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TONE ON TONE: What Does This Mean?

To begin, let’s define some terms, and then I will break it down in terms of translating this into design.

HUE
Hues are basic colors we learn to connect with words as children. Red, Blue, Yellow.

TINT
If you tinted a color, you’ve been adding white to the original color, which makes it lighter.
SHADE
If you shaded a color, you’ve been adding black to the original color, which makes it darker.
LIGHTNESS
Lightness defines a range from dark (0%) to fully illuminated (100%). Any original hue has the average lightness level of 50%. 

TONE
The broader definition defines tone as a result of mixing a pure color with any neutral/grayscale color including the two extremes white and black. A tone is softer than the original color. 


In design, I use the term “tone on tone” to mean working within a general color area and manipulating this color with fabrics, tints, shades and textures to create interest and variety. The above image of a residence I just finished in Florida, is a great example of this. There are many textures going on, but the general “read” is gray with just a hint of lavender in the wall color.

Let’s break it down: The shag rug has tremendous reflective qualities because it is silk and it reflects the sunlight in an exciting way. The strands of the rug are long so as you walk on it, the rug changes it’s look constantly. Also, the coffee table is glass with a metal base, so there is nothing to obstruct the view of the rug. The rug is the DIVA. The sofa fabric is a close cut velvet of a medium LIGHTNESS. This works well on top of the diva rug. I don’t want to compete with that rug! The side chair has a subtle pattern of circles with a touch of orange: a print is necessary here. The large pillows are a very dark gray shaggy mohair; very luxurious…I wanted something almost black….love the black, always. The smaller long pillows are jumping out of the scheme as accents. The art work is absolutely on its own, as I believe art work should be. (I don’t “match” art). But you can see how the art references the arcs on the pillows and also the shape of the floor lamp.

Do I think about all of this when I am in the selecting phase of furnishing a space? Yes and no. I am aware that I need all of these things to make the space work, but that awareness is working on a very subtle level. I had the rug first, and that told me that I needed a sofa that could work as a solid volume. Once I had those two pieces the rest flowed. My client certainly had a say in this too, mind you, and this input is key, and is first and foremost, where I get my direction. Once again, it is essential to know the fundamentals of color, fabrics, texture and design, but I absolutely do not know what will ultimately emerge. And that is the great fun of my profession. What unfolded for this living room is modern / retro / jazzy all at once. James Bond anyone?

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