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Theme: paints and finishes

From sweet-scented natural coatings in vibrant colours to intricate anti-spy wallcoverings, a building's interior surfaces are no longer constrained to dull magnolia hues. Today's manufacturers offer an enormous choice of finishing products, which can add colour, character and texture, as well as addressing environmental issues and fire safety

Colour is staggeringly influential - change the colour of an interior and you immediately affect the mood and atmosphere of the space. Paint manufacturers have done much to broadcast the fact that you can have any colour you want, but with this much choice, how do you ensure that the vision in your head is what ends up in the building?

A perfect match The first issue is how colours are defined in a way that is both scientifically accurate and sufficiently intuitive to make some sort of sense.

Dulux Trade was one of the first manufacturers to introduce an intuitive system of alphanumeric ciphers, which identify individual colours and form the basis for all accurate colour definitions.

The company's colour-palette system is based on the principle that each colour has three defining physical characteristics: the hue; the light-reflectance value (LRV) or brightness; and the chroma or saturation.

Hues are the pure colours from the light spectrum, and most colours have a clear hue associated with them.

Pink, for example, has a red hue (coded RR), while lavender has a purple hue (coded RB). LRV is measured by the percentage of light reflected by the surface, and chroma is the factor that makes a colour intense or subtle, and these too are given number codes.

The result of this system is that a single shade is identified absolutely, ensuring that there is no room for interpretation or variation. For example, in the pink colour Dulux 01RR 77/091, the cipher breaks down as follows: 01RR identifies the colour as having a very red hue; 77 is the percentage of light reflected from it; and 091 indicates that it has a low chroma saturation and is therefore a light pink.

All precise definitions of colour will use the same process, although reference ciphers are not transferable from one manufacturer to another, as the methods of measuring the three characteristics vary.

Colour as a guide These alphanumeric systems are important not just for the aesthetics of specifying colour, but also to meet specific legislative requirements.

The Disability Discrimination Act and Part M of the Building Regulations require specifiers to consider the needs of disabled - and in this case, visually impaired - users.

The critical factor in helping these people to navigate their way around a space is the use of contrasting colours. Part M is very specific and focuses on the difference in the light reflectance of different colours. This contrast is identified easily using the numeric representation of the LRV in the cipher used to describe a colour.

Dulux Trade, with the University of Reading and the Royal National Institute of the Blind, has researched the effect of using contrasting colours and the resulting guidance notes are available on the company's Colour and Contrast CD.

Recreating the past In restoration projects, the choice of colour may be constrained by a requirement to recreate a historically accurate appearance.

Specifiers of the Victorian and Georgian eras had a much smaller choice and the pigments and materials of the time dictated the colours available.

Some of these are, at best, undesirable additives and the worst are now considered positively dangerous. But a number of manufacturers now produce a specially identified range of historically accurate colours in modern paint formulations. Colortrend, for example, has a collection of 149 historic colours, faithfully restored by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiques (www. historicnewengland. org), which come in two traditional-style finishes: Historic Matt and Historic Eggshell. Similarly, Little Greene Paint Company incorporates traditional materials in the production of its interior range of silky satin finishes.

From white to bright Perhaps the most unexpected characteristic of period colours is the range of whites.

These would have been softer as they included traces of earth pigments, such as ochres, umbers and red oxides. The brilliant whites of the 21st century are the product of modern paint technology and there is an astonishingly wide range of shades that can be included under the heading 'white'. Dulux Trade's Classic White range alone consists of 30 individually identified variations.

For subtle variations, Sandersons' Spectrum range includes 1,350 shades, making it one of the most extensive pastel-to-midcolour palettes available. But if you prefer more pizzazz in your paint, take a look at the new range from Designer's Guild. In a departure from wallpaper, the company is launching a collection of 72 colours whose vibrant hues include stunning orchid and hibiscus tones.

Predicting trends While historically accurate colours are, by definition, a limited group, there is no real limit to the development of colours for the future. Every year, the leading paint manufacturers identify the colours they believe will be popular in the forthcoming months, whether individual colours or colour families that represent a particular mood.

It can be an arcane discipline, using teams of consultants to study new influences from around the world to put together the palettes that will influence colour specification.

The Analogue group, whose expertise guides Akzo Nobel's Decorative Coatings brand, is one such initiative. Comprising a line-up of international architects, fashion consultants and interior designers, the group's annual three-day workshop brainstorms elements of popular culture, from advances in technology to music tastes, to identify popular moods, and translates them into thematic labels. Colour Envelope 04 identified eight themes and a palette of 61 colours, including the irreverent 'Flirting' envelope of soft pinks and the gothic black/brown and muted green undertones of 'Edge'.

So will the next 12 months offer low-key or lurid? With the new Colour Envelope document in preparation, Akzo Nobel's colour designer and panel member Willeke Jongejlan predicts 'extreme colours with a strong symbolic meaning'. Just the thing for your conservatory. To see the full range, visit www. colourenvelope. com.

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