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How important is colour for commercial & institutional projects?

For commercial & institutional projects, the question of colour is no less important than it is for the home. In many ways it is more important… As an architectural colour consulting company we had this question posed to us recently;

"How do the needs of your client & the needs of the end-uses affect the choice of colour in institutions or commercial spaces"?

The nature of the project definitely directs the type of colour range used. Is it corporate? ….care giving? ….retail?

Each of these project types get a unique treatment. I've decided to break it down to illustrate what we consider when studying a project to maximize the benefit of the final palette so it can best support the appropriate function:

Here are a few examples of what needs consideration:



There are 3 major groups to contend with in a health care facility…patient,staff& visitor. For this type of project we orchestrate the colour palette to support all, but in different ways. Colour usage in the emergency waiting room is very different than the front desk or the recovery areas & private rooms.

Certain colours act as a tonic to our bodies. Colour can help aid healing, lift spirits, settle nerves, & direct traffic . It can also allow a surgeon deeper concentration & less eyestrain… or calm an emotional family member.



For office interiors branding & function are the considerations. Part of a successful outcome is understanding how each space is used & by who. Colour can increase (or decrease) productivity… and therefore, the bottom line.
Careful consideration of colour pays off in more ways than one.



The 2 key ingredients in colour selection for restaurants are establishing image& supporting function.
~ Image / creating an experience through atmosphere
~ Function / colour that whets appetite & good conversation.

Dining areas require different colour treatment than prep areas.
The restaurant experience, & even the length of stay can be influenced by colour usage.



Correct colour use can enhance the absorption of information & facilitate the thinking process. This applies to the classroom as well as the transitional areas in an educational facility. Even within the classroom itself, variety in colour has proven to support the learning process& reduce eyestrain & fatigue.

I always keep in mind, not just what the students are seeing, but also what the instructor will be experiencing.



Colour trend is important for these spaces— not the trend of the moment, but a general treatment that will be accepted easily by most homeowners & new home buyers (a trend that can work now, & 7 to 10 years from now). A key factor, however, is making sure the colour range used is sympathetic to the architecture (ie. Do they tell the same 'story'?).



In general, children under the age of 8 prefer the warm side of the palette. Room function must be taken into consideration. Is it a room in which they'll play & nap? If so the surrounding colours must support both
activities. Variety in colour is important for creative stimulation, so transition areas & lunch areas present an opportunity to bring variety to the mix.



A recent trend in hotel interiors is to incorporate a 'homier' less institutional feel, reflecting local character to enhance the experience for the guest. Large chain hotels are an exception to this as their branding is
strengthened by their familiarity, whether in Ottawa or Paris.

Variable colour nuance is required in each area . The lobby (the jewel at the centre of the hotel environment) is treated differently than the communal halls, private rooms or restaurant. Each colour has a job to do.



Colour in retail should reflect the store's image, especially at the entry & point of purchase. Colour should create excitement & support the brand ofthe store. However, the sales floor is a backdrop to accommodate the many changing colours of merchandise that will channel through it. In a largeretail facility colour coding can help direct the customer, streamlining the shopping process and minimizing confusion.



I like to recommend a cleaner, less complicated colour palette for elderly end users. Vision compromised by cataracts, glaucoma & macular degeneration can inflict a 'greying' effect over surrounding colour.
Depression is another factor than can be lessened by correct use of colour.

I avoid large areas of white on a project like this as it creates an institutional feeling & creates eyestrain.

So, there is a brief outline on the things to consider . Of course there are no 'ultimate ' answers as each project is unique!

Sylvia O'Brien / Colour Theory


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