Today will wind up this series on color. Together we’ve explored the colors of red, blue, yellow, green, secondary colors like orange and purple, the neutrals of black, white and gray and then yesterday the warmer neutrals of tan, beige and brown. While there is certainly lots more to learn and share about color, these articles will give us a good basic starting point for future conversations.
What conclusions can be drawn after over 8 weeks of writing and learning about color?
- Color tolerance is a very personal choice.
- There are SO many shades, tones and tints of every single color that it’s not enough to say “I want a green wall”.
- There are very few “bad” color schemes. Most color combinations can work with a little manipulation of intensity and tone (amount of black or white added).
- Warm colors like red, yellow and orange are strong, dominating colors that make a home feel cozy and vibrant.
- Cool colors like blue, green and purple will lower your temperature visually and provide cool, sophisticated schemes.
- Colors can affect our emotions and well being.
- The perception of a room’s size can be impacted by color. Generally darker colors make a room feel small and cozy and intimate. Lighter colors make a room seem brighter and more spacious. Knowing a color’s properties allows you to break the rules to maximum effect.
This color wheel has hung on my bulletin board since my design student days and I like it because it includes shades and tints of each color so relationships are clearer.
Color Scheme Terminology
Monochromatic: A term everyone knows, and it means: all one color. In home decor it usually refers to rooms in shades of one color. Monochromatic rooms can be very soothing because there are no bright or jarring colors to interrupt a smooth flow of a single color. However, monochromatic rooms can be boring. You can alleviate the boredom factor by introducing lots of texture and a range of tones within the color palette.
Although monochromatic is usually thought to refer to neutral schemes, it actually applies to any single color used as the dominant color in a room. The same techniques that make the above room successful will work with any color….yellow, green, red. Smooth cotton sofa, soft chenille pillows, rough sisal rug on hardwood floors, basketweave lamp base, light sheer curtains, distressed wood coffee table and even the mirror on the wall introduces a chevron pattern which reads as texture. Notice the range of tans and creamy whites that make up the color scheme. But what really elevates the design is the range of texture (or implied texture by pattern/print). In the room below, the blue wallpaper takes center stage but textures and tones of blue again keep the room from being bland.
Analagous: Less common terminology, but easy to grasp, it means: colors side by side on the color wheel, i.e. blue and violet, yellow and yellow/orange, or blue and green. It’s a soothing combination of colors usually sharing a common undertone. Problems might arise when trying to blend analogous colors by losing sight of the undertones. Undertones need to be the same to create harmony. I found this a difficult scheme to find photos for which leads me to believe it’s not very common.
Complementary: The most dramatic scheme, it means: colors opposite each other on the color wheel. Yellow and purple, orange and blue, red and green are all complementary schemes. These colors will create the strongest, most vibrant schemes. Remember, you don’t have to use the colors at full intensity and the more striking combinations will be in using the greyed down or muted versions of these color combos.
Many people choose a predominantly neutral palette for their homes because they truly like the simplicity of minimum color. Others choose it based on insecurity. They’re not confident about choosing and working with color so they opt for the safety of a limited color scheme.
Then there are those brave souls who thrive in the midst of bold color. The use of color can be rewarding and exhilarating. To maximize the use of color throughout your home, narrow your color choice to 3-4 colors and use them in varying amounts and intensities. Your home won’t feel like a disjointed mess of random color but rather will reflect a cohesive color story.
How can you determine your color tolerance? Begin by looking at your closet. If your closet is primarily filled with lots of black and neutrals, you’ll probably not be happy in a colorful home. What rooms are you drawn to in a model home or in the magazines? Do you always quickly flip by those colorful rooms thinking “how can someone live in that?”? Bold color is probably not for you.
However, don’t totally give in to the beige blahs. Try on color in small ways: a pretty vase, a throw or pillow, a candle grouping, a rug runner down the hall, a planter filled with plants. You’ll gradually find your comfort zone and build your color confidence by starting small.
5 Easy Steps to a Color Scheme
- Find an inspiration piece that will help guide your color selection. It can be anything from a piece of art to a rug to a book cover. The important thing is that you love it and it ‘speaks’ to you.
- Pick 3 or 4 colors from your inspiration piece that will become your color scheme.
- Draw a very rough sketch of the floorplan of your home so you can determine which rooms open into each other. If you’re a very visual person, get colored pencils or markers to represent the colors of your potential color scheme. It might help you keep track of the color emphasis from room to room.
- Develop a color progression from room to room. A good rule of thumb for color proportion is 70/20/10 for three colors or 60/20/10/10 for four colors. Basically you want your dominant color to represent over half of the color in the room which isn’t hard when you consider walls, flooring and major soft furnishings (sofa, bedding, etc.). The main accent color should step forward and make frequent appearances in the room with the 2nd and potentially 3rd touches being very minor but important players.
- Switch it up. As you move from room to room on your sketch, change the proportions of the colors. Maybe add a small touch of a totally unexpected color. Change intensities and tones used so each room isn’t an exact replica but the basic colors start from the same root. Use the graphics below as an example.
Notice that the palette colors aren’t an exact match for each of the colors in the inspiration piece, but rather a greyed down, livable version of the color but one that still blends with the original piece. Now using my “colored pencils” I make an approximation of how I’d like the colors to progress through the main rooms of my home. Notice how the greens play an important role in the public rooms while the cooler blue and purple dominate the private rooms.
As you can see, all colors are not used in all rooms. But at least 1 or 2 colors from the main palette is present though the proportion of the colors varies. This gives the home a cohesive feel yet each room has it’s own color story. Rooms that open into each other (family room, dining and hall) all share the main green color. Notice that the coral was made richer for the dining room, but still fits in the palette. Here’s another version based on a pillow from Pier 1.
The next step is to again pull out the colored pencils and start sketching a color plan. This time I decide to introduce another color for accent in a couple of rooms. The key is: the color is used in more than one room; the other colors in the rooms continue the original palette.
Notice the shade of blue varies from room to room depending on the colors its paired with. This exercise will provide you with a road map to follow in decorating your rooms. And the great thing is, you can keep adjusting until you find the combination that works for you by just playing with circles of color – not expensive pieces of furniture or painted walls. Experiment on paper first, paint and buy later. Some designer classic schemes ideas can be found here at BHG.com.
Thanks for joining me on this journey to explore color and how to use it in your home. If you’ve just found the series, you’re joining at the end. You can find previous posts here: Introductory Info, Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Secondary Colors, Black/White/Gray, and Neutrals (yesterday). Remember, if you have questions about color, Cindy and I are here to help.