Basic Color Theory:Coordination Made Simple

When setting out to decorate or paint your home, understanding how colors interact, or color harmony, will make any room look like it’s posing for a magazine.

Let’s start with some basic terms.

Primary colors: The building blocks of all other colors: red, yellow and blue.

Secondary colors: These come from the combination of two primary colors. They are green, purple and orange.

Tertiary colors: These six colors are made by mixing a secondary color with a primary color.

Photo courtesy of Maniscalco Gallery of Fine Art

These three color groups look like this in relation to one another.

Photo courtesy of Ncharshaf Handmade

You’ll notice that the reds, oranges and yellows are labeled “warm” while the greens, blues and purples are “cool“. Warm colors are associated with energy while cold colors are considered calming. Consciously selecting from warm or cool colors enables you to tailor the over-all mood of a room.

Photo courtesy of katy elliot

Photo courtesy of Sugar Inc.

A “tint” is a color that’s had white added to it, a “tone” is a color with added gray and a “shade” is a color with added black. “Hue” means a specific color and “value” the lightness or darkness of that color.

Photo courtesy of Maniscalco Gallery of Fine Art

Once you understand the foundation of color theory, you can begin focusing on color schemes, which is perhaps the most important element of any interior design project. If your colors don’t look good together, they literally feel like an eye-sore.

Monochrome: Basically this is all the variations you can have of one color (it’s tints, tones and shades). So, to create a monochromatic room, pick a color and stick with it. Creating a monochromatic room and then breaking from the predominant color with another one can create a modern, playful effect.

Photo courtesy of Interior Design

Photo courtesy of roomenvy

Photo courtesy of roomenvy

Complementary: These are colors opposite one another on the color wheel, like yellow and purple. Placing complementary colors together is a really good way to make something stand out, but should be used in moderation. A good way to use complimentary colors without making them feel kitchy is to change the tint of one color and the tone/shade of the other. So, if you want to work with red and green, change the red to pink and darken the green.

Photo courtesy of monsoonco.com

Photo courtesy of Barefoot Floor

Analogous: These are three colors that sit by each other on the color wheel, like yellow, yellow-green and yellow-orange. This is the most naturally occurring color scheme and can be used to create a harmonious environment. The best way to work with an analogous palate is to pick one color to dominate, another to support it and then use the last as an accent. How does this play out in a room? Let’s say you’ve painted your kitchen walls yellow, this would make it the dominate color since it will take up the most visual space. Then you could paint your cabinets or table yellow-green, which adds a substantial amount of that color without overpowering the yellow. Finally, accent the space with yellow-orange curtains or kitchen towels. Remember, you can play around with the value of any or all of these colors by making them lighter or darker.

Photo courtesy of Best Home Decor

Photo courtesy of Interior-Design-Tutor

Triadic: These are three colors evenly spaced around a color wheel, like purple, orange and green. If you want a vibrant room, this is the color scheme to go with. However, in choosing how to balance the three colors, pick one to dominate and accent with the other two. So, if you chose purple as the dominant hue for your living room, you could paint the walls lavender, bedeck your sofa in a violet slip-cover and put down a plum colored rug. Then, with orange and green as your accent colors, sprinkle your furniture with tangerine decorative pillows and set out a few mint green vases.

Photo courtesy of A Graphic World II

Photo courtesy of Archzine

Split Complimentary: Pick a color (like blue) and determine its complimentary color (orange). This color scheme uses the the two colors next to the complimentary color (orange-red and yellow-orange). This color trio provides the same visual contrast as complementary colors without being so jarring (or kitchy). A good way to incorporate that contrast without it feeling overwhelming it to break up visual space with neutrals. If this were the color scheme for your bedroom, you could paint the walls gray, cover your bed in a sky blue bedspread and then use orange-red/yellow orange decorative pillows or curtains.

Photo courtesy of Design Sherpa

Photo courtesy of The Lennoxx

The principles of color theory not only apply to painting canvases, but your walls as well. So, when you’re struggling to figure out which paint, curtains, rug, slip-cover or decorative pillow to buy, remember your basic color theory.

For more help, Paint Quality Institute has a Digital Color Wheel that makes color coordination even easier.

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One Response to Basic Color Theory:Coordination Made Simple

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