How To Choose The Perfect Colors For Your Home?
The Daunting Dread
Isn’t choosing a color for your living areas almost ALWAYS the scariest part of decorating? Color frightens us for a reason. It evokes certain moods, emotions and are known to be either cool or warm.
There are literally unlimited choices of hues, tints and shades, but even when we know what colors we are gravitating towards, the undertones tend to slap us back to square one.
Undertones determine whether color is warm or cold. If a certain gray has blue undertones it’ll be cold, if it has green undertones it’ll be little warmer and if it has purple undertones, it’ll be even warmer and so on. So let’s learn a little bit of color basics so we can understand the philosophy behind it.
I am pretty sure that you’ve learnt the three primary colors way back in elementary school. You must have been super excited when you’ve mixed two primary colors to create a new color that is called: a secondary color.
Hi, I am Karolina and I am a wife and a mom to Sara. I am an interior designer by passion, a DIY'er by trade and an avid gardener. Click on my photo to learn more about my story...
Theory Of Colors
How do you decide on the color scheme of your space? Color scheme consists of one or two main colors which will be pre-dominating in your design.
The first step in deciding upon a color for your space is figuring out the MOOD you want your room to evoke. It is quite as simple as that.
WARM & COLD COLORS
From the beginning of time, we have associated colors to many things such as food for example: lemon yellow, grass green, strawberry red….or objects such as fire engine red, but so very often we do know how a certain color feels to us temperature wise.
That is why Elsa from Frozen probably wears a blue dress because blue is one of three cool colors on the color wheel.
Cool Colors: Blue, Green, Purple
Warm Colors: Red, Orange, Yellow
Neutrals: Black, White, Gray, Beige (below I will explain these in greater detail)
There are four main parts of distinguishing the color-mood of a certain color scheme. And those are:
1. HUE – Warm & Cool colors
2. VALUE – Tints & Shades
3. INTENSITY – Pure & Muted tones
Lastly , the fourth important component in establishing the color mood is:
When talking about textures , things that usually come to mind first are fabrics, upholstery, carpeting, wallpaper, wood, plaster, metals etc.
You may wonder, how could colors be affected by the materials they reside in?
For example, do you think that same hue of purple feels the same if it resides in a plush velvet fabric that, say, your sofa is upholstered with OR if it resides on a shiny lacquered end table?
If you were wearing shorts in an air conditioned room, would you rather sit on a soft green velvet couch or a shiny smooth vinyl couch? Colors on smooth surfaces are more vivid and are kind of “in your face” simply because the surface reflects lots of light. In reflecting light , they also reflect heat which in the end means they have a cooling effect.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, let’s talk about rough surfaces for a second. Tweed, cotton or plush velvet absorb light and heat instead of reflecting it. Rough textures are constructed of many tiny hills and valleys and are seen as a shadowed dot. These dots absorb the light and heat and as a result the same color would appear darker than one reflected on a smooth surface. Essentially, it would result in a shade of the original color.
Let’s just say that it absolutely does not matter if the color in discussion is cool or warm because as a result of the above analysis , any color will feel cooler on a smooth surface as opposed to rough textured finish.
Let’s summarize all the important factors that determine the way we control the warmth of colors:
Reds, Yellows and Oranges are all warm colors, as well as Brown “earth tones” – including red-brown and orange-brown. You what is happening here with the undertones? Brown is a warm color, so a red with a brownish undertone will be warm “earthy”, so If you are deciding on a warm color scheme, then you need to avoid any kind of reds with green, blue or violet undertones. Makes sense?
Now, how about a cool color scheme? Let’s say, that you are going for a nice cooler violet color for your daughters room. Now let me just say this, of all 3 cool colors on the color wheel, violet is the warmest of all. Why is that?
Well, because violet is made of mixing Blue and Red, red being a warm color. So if you want a cool violet color scheme what undertones should you avoid?
Reds and yellows, of course.
Instead, you should be aiming towards a bluish – violet color.
Now look at the photo below. How does this feel to you? Warm or cool?
This room definitely has a lot of grays, whites and blues accented with nearly an equal amount of beige, but because there is more cool color tones , this room would fall into cool color schemed room.
Here is a little summary to help you understand color temperatures:
a) A Black hue is a warm color
b) A white hue is a cool color , white-bluish being cooler than yellow-bluish.
Now, it is starting to all make more sense, right?
Value of a hue actually refers to the lightness or darkness of that hue. For example, red is a pure hue. If you were to add little white the red , you would get a lighter red that gravitates towards pink. Also if you were to add a bit of brownish color to your red, as a result you would get a darker “earthy” maroon color.
