A while ago I was at Womad in New Plymouth with Cyclone Lusi threatening.

Our tents went up and came down, with one finally being put up instead of the three. Rather a sleepless night with the wind and rain but, fortunately, nowhere near as bad as predicted.

Brought back memories of my old tent being trashed in a storm the previous year in New Plymouth.

Many of us wish we could create optical illusions in one way or another, so here are a few tips you may be able to work with. It is also a lot easier than taking a sledgehammer to your home or workplace.


Large painted surfaces can work magic creating optical illusions in making a room appear smaller or larger.

Walls can retreat or advance and ceilings can be raised or lowered. Furniture can become a statement piece or blend, depending on the furnishings used and the colour of the walls.

To keep a room light and airy, choose light wall colours and drapery that tends to blend. This will give the impression of the room feeling larger. And if you want the room to take on a more intimate feeling, perhaps a dining room that is used only at night, be dramatic and paint it red.

Darker colours advance, jump out and say look at me, whereas lighter colours retreat.

If you have a long, narrow room and would like to change the balance, consider putting a darker colour on the walls the most distance apart and a lighter colour on the other two. This will draw the darker colours together and push the lighter walls apart. It's only an optical illusion. High ceilings can be lowered by adding a darker colour while low ceilings can be heightened by keeping them light.

I still like to paint ceilings white or off-white to give them that extra height, but I have been known to paint black, red, blue, chocolate brown or even silver on a ceiling, (of course not in the same room or the same house - one coloured ceiling is usually enough of a surprise).

Take a look at the illusion that has been created in the different supermarkets around town and how the interior paint works. Which one do you prefer to shop in?

I chose chocolate brown on a ceiling in a retail space, using flat paint to hide imperfections and lower the ceiling, but also to create the illusion of floating lights.


It was a dramatic effect. The walls were kept lighter, but we didn't want them too light and harsh to scare off potential customers. We also needed a good colour that would display the products well. I wanted the floor dark to keep the balance right, so a chocolate brown carpet was chosen, with chocolate and coffee-coloured tiles in the entrance.

This added that point of difference and interest. I wanted to create the feeling of a more intimate space that was welcoming for the serious shopper. This was definitely created by manipulating the space with colour and texture.

For another retail space I was involved in we needed to create a shift in balance because the shop was a new building and had a barn-like structure. The shop sold clothing and didn't quite fit the image of the structure. The ceiling, again, was painted a dark colour, in this case black so the pendant lighting became the new focal point. The lighting was dropped low so the illusion was a lowered ceiling as the black just disappeared. To shorten the space I created a huge horizontal effect on the end wall. This helped create the illusion of a wider room, aided by keeping the colours on the side walls light and fun.

The colours just popped. In a space with limited natural light the colours appeared fresh, light and welcoming. Her business went ahead in leaps and bounds after she opened this new space.

Terry Lobb is an interior/kitchen designer and personal colour and style consultant who takes a holistic approach to living with colour, texture and style. email: terry@terrylobb.com or visit terrylobb.com.