It’s time to learn about the color wheel and color schemes so you can pull the colors in your home together like a professional.
I have always felt that if I teach you the fundamentals of interior design, you will be able to take that knowledge and create wonderful, well designed rooms for yourself. So I’m going to apply that idea to color as well and give you some information on the basics of color theory to help you when you are selecting color for your home.
You need to understand color space and how colors relate to each other to pull together a great color scheme. So let’s get started:
You’ve all probably seen a color wheel and understand that it is the ring of colors from the spectrum of light moving from red to orange, yellow then green, blue, violet and back around the red. The color wheel displays these colors in a continuous circle to show how they relate to each other. Red, orange and yellow are warm colors and green blue and violet are the cool colors. But have you ever wondered where the rest of the colors are? I mean, where’s white? Pink? Olive green? Navy? Well, we need to take a look at color space to find all the rest of the colors.
If you put all the colors that exist together in some sort of color order, it would create a three dimensional object or egg shape like you see pictured here. Every color has three dimensions to describe it – HUE or its color, VALUE (how light or dark it is, and CHROMA which is how bright or dull the color is.
In the center of the egg there would be an axis that would be the grey scale which goes from white at the top to black at the bottom. This dimension of color is called VALUE. It determines how light or how dark a color is. As colors travel up or down this axis they lighten and darken. A red at the top would be a pink and at the bottom a burgundy.
The circumference of this egg shape is the dimension of HUE or color. In other words; red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet travel around the circumference of color space to create the color wheel.
The third dimension of color is called CHROMA which is how bright or how neutral or dull a color is. In color space, the colors on the outside of the egg are the brightest because they are the farthest way from the grey scale in the center. As each color gets closer to the center, it becomes less and less saturated with color and more neutral, having less chroma.
As I’m sure you’ve experienced, certain colors work better together than with others. And, designers have created color relationships to help you understand which to put together.
We’ll start with a MONOCHROMATIC color scheme. Mono meaning one – so a single color – color scheme. To make that interesting, you take a color from the color wheel and use it in a variety of different values or light and dark versions of the same color. You can always mix in white or off-white as you see in this photo. The darkest shades of this aqua are found on the upholstered chair, area rug and dresser, with lighter tints on the walls and on the lamp. Accents of deep aqua seem to appear in the artwork on the walls. Often neutrals are used to soften a monochromatic scheme and make it more interesting. However, if the ratio of neutrals to color becomes too high, the scheme is then considered an ACCENTED NEUTRAL scheme where the neutral is in the largest amount and the color is simply an accent.
This fabric is a perfect example of the use of MONOCHROMATIC colors. The royal blue can be seen in its deepest shade in the near navy and it palest tints in the blue-white. A striking room might use the navy on the walls and a white washed wood floor. Pale blue upholstery with patterned and solid pillows in all the shades of blue would be gorgeous and very interesting!
A COMPLEMENTARY color scheme uses two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel like blue and orange or red and green as you see here in this photo. Used together, this combination of warm and cool colors creates excitement and energizes any decor. When opposites are used together they bring out the best in each other. However, make sure to vary the intensity or chroma of the two colors. One might be more intense, like the green in the photo and the red takes a fallback position by being more subdued as in a barn red or deep crimson.
I didn’t plan it, but this fabric would work very well in the COMPLEMENTARY room above. Because the red is a warm color and will advance in a room, you would need more green to accent a predominantly red room and even more to balance it as in the room above. If your room has more green, just a bit of red will pop as an accent. It’s the same with an orange in a blue room or a yellow in a violet room.
An ANALOGOUS, or sometimes it is referred to as a NEIGHBORING color scheme, uses three colors next to each other on the color wheel, usually creating a warm or cool space. A neighboring color scheme is inviting and invigorating if in the warm tones or very calm and tranquil if in the cool tones.
When a neighboring scheme used blue, green and yellow, it crosses over from cools into the warm family and gives the scheme some added life. Notice above, the room is warmer with blue in smaller quantities as an accent. In the fabric the feeling is much cooler and the yellow is the accent!
One of the toughest schemes to create is a TRIADIC color scheme which uses three colors from the wheel that are an equal distance from each other like red, yellow and blue or orange, green and violet. To pull these off, you may use color with similar chromas, such as the primary colors for children’s rooms. Colors can also be arranged in varying degrees with one color dominant, another color as secondary and the third color as an accent.
This fabric depicts a triadic color scheme of red, yellow and blue but it is so well pulled off because of the varying uses of chroma. For instance, the blue is in both navy and a bright midtone. The red is a strong red, the yellow is the accent and then white is added to tone things down. If you like the vibrant quality of a triadic color scheme, find a fabric like this that gives you a formula for how much of each color to use.
To contrast, one of the easiest and most versatile color schemes is to simply create neutral toned rooms. Select a neutral you like from beige to taupe to grey or white and use varying values of it together for interest. Add a lot of texture and you will have created a space you can alter for the seasons or even a change of mood!
Selecting Paint Colors:
So, now you know everything that I know about color…now how do you use it?
Start by grabbing something from the room you want to paint. For instance, let’s pretend it’s this fabric and it is your bedspread. You now know it is in an analogous color scheme of blue, green and yellow.
The designer that put this fabric design together used more blue than green or yellow so it wouldn’t be too busy or jarring so you can take that as a clue. Go to the color selector and select a blue in a lighter or darker value than the one in the background of the fabric so you are staying in the same color family that the designer choose.
Pull out a green just for the fun of it and think about what that bedroom would look like in green…
While you are at it, you ought to at least consider what the room would look like if it were painted yellow?
Then, since you are a color expert now, consider something wild like a bright olive toned green. It’s not really a green, not really a yellow, but sure seems to blend well with everything. By trying the unexpected, you are using your knowledge of how a neighboring scheme works. Olive is within the blue, green, yellow color space and since the fabric has a navy in it, perhaps one of the other colors, also less saturated will work as well?
Well the answer is – you won’t know until you try.
What is nice about taking the fabric with you is that you can eliminate all the colors that don’t fit into your color scheme right off the bat and the whole selection process gets much less intimidating.
If you are still unsure, gather up some of the paint company’s color cards. They are full of information and suggestions to help you out. Often they show color combinations that are selected by color experts so you can use their advice and apply it to the colors you are using.
Or, grab a pile of magazines and look for something that inspires you. I generally rip out pages until I get a pile and then sort through to find similarities. Sometimes I’m surprised at what I’m really attracted to!
Model homes and furniture showrooms can be a great place to get inspiration as well. Check out how the designer’s have put colors together and ask about their color choices. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to give you the color names and numbers.
But the only way to be completely sure is to go home and make up some sample boards. You can do this effectively if the paint company offers sample sizes. Even if you have to purchase a couple quarts of paint, at least you will be able to decide on the perfect color before you start painting the walls! Make sure to view them in all different light conditions from daylight to nighttime and then make your decision. And with all this color knowledge on your side – you’re sure to make the right color choice the first time – every time!! I always do…right Matt?