Using Color Theory for Decorating Inspiration

Using Color Theory for Decorating Inspiration

The right color combination can take your interior design from meh to wow, and nothing can help you get those colors right better than color theory. Read on to learn how to use color theory for your decorating inspiration.


The color wheel

You may remember the color wheel from preschool. But there’s a deceptive amount of depth in the color wheel that most adults don’t know about. 

Yes, we all know about primary and secondary colors. Red, yellow, and blue are the primaries; purple, orange, and green are the secondaries. 

But what about tertiary colors? Tertiary colors are simply a mixture of primary and secondary colors. These are fun because you can go very fancy (vermillion) or very basic (red-orange) with their names. But whatever you call them, these are the colors that usually round out the color wheel. 

Not all color wheels are the same. Most color wheels have 12 colors: the primaries, secondaries, and tertiaries. However, the history of how colors are grouped is long, and there are many different color wheels to choose from. The first step for using color theory in interior design is to pick the wheel you like! 

Color temperature

This one may be intuitive, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Cool colors are on the blue, green, and purple side of the color wheel, while warm colors are on the red, yellow, and orange side. 

But this divide isn’t just about whether a color reminds you of summer or winter. Cool colors, when used in decorating, have a soothing effect, while a room filled with warm colors will have an energizing effect. 

Pick one color and go from there

Let's talk about color choices. You don’t need an advanced degree in applied color theory to start using it in your interior design plans. The best way to start is to pick one color as the basis for your design direction. Usually, this will be a central feature or focal point of the room, such as a bold paint color on the walls, a statement sofa, or a vibrant rug. Once you have a starting point, planning your next steps will be less daunting. 

Consider the purpose of the room

There’s a reason you don’t normally see bright yellow walls in a bedroom. When making a color theory-based design plan, put some thought into how you want your room to make people feel.

Color temperature is at the core of this, but how you mix colors will also have an impact. For more restful rooms, stick to cool colors and a subtler design. For more energetic rooms, such as a living room where you plan to entertain, warm colors and a busier aesthetic are a good idea. 

Make it interesting with complementary colors

Complementary colors are those that sit opposite each other on the color wheel. Red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple are the basic sets of complementary colors. As you can see, the sets of complementary colors have one warm and one cool color. 

Pairing these colors gives a very high-contrast look. When a complementary color is used sparingly as an accent, such as a single orange picture frame in an otherwise blue-themed room, it causes the accent piece to pop. 

When complementary colors are used in equal measure, they can generate a more energetic — almost frantic — feel. Think about a room decked out in equal parts yellow and purple. If that sounds exciting to you, run with it (and you may be interested to learn more about maximalism!). 

Analogous color scheme

On the flip side, if thinking about that purple and yellow room stresses you out, sticking to an analogous color scheme may be for you. An analogous color scheme uses three colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. Pick one to be the dominant color, then assign lesser prominence to the second and even less to the third (the third color in the set is usually the most vibrant of the three—but follow your heart!). This palette can provide a cohesive but slightly textured feel. 

Triadic color scheme

A triadic color scheme is a colorful palette, no matter how you look at it. Unlike the analogous color scheme, which can have a calming effect, triadic uses vibrant colors that are three spaces apart on the color wheel. For example, red, yellow, and blue are three colors apart from each other on a 12-color wheel.
One popular interior design trend that uses the triadic color scheme is coastal design, where vibrant orange mixes with turquoise and grey for a beautiful beach feeling.

Mix up monochrome shades

If sticking to a single color is your goal, you can still insert some variety by taking advantage of different shades. This is most effective when considering paint colors because it relies on keeping the base color the same. To adjust shade, add black or white to the color. A variety of shades will help create visual interest without inviting chaos. And if a monochromatic color scheme makes your heart happy, minimalism may be for you. 

Color yourself impressed with our selection of rugs

As with any interior design project, it isn’t finished until you’ve added a rug. Our wide selection of rugs is sure to have just the color you’re looking for


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