I think the concept of clean and dirty colors are one of the most overlook decorating concepts. And one of the most important. We need to know if the color palettes in our home are on the clean side or the dirty side. Sounds funny doesn’t it. No one wants to bring something dirty into their homes, but you would be surprised!
Here’s the short answer to why you even need to know about clean or dirty colors…
because you want a beautiful home!
Knowing this one thing may be the key for a more cohesive and peaceful looking home. And it will certainly make the colors in your home work so much better together.
WHAT IS A CLEAN AND DIRTY COLOR?
Color is such a complex subject. You can study it a lifetime and still have so much more to learn. Here at StoneGable my goal is to break down Interior Design concepts into easy to understand segments that are doable for the home decorator.
So let’s define and discuss and dissect the concept of clean and dirty colors.
Here is a good working definition of a clean color…
It “reads”, or our eyes and brains pick it up, as looking clear or pure or bright.
Now let’s define a dirty color…
A dirty color can also be thought of as being muddy or muted.
Both clean and dirty colors can range from very light to very dark in tone and shade.
EXAMPLES OF CLEAN AND DIRTY COLORS?
Let’s look at a couple examples of clean and dirty colors. I think they will be easy to see.
Which red block is the clean color ? Which block is the dirty color?
If you said the block on the left is a cleaner color than the block on the right you are right.
How about these? Which is the clean color and which is the dirty color?
If you said the left is the clean color and the right is the dirty color you are right. Even though the right block is a lighter blue tone it still has more gray added to it which makes it muddier looking.
Last one. Which is the clean color and which is the dirty color?
This was a sneaky question. The colors are both a bit dirty. One more than the other. Now let me ask you this, which one looks more gray? If you said the right one you are right. Even though it is lighter in color it has a lot more gray in it, making it dirtier.
So when compared the right block is the cleaner color and the left block is the dirtier color.
So here’s an important tip… clean and dirty colors can not exist in isolation. They need to be compared to another color. So in the green colors above, the one on the left is clean and the one on the right is dirty.
It’s easy to pick out clean and dirty colors when one leans so clean or pure or vibrant and the other is dirty or dulled down or gray. But, there is a lot of subtlety in color! It’s often a matter of degree!
WHY IS KNOWING THIS IMPORTANT?
Decorating is like a dance. You have to pair up the right partners. If we pair up people who can’t stand being near each other they might fight.
And if we don’t know what colors will work together and which will fight our rooms will always look dingy! That’s right! When you don’t pay attention to clean and dirty colors and put them together in a room they will make a room look drab, dirty (really dirty and not color dirty) and dingy!
Clean colors work best with other clean colors. And dirty colors work best with dirty colors. That is just how it is in the world of color and decorating.
The clean blue and yellow look so striking and pretty together! Especially on the white background of this post.
But add in the dirty green and the colors begin it fight with one another!
Now look at how nice the dirty colors below look together. They have about the same amount of gray added to the clean version of both colors.
Now let’s add a clean color to the mix…
The colors fight and they actually look dirty! Would you want to decorate a room with these colors?
One of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer from Dimples And Tangles, has created the most gorgeous home using a plethora of clean-ish colors that work beautifully together. Her style is over the top, girly and just so so pretty! Her home is a is a brilliant version of Grand Millennial Style. I just can’t get enough of her use of color and pattern. She is a genius!
And I am a study in neutral dirty-ish color.
CAN CLEAN AND DIRTY COLORS EVER WORK TOGETHER?
Actually, yes. It’s all a matter or ratio?
Adding a little of muddied down color to a clean color palette can help to not make it look so bright. And a little bit of clean color added to a dirty color palette can help to make it not look so muddied.
But a very little goes a very very long way!
Notice the brown hide on the floor in the image? Oh, I LOVE how Jennifer decorates and uses colors. Look at the books on the table. All bright, clean colors! Jennifer mixes warm and cool colors like a pro because she keeps the colors so clean!
WHY DO CLEAN AND DIRTY COLORS WORK HAND IN HAND WITH COLOR UNDERTONES
Undertones in color is something, as home decorators, we also need to understand. See CAN YOU MIX WARM AND COOL COLORS IN DECOR. This post will be so helpful when read along with today’s post.
The undertones of a color really help to determine if it is clean and dirty and what colors will work with it.
HOW TO USE THIS DESIGNER SECRET IN YOUR HOME?
It’s important to know if the majority of your decor is clean or dirty. If I had to guess I would guess your home has mostly dirty colors.
Most of us like to decorate with dirtier colors. They are warmer and muted and softer and more welcoming. On the downside, they don’t make us say “OH, WOW”, because they are just not as striking!
But dirtier colors are easier to decorate with.
Think about clean cobalt blue and a soft worn denim blue. Now ask yourself what color you would perter to decorate with.
Most of us would say a soft denim blue like the color of the pillow below…
I had so many emails about this pillow. The blue in the pillow is a very dirty color. Almost a gray. Actually, the description of it in the Etsy shop was “blue gray pillow cover”. You can see the pillow HERE.
This cool color (blue) works with my warm color palette because it is a dirty blue color. And that warms a cool color like blue up.
The muddier any color is the warmer to reads.
MORE THINGS TO KNOW THAT WILL HELP
Here’s a few things you should know about decorating with clean colors or dirty colors…
- Too much muddy colors in a clean color palette room will actually make the whole room look dingy.
- Same thing when adding too much clean color to a dirty color palette room. Not good!
- When a room is not harmonious or “off” it may because clean and dirty colors have been used in it together. For the most part, they don’t play or dance together well.
- Unless you are a decorating savant like Jennifer (sigh) putting together a clean, bright color palette is a daunting task. So beautiful, but not for most home decorators unless you have been gifted with a fabulous eye for mixing clean colors.
- Colors must be compared to one another to determine clean or dirty colors.
Knowing what colors work with others when you decorate is such an important thing. And knowing whether a color is clean or dirty will make decorating so much easier and your home much prettier.
I hope that big lightbulb above your head has turn on!
There is so much to know about color and how it creates beauty. I hope this look into clean and dirty color is helpful!