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Scheming for Color: How to choose an interior color theme October 25, 2008

Filed under: Color Theory,Home Design — greendesignllc @ 7:00 pm
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This blog is going to be mostly about design and the importance of design when it comes to working on your home. I figure a good place to start is with color. Color is one of the first things your brain registers when it walks into any space. In this article I am going to stick with interior spaces, although you may be able to apply it to exteriors as well.
Let me start with color trends. What are color trends? Color trends are the colors you see when you shop for just about anything; towels to rugs, cars to clothing, dog collars to dishes. The largest problem with color trends, is that they are just that-trends. So unless you want to redo your interiors every year, or get stuck with a color theme you may get tired of (I will talk about themes shortly), then I suggest trying to avoid trends altogether.
So how does one go about choosing color? My suggestion is to base your color selection on either a piece of furniture you already have or one that you want to purchase. And by furniture I mean anything from a rug, to an upholstered chair, to a cherished piece of art. I think it is better to try and work with something that already has a color scheme that appeals to you. For instance, lets take a photo that you might want to hang on the wall.

Photo of fall leaves
Photo of fall leaves

This is an excellent start, from here you can choose a wall color. But keep in mind this: The most important thing to remember when it comes to color is that it is ALWAYS relative.  Color is relative to other colors that are adjacent to it.  This basically means that a color may look one way next to this color and different when next to that color… Here is an example to make this clearer:

Red blocks on fields of color

Red blocks on fields of color

  • As you can see the red and black squares have the greatest contrast, and as such is used in a lot of color schemes. In fact I would call it a classic color theme.
  • The red square on the white, looks the most red, but lacks definition.
  • Orange is created by using red, and thus is an analogous or related color. In other words they don’t fight each other, and could be used in a color scheme.
  • Blue on red is typically not a good relation-especially in this