Just a note here: by making a hue darker or lighter , you are not changing the hue, you are just changing it’s value. (More on this in another post)
Some of terminology used to describe the value a hue is called :
- Tint – adding white to a hue
- Shade – adding brown to a hue
Now you know that either by adding white or brown, you can create tints or shades of certain colors/hues.
Intensity of a hue refers to its pureness. Hue is in it’s purest form when absolutely nothing has been added to it. Let’s take a look at our color wheel :
Our primary colors are : red, blue and yellow
Our secondary colors are: orange, green and violet
Complementary colors are the ones opposite on the color wheel.
For example: green is a complimentary color to red, violet is complementary to yellow, orange to blue and so on.
If you mix 2 colors that are complements to each other , you will essentially end up with a blackish color. So what is the point of this conversation then?
Well, if you were to add just a tiny bit of violet to a lot of yellow , you would end up with a muted yellow. So some of the yellow will be cancelled out by the violet but a lot of it will still predominate , resulting in a muted yellow.
Let’s say that you want to paint your entry door in a beautiful blue color, and you purchased a can of pure hue blue. You start painting and you suddenly realize , it is very stark blue, it’s way too loud for the eyes. How would you tone is down a bit ?
You would add a little bit of orange to it. A little bit at a time , until you get your desired color. Now you have learnt how to tone/mute a color down or lessen it’s intensity – by simply adding it’s complement.
Again, by muting a color, you only change it’s intensity and not it’s actual hue.
As discussed already, smooth surfaces are cooler than rough surfaces.
Color is Power
You can accomplish so many amazing and powerful things with color – establish a certain mood of a room – bright, airy, dark, “in your face”, calming, cozy, relaxed , joyful, dramatic, classic, timeless.
You can also trick the eye with color, making small spaces appear more spacious and larger rooms more intimate. The best of all, choosing a beautiful color doesn’t cost a penny more than choosing a dull and depressing color.
This is why color is magical because it will determine the mood of the space regardless of the budget for the room. Even most expensive furnishings can look awful in a room that has a poorly chosen wall paint. This is why color has no price tag, because even if funds are limited, a proper and skillful choice of colors can bring an otherwise basic room to life.
PRACTICAL COLOR APPLICATIONS
This is super exciting. Now that you’ve learnt about color basics, don’t you already feel more comfortable about choosing the right colors for your space?
Let’s practice a little bit. Wherever you are right now, look around…. What do you see?
Colors everywhere. I challenge you to try to determine tints, shades, values and intensities of certain colors that surround you. Your pick.
You should be able to do this quite comfortably. You will apply the exact same strategy on your next visit to the furniture or fabric store.
How do you choose your room color the right way?
Most of us tend to choose paint color FIRST , and then the rest of furnishings and accessories. Wrong, absolutely wrong approach.
Drumroll please …….Color is ALWAYS chosen last ! Once you’ve picked out your furniture and accessories, THEN you will choose your wall colors and not the other way around.
Why, you ask?
It’s because it is much much easier to pull the color out of your furnishings ,rugs, bedding, accent pillows, window treatments etc. than matching the color of your furnishings to the color tones of your wall. This is why most of the time it is a guessing game, because you’ve been doing it wrong all along.
Makes sense? Good . Keep reading.
Don’t you worry, you don’t need to have a Phd in color in order to make educated, stress free color choices for your living areas. In fact, most people don’t have a natural gift in choosing colors at all.
DECIDING FACTORS CHOOSING THE RIGHT COLORS
As I mentioned before, you first and foremost need to decide on the Mood of your space. Then, you need to consider the climate you live in followed by the orientation of the space you are painting.
Let’s talk about climates and locations for a second.
Homes in cold climates like Wisconsin, Chicago , New York tend to be designed in warmer color schemes. Opposite of cold climates, if you live in Arizona or Florida, being in a cool teal or aqua color scheme may just have that perfect cooling effect as a cold glass of ice water with a slice of lime.
2. ROOM ORIENTATION
You have probably never even thought about which way your rooms are facing and what on earth does that have to do with the choice of color. You may won’t believe it , but choosing paint color based on which way your room is facing might just save you from a second paint job.
Rooms facing north and south will never be directly exposed to sunlight, but only of it’s reflection off the clouds and sky. Opposed to north and south , east and west facing rooms are directly exposed to sun so the color you choose will greatly be altered by the movement of sun.
So let’s make this super simple, shall we? In some non-written rules here is what you should consider:
- North-facing rooms should be painted in warm colors
- South-facing rooms should be painted in cool colors
Note: Please consider the location of your home. Perhaps a north facing room in cold New York, would most certainly benefit from being painted in warm color, but a north-facing room in a blazing hot Arizona sun would still benefit from a nice cool color scheme.
