Color and Light

I prefer living in color.

– David Hockney

I was recently asked through my Instagram page how I make walls glow. Honestly, I can’t take credit for that. As in nature, only the magic of light passing through or projecting on color will accomplish this mystical effect. But I’m happy to share what I’ve learned through experimenting with color and light in the rooms I’ve been fortunate enough to work on over the past thirty years.

I have discovered much of what I know about light and color by accident. In the master suite of a Sausalito hotel I remodeled and furnished (image above), I found that the combination of sunlight pouring through yellow window treatments into a room of warm toned walls, bedding and furniture created an amazing effect. The once dark and dreary room with its heavy navy blue draperies and bedding literally lit up with golden light.

Reflecting Light

Below, a second image of this room shows a large mirror to the left of the king sized bed reflecting light from the enormous windows across the room. Properly placed, mirrors can reflect light and feign the presence of another window in a room.

This large mirror reflects light from the window
This large mirror reflects light from the window

Skylights Glow with Color

Before: A funky, dark bathroom
Before: A funky, dark bathroom

My next example is a funky old bathroom I remodeled in my first home in California. Originally, the tiny room had a small, rickety metal frosted-glass window and dingy white tiled walls and tub. First, I removed the unattractive slider and tiles and installed a large skylight in the ceiling. After a crisp, new, white cast iron tub was installed, I tiled three walls and the floor with slightly glossy apricot colored tiles.

Finally, I painted the skylight well and surrounding bathroom walls the same color as the tiles. Instantly, the bathroom walls glowed with warm apricot colored light.

After: The new bathroom with skylight glows
After: The new bathroom with skylight glows

Gold and Salmon Arches

The pink and gold arches reflect light
The pink and gold arches reflect light

My long-time friend and fine artist Kirby Kendrick asked me to help her remodel an old adobe she bought on the historic east side of Santa Fe. An arched passageway that connected the family room and kitchen to the rest of the Grand Dame, as it is called, glowed with hand-troweled gold and salmon-colored plaster walls. Warm terra cotta floor tiles reflect the rosy pink walls of the archway. Serving to ground this colorful Southwest palette are an old black pot belly stove and a black and white checkered quilt thrown over a wing back chair.

Crimson Red Reflection

Rich terracotta tiles below and a stained fir ceiling above embrace the crimson colored sofa, ottomans, and window shades. Yellow walls and apricot-toned cabinets absorb and reflect these radiant colors. The trio of eight-foot-tall French doors with red, gold and apricot colors in the room creates a rich, glowing feeling in this transitional guest house north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The richly-stained beams, whimsical black lamps and gunmetal gray ottoman legs all serve to ground this outrageous use of color.

Yellow walls combine with crimson red to create glow
Yellow walls combine with crimson red to create glow

Glowing Work of Art

One of my favorite images of light projecting onto color is in a newly built Italian country-style home in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon. We created three arched niches in the home’s entry, which opened to the adjacent dining room. The window in the top half of the front door held a beautiful curved piece of wrought iron. In the afternoon, sunlight streamed in and projected a shadow of the graceful wrought iron design onto the gold plastered wall and niche, effecting the look of a three-dimensional work of art. The black bench below provides seating in the entry and grounds this now brilliant orange sunlit wall.

Color and light create a work of art
Color and light create a work of art

Warm Toned Colors Glow

What I’ve observed over the years is that walls glow primarily because light projects through or reflects on warm colors such as yellow, gold, apricot, salmon, pink, red and terracotta. Sunlight streaming through warm colored fabrics or onto warm toned walls, fabrics and furniture is obviously the ideal situation. But there are ways to replicate this effect. Mirrors placed to reflect light from windows onto warm colored walls, LED wall-washing ceiling lights angled onto warm walls, and lamps with warm colored lampshades are other effective ways to make walls glow, as I discussed in my blog, Rooms That Glow.

Walls and rooms that glow with warmth and light are nurturing, healing and life enhancing. Are you ready to take a risk and buck the current black, white and gray color trend? You could become a design rebel and go for the glow!

Yours in color,

Toby and Linda Applewhite
I like colors that glow too
Showing 4 comments
  • Judith Jones

    Scrumptious yellows, golds, oranges and sunlight.
    Thank you, Linda, for your email of a few days ago.
    It was lovely hearing from. I’ve changed my “dream house
    kitchen” from red/coral cupboards to marigold/black –
    aaahhh, just to think about it. Judith Jones, Boise

  • Kirby Kendrick

    “How wonderful yellow is.”
    Vincent Van Gogh

    Van Gogh would be wonderfully pleased to live in one of Linda’s designs!

  • Sandra Spargur

    Beautifully peaceful and cozy. Love the shower curtain holder, just what I need in my bath.
    Your work always has me thinking should I, could I……
    Thank you for the beauty and unique that I always look forward to finding in my email…

  • Jean Bennett

    I have to say my favorite picture here is the guest house, I love all the rich warm tones and the lamps take center stage!! They remind me of Fred and Ginger preparing for a dance routine 🙂 I remember watching them on TV when I was a little kid ( a few moons ago, lol).


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Linda Applewhite Designs