sit comfortably on a green living room ideas(opens in new tab) moodboard, yellow is a great choice for adding a welcoming shot of warmth to the scheme.
I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about blue, says Samantha Todhunter, founder of Samantha Todhunter Design(opens in new tab). ‘Some feel it has a froideur about it. I disagree, it is about the colours you work in with it that will make the difference. Working with shades of blue is endlessly interesting and playing with tones and textures can change it from a vibrant jewel box to subtle and serene.’
Here, Samantha Todhunter used a turquoise blue silk, which works well with the slightly tonal clash of the green stair carpet and teal blue upholstery.
While lighter shades are always the knee-jerk go-to for wall colors, blue is a hue that you really can dive deep into.
‘Darker colors can imbue a magical quality in your living room, maximizing its coziness’, says Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador at Farrow & Ball(opens in new tab). ‘Colors such as the complex blue-green notes of [Farrow & Ball’s] Inchyra Blue would look elegant in a blue living room, paired with off-white woodwork such as Strong White in Estate Eggshell. Add notes of spice in burnt orange through accessories and furnishings.’
Decorating with blue and white is a tried-and-tested color combination that often works to perfection every time. However, when using blue as the predominant hue in a bathroom scheme, it can require warming up. The best way to do this is through the use of fabrics, accessories and brassware recommends Ali Johnson, co-founder of Otta Design(opens in new tab). ‘If blue and green isn’t your scene then shades of mustards, oranges and pinks also work wonderfully to add warmth and energy to a blue bathroom.’
One of the key characteristics highlighted by almost all of the experts we asked was blue’s versatility. Not only is it an emotionally powerful color in itself, but it is also easy to pair with a whole host of friends, from gray living room ideas(opens in new tab) to more eclectic combinations, to create a more dynamic scheme.
‘Blue is a color with infinite possibilities’, says Francesca Wezel, founder of Francesca’s Paints(opens in new tab). ‘It is extremely versatile in that it can be combined with a variety of shades, from brown and cream, to gold, gray and pink.’
In this eclectically designed blue living room, a soft, periwinkle blue serves as a stable, calming base onto which a variety of bold colors and graphic patterns are layered.
As always, don’t fight the lack of natural light in a room and choose a more intense colour in those with north-facing aspects. If wanting to introduce an unusual blue shade, teal is a good option which sets off other hues in the room. ‘It’s an intense blue that allows you to layer in textures and finishes to offer relief and vibrance to a space,’ says Scott Maddux, co-founder of Maddux Creative(opens in new tab).
The beauty of blue is that it works with so many other colors, with pink and blue a particular favorite color combination of ours.
‘Blue and pink is one of our favourite combinations as it can work on so many levels,’ says Lucy Barlow, creative of Barlow & Barlow(opens in new tab).
Interior designer Rachel Chudley(opens in new tab) agrees: ‘I love to use soft, deep colors and materials in rooms – it is great to play around with these elements and introduce a couple of rough details to surprise.
Taking inspiration from shibori designs, this bedroom corner is all about texture. A beautiful artwork has been created by framing a Japanese-inspired Pierre Frey wallpaper(opens in new tab) in a smart reeded white wood frame. The blue and white palette has been continued throughout, layering the scheme with pale denim walls and deep indigo Ian Mankin fabric(opens in new tab) on the David Seyfried chair(opens in new tab).
Absolutely – blue is regularly voted high on the list of best colors to paint your living room(opens in new tab), according to the color experts. You’ll need to choose the right shade for your space, but blue is generally a color that works well across large areas.
‘Blue works extremely well in the living room, as it has a calming, welcoming effect and reacts well to natural light,’ says Wezen. ‘I always include burnt umber in my blues to ensure they are never too cold, tonally.’
‘Having painted a room blue, it may take time to accustom yourself to the look. You’re likely to be horrified,’ says Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin(opens in new tab). ‘Leave it for a week and your feelings will alter. I suspect you won’t hate it and if you do, repainting isn’t that difficult.’
‘If you are still hesitant, start your transformation in a cloakroom or small bedroom, since richer colors work well in such spaces, despite the accepted wisdom that white paint makes a room seem larger.’
Blue is a good color for a room – and not just aesthetically. Our perception of blue has an affect on our moods, too. As fabric and wallpaper designer Vanessa Arbuthnott(opens in new tab) says in our feature on color psychology in interior design, ‘It’s been proven that students exposed to blue before undertaking an exam achieved greater results, making it the perfect color choice for a bedroom or study.’
That aside, it’s true that blue is a calming, restful color that does promote a feeling of peace and tranquility that’s perfect for any room.
Picking the right shade of blue will largely depend on when you use the room – if only a night, you can pick any shade you love – pale blues to enhance space or deep blues to create a cocooning effect. But if you use the room by day, too, you’ll want to ensure the tone of blue you choose feels warm and welcoming, so experiment before settling on the final shade, considering blues with a hint of yellow toning for an inviting feel.
Blue goes well with most other colors, and is an easy color to coordinate with but these are the best matches – and those to avoid:
1. Blue and white – as you’ll see above, it creates a crisp finish that’s extremely elegant and timeless.
2. Blue and yellow – a little traditional for some tastes, nevertheless, yellow is a great match for warming blues up, and blues for cooling yellows down.
3. Blue and orange – blue and orange have the same effect on each other as blue and yellow, although the result is a more contemporary look.
4. Blue and pink – this is a lovely combination and works well as pastels or as much bolder shades.
5. Blue and green – for a room that feels rich and grown up, this is a fabulous combination that is perfect for rooms starved of pretty, verdant views.
6. Blue and grey – this is one to skip. Instead, match blue with black or brown for a much more elegant finish.
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