These rules are of course not written in stone, however consider that sun never enters north-facing rooms, instead it casts a blue shade because of it’s reflection of the sky.
So if you were to paint your north facing room blue, it would appear even bluer, and if you painted it a neutral gray and accidentally chose a gray with a blue undertone, guess what your north facing room will look like? Bluish Gray.
One of my favorite Gray paint colors are:
HC-170 | STONINGTON GRAY form Benjamin Moore
This is a gray that will remain true gray in a north facing room, yet won’t feel cool at all.
If you were to paint a west facing room this color, due to the sun glare ,it would appear bluish.
Please read my CHOOSING THE PERFECT GRAYS post by clicking HERE.
Now let’s start with choosing the right colors for your space
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT COLORS FOR YOUR SPACE
Step 1 – Decide on the Mood :
Step 2 – Consider climate and orientation
Step 3 – Start with a predominant color
- Ok, let’s say you’ve decided upon a nice cozy warm color tones for your North facing room. Great –you’ve automatically eliminated half of the color choices on the color wheel and now you know that you won’t use any cool undertones either. Fantastic. Let’s say you’ve decided on either red, yellow or orange hue or any possibilities between these on the color wheel. Your color scheme will revolve around that group of colors one of which will be your pre dominant hue.
Should you use equal amounts of all red, yellow and orange hues? Most likely not, because that would be chaotic and distracting to the eye. You would instead choose one of those colors as your main color and use one or two others as your accent colors and let them play off of it.
Yellow is becoming very popular , so let’s take it as an example.
Step 4 – Choosing the color scheme
A color scheme consists of a group of 1 to 3 colors you will use predominantly. So the room you are designing will be built around a color scheme.
There are total of 3 different ways you can choose your color scheme.
MONOCHROMATIC COLOR SCHEMES
Monochromatic color scheme is a scheme in which you use ONE single color as both your main pre-dominant color and as your accent color as well.
Take a look a this room. Would you say that this room is on the cool or warm spectrum?
It is entirely white. Monochromatic color scheme on the other hand does not mean that you take a can of paint and paint everything the same white. You would end up creating an extremely dull room if you were to use the same white. Instead , you will use different kind of whites that play of each other well to create interest, texture and dimension.
Because you are choosing a warm color scheme for your room, you will need to choose warm whites with red, yellow, orange and brownish undertones and avoid whites with green, violet and blue undertones.
Read my post on TOP 10 WHITE PAINT COLORS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER here.
Does this make sense?
Let’s briefly mention neutrals which we can generally divide into 3 categories.
a) Black & Whites are neutral (black being warm/white being cool)
b) Grays fall under neutrals
c) Browns is usually warm
Many monochromatic rooms are built around neutral colors and the reason for that is simple. You can take a neutral color in a larger dose and not go crazy insane, in another words it is so much easier to live with large doses of neutral colors that with solid bright hues simply because they aren’t overpowering.
White is of course very popular neutral color , since an all white room can be very light , bright and airy so using different whites to play off each other is key.
Now using whites with grays on the other hand could be tricky.
I mean, there are 150 different whites that Benjamin Moore makes alone, so it can get overwhelming.
The key advise here is that once you pick a certain white – stick with it. Make sure you are using the CORRECT white with the right undertone.
If you miss this little tiny detail in the design process , you may end up with a white rug that appears more beige next to a stark white wall which then shows the off white trim as if it was dirty and didn’t belong there.
There are whites and then there are whites. Please read my post on using the correct whites HERE.
When doing a monochromatic color scheme stay away from off-whites. Stay away from “OFF COLORS” in general when choosing your monochromatic scheme whether it be yellow, gray, blue , violet etc.
If you choose upon a Royal violet hue for the entire room, you are going to want to stick with that exact royal violet throughout the room: tints and shades of that Royal violet, various intensities of that same violet, textures and fabrics of that same violet. You can’t use a different hue of violet in this case.
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE A MONOCHROMATIC COLOR SCHEME?
Well, this really only depends on you. Do you like the look of a room being in the same color scheme? Perhaps it is great to do this with one room in your home and then call it the “Blue Room”, “Purple Room” etc.
Certainly don’t overdo it. Okay, next, let’s explore Adjacent color schemes.
ADJACENT COLOR SCHEMES
Very popular approach to choosing colors for a room, also otherwise known as analogous color scheme.
The adjacent color scheme refers to colors that are located next to each other on the color wheel. It is as simple as that.
