Colour Theory: Colour in Interior Design

So even though I'm a big fan of neutral and restrained colour in interiors I appreciate that not everyone else is and whilst you are can be a big fan of colour you may not be sure what colours go with what and how to get the exact scheme you are looking for. Well let me help you with my little go to guide on colour schemes, and once you know what the rules are you can go about breaking them and creating your own unique scheme.


One of the most fail safe and easiest ways to pick a colour scheme is by using a colour wheel, this is something that anyone who has studied art or works in any of the creative industries is fully familiar with using and it is an easy way to see what colours go with what.

The Colour Wheel is made up of 12 Hues (Colours), these are then divided into what are commonly referred to as 'Cool' colours (Yellow-Green through to Violet) and "Warm' Colours (Red-Violet through to Yellow).

They are further divided into:

Primary colours: these are colours which cannot be produced by mixing any other paint colours, they are essentially ‘Pure’ Colours and are specifically Red,  Yellow and Blue.

Secondary colours  are made by mixing two equal amounts of the Primary Colours together, so Blue and Yellow mixed create Green, Red and Yellow create Orange and Blue and Red create Purple.

Tertiary colours are made by mixing one primary colour with an adjacent secondary colour, there are 6 in total; red-orange, Yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet


So now we know the basics how can we use this to create a scheme?

Complementary Colour Schemes


Complementary colours are ones that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. So for example, Orange and Blue, Purple and Yellow, Pink and Green.

These colours naturally ‘complement’ each other and they tend to create bolder and dramatic colour schemes.  A complementary scheme is believed to provide the ideal balance in a room as it includes both a warm and cool hue.

Different tints and tones can be used to help soften this look if the boldness of using strong colours doesn't appeal to you.

It is best to pick one of the colours to be more dominant of the two otherwise they will fight for attention and subsequently cancel each other out.  Adding neutrals, such as white, grey, cream, helps to balance and ground a complementary scheme and helps to create a sense of harmony.


Monochromatic Colour Scheme


Contrary to popular belief a Monochromatic Colour Scheme isn't made up of black and white but it's one where different tints, tones and shades of one colour are solely used. If you think of the colour card strips you get from Dulux and Crown this gives you an idea of what a Monochromatic Scheme would look like as they take one colour and then provide you with the tints, tones and shades of that colour.

To stop these interiors becoming one dimensional, shifts in tone and intensity of colour and also using plenty of neutral colours can help provide depth, interest and contrast.

To be a fully Monochromatic colour scheme you should only use one segment of the colour wheel i.e  All tones and shades of red, rather than mixing red and red-orange


Harmonious Colour Schemes


Adjacent, Harmonious or Analogous colour schemes all mean the same thing and are schemes where colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel are used. Up to 3 or 4 colours can be used within the one colour scheme.

This type of scheme works best when the colours share the same tonal value and intensity.

An adjacent colour scheme can result in a very balanced scheme that is easy on the eye and you can use neutrals in this scheme to help provide some tonal contrast.


So we've talked about Neutral Colours a lot but what exactly are they??

Neutral Colours

A Neutral Colour is a colour that doesn’t appear on the colour wheel, i.e White, Cream, Beige, Taupe and Black.

They are also sometimes referred to as ‘Earth’ colours as they take their colour from natural earth products such as stone etc

Neutrals can make spaces feel airy and relaxing or timeless and refined but when not executed correctly they can quite easily create a very bland one dimensional interior.

To counter act this mixing lots of textures and neutral tonal values can help create depth and interest in a room.

Adding black to the scheme can add definition to the scheme whilst a little white can add a freshness and crispness

Neutrals can often be used as a background colour, to provide a canvas on which you can experiment with accent colours, just look at the way the red shoes in the image above 'pops' out against the neutral background, imagine this now was a cushion or throw and the impact it could have in the room!


So now you know the rules you can go ahead and break them! 

I'll be completely honest, I have never used a colour wheel to design and plan the colour schemes in any of my houses preferring to go with my gut and doing what I think is right so my recommendation is to have fun with paint, its only paint after all.

I'd love to see some of your colour schemes, so please feel free to leave some pics on my Facebook page! 

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