Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trompe l'Oeil Corner

Above is a corner within my house where the dining room meets the living room. If you were to enter and walk through the house, you'd think nothing of that corner. But actually, you'd be looking at a painted shadow.

This is a schematic of the photo above. My living room flows into a small dining area that's practically a nook. Light comes in through two sources, French doors to the south and one window to the north. Because light is very diffused, I've mirrored one living room wall, floor to ceiling, then painted the other walls a light yellow (A). That does little, however, to lighten the back wall of the dining room (B), which is in shadow. Of course I could have painted that wall and wall C a yet lighter yellow, but those walls would then have become pretty anemic. Besides, I wanted wall C to be strong enough to complement the kitchen beyond, which is a yellow-orange.

And so I hit upon the idea of accentuating the shadows instead. These are the colors I used:

I know, you're looking at that Golden Pearl and thinking it looks pretty raw. But if you look at the top photo again, you might agree that it looks less like Golden Pearl and more like the dark shadow of Buttercup. In fact, when one looks into the dining area, it appears to all be one color. What makes that work is that wall B, which is Rattan, is a perfect bridge between the other two, and no one looking at the Rattan wall would ever know that it too is a painted shadow.

When we're painting walls, we're really playing with light. We can make walls appear larger or smaller, warmer or cooler, lower or higher. And, we can even make a shadow appear crisper!

P.S. Light yellow is a particularly changeable color, and I had to paint my living room walls four times to get the right look. Some yellows looked bad in my particular lighting and some yellows looked absolutely green in the mirror reflection!


  1. Colour for walls can be tricky. I'm trying to stock up while oil base is still available (illegal to produce it in Canada as of this September, but still can be purchased until stocks are depleted).

    I've been looking at paint chips for the longest times this past week, under different light, and it can be exasperating. But the process is unquestionably interesting. I'm looking at shades of grey, and it is tricky. To match some ceramic bathroom tiles, I finally had to choose one with a tiny bit of green (not visible) in it.

    Your exercise in tricking the eye is fascinating, as is your amazing diagram. I painted an Empire style wreath with ribbon on a wall panel, en grisaille, and put in faint shadows under it. I'd never done it before and was rather pleased with the effect. I think the secret of success in many trompe l'oeil effects such as yours, and in faux finishes, is to understate them. They have to be very subtle or they don't fool (or entertain) the eye. Sort of like a chef knowing how much salt or sugar to put in a dish....

    Glad to know you're using modern paint without lead or other ghastly Jeffersonian ingredients!

    Very original post!

  2. I've painted my walls so often that the folks at Sherwin Williams assume I'm a contractor! Good luck on your choices!