Let’s look at our color wheel again. Blue is right next to green , hence these being adjacent to each other. There is a color that is however in between blue on one side and green on the other, and that is aqua, turquoise or teal. Same goes with yellow and green and hundreds of other hues in between 2 adjacent colors.
Let say, that you’ve decided teal would be your main pre-dominant color.
This is obviously a cool color, so let’s choose it as our dominant color and use green on one side and blue on the other side as our accent colors to soften it all up. Ok so now let’s talk about what other color can you use in this combo.
Both blues and greens/teals are cool colors , so what if we wanted to take it a step further and warm it up a bit.
You would use neutrals , of course. Why neutrals? Well, because neutrals are by definition neutral and do not alter the pre-dominant color nor the accent color.
So by neutrals I mean whites, beiges, natural wood tones, browns etc.
Where would you use your main color of choice in a room?
The possibilities include all major color-masses such as walls, flooring, bed, bedspread, window treatments, chairs etc. All of these present possibilities for using teal. Now you have a choice between either blue or green or both as your adjacent colors for accents in the room. You may decide to use some throw pillows in green, base of a lamp shade in blue perhaps , you may use wallpaper with these accent colors present, your bedspread could be blue with green trim and the possibilities are completely endless.
Since there is already so much teal, blue and green, this is when you decide on your wall color.
What I mentioned earlier in the post is that you will choose your wall color last, after you’ve already decided on all other colors for your room. To soften this room up a bit, you could use a nice warm neutral color for the walls.
And this is how you create a bullet proof formula for creating a harmonious, well balanced and welcoming design without all the guessing.
Now let’s move on to the last and probably most interesting color scheme approach of all - Complementary color schemes
COMPLEMENTARY COLOR SCHEMES
As I have mentioned above, complementary colors are the colors located on the opposite side of the color wheel. Let’s take a quick look.
Yellow is complementary to violet, green to red, blue to orange and so on…
A complementary color scheme is a scheme built around colors that complement each other. For example, a scheme built around yellow and violet is a complementary scheme.
We talked about how complementary colors cancel each other out if mixed in same amounts. This is how we change the intensity of a color as discussed earlier.
You now may be wondering, how do we achieve warm or cool “mood” if complementary colors essentially neutralize each other?
The process would be the exact same as when mixing unequal amounts of paint.
You would choose your main color which is the dominating color – let’s pick Yellow (warm color) for the sake of this conversation and use violet as accent. Violet is therefore the less dominant color so it won’t cancel out the yellow, maintaining the warm mood for the room.
Now let’s look at this photo below, which is an example of a complementary color scheme for a girls room that almost cancel each other out.
Why is that? It is because both yellow/green color and pink are used in nearly the same amounts which cancel each other out , however if you look a bit harder, you’ll notice that the yellow/green color is slightly more dominant , therefore making the room cool.
Now there is generally a rule of thumb in using the complementary color scheme, and is as follows:
- Don’t use bright and intense hues for both complementary colors, because they are overpowering
- The practice is to use tints or shades of both colors but do not mix tints or shades, rather use either one or the other.
- Use muted tones of approximately equal intensity.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT COMBINATION OF COLORS
So after learning a lot about how colors work and interact, I almost feel like picking colors should be a total breeze for you.
So let’s recap: we’ve talked about basics of colors, hues and intensities, and various color combinations.
Now that you are armed with this info, how do you ACTUALLY approach to choosing the colors for your monochromatic, adjacent or complementary color scheme.
AN ACE UP YOUR SLEEVE
Others have already done the work for you.
Let me explain: So you’ve followed my advice on choosing the mood. In addition you perhaps have a color in mind already, let’s say that you want your color scheme to include a nice yellow/green.
Your next step is to visit a fabric store and search for bolts of fabric that contain that particular color. This is not for you to use that exact fabric in your room design. Fabric designers have already done the perfect color matching in form of patterns and motifs on fabric and wallpaper.
Grab a sample or samples of the fabric in which your choice of color predominates and see what other colors are present…pick out several samples that suits your eye, then after living with those samples for a few days, narrow them down. Use that as a perfect color guide to pick out your furnishings , upholstery, rugs, wallpapers etc.
As you can see, you don’t need to be an artist in order to put together a beautiful design, instead you let the artists who designed fabrics do all the legwork for you.
Fabric example is just one of many different approaches you can choose from. If you see a beautiful photo in a magazine, or like a particular color combination , save it and use it as a guide for your own design journey.
Well, I hope I was able to clarify some minor things around color for you and that you will find this information useful in your next design project.
Please don’t forget to share your designs based on the things you’ve learnt from my blog , so I can feature you and your space on my website.
Happy designing !