The Nature of Color in Interior Decorating
Color covers everything, outlining and emphasizing shapes and making them easy to see. Its wide distribution, instant appeal, and powerful emotional effect made it a dominant element in the language of decoration. Delight in color is a universal human characteristic, found among the most primitive as well as among the most highly cultivated evolution of the future. Having the power to arouse or to sooth, to cheer or to depress, color largely creates the atmosphere, the in-dwelling and pervading influence, of our homes. By color our rooms are made grave or gay, warm or cool, suave, sympathetic or repellent.
Color is a property of light. When the light goes out color goes with it. Sitting in a drawing room as afternoon passes into evening, we see the rich and glowing colors of textiles, pictures and porcelains lose first their brilliancy, then their distinctive hues, and finally disappear altogether, as a flaming sunset fades into grey and deadens into black.
Solar energy reaches the earth in the form of ether vibrations of varying wave-length. Those which fall between certain maximum and minimum limits affect the nerves of the eye and yield the sensations of color. The white light of the sun is made up of a great number of rays so blended as to yield no sensation of color. If, however, a beam of white light be passed through a prism it is broken down into its constituent elements, which appear as separate bands of colored light. Some surfaces, illumined by white light, reflect practically all the rays, and therefore appear to be white. Other surfaces absorb practically all the rays and reflect none, and therefore appear to be black. Most surfaces, however, absorb all the rays except those which yield a single color sensation, and therefore appear to be of that color. Thus a blue ribbon is a ribbon which absorbs all the rays except blue. Most surfaces, moreover, reflect not only a characteristic colored light but also a greater or less amount of white light, so that a blue ribbon may be so light as to appear almost white, or so dark as to appear almost black.
The light rays, as they are reflected by all the surfaces within the field of vision, are received by the eye and focused upon the retina, a recording apparatus of incomprehensible fineness and complexity, made up of millions of nerves which appear under the microscope in the form of infinitesimal rods and cones, each of which is connected with the optic nerve leading to the brain. Just what takes place in the eye when light enters it is not known, but there is reason to believe that while the rods are chiefly sensitive to white light the cones are sensitive to vibrations of definite wave-lengths only, and are thus capable of communicating to the brain a definite color sensation. When the cones normally affected by vibrations of a given wave-length are absent or fail to function properly the corresponding color sensation cannot be registered in the brain, and the person whose eye is so constructed is color blind. The color nerves tire quickly. When the eye is compelled to gaze at the same hue for some time the nerves employed become tired and incapable of a vivid sensation, as every one has noticed in matching colors. They must be relieved temporarily by another set of nerves-a fact that shows the physical basis for the esthetic need of variety in color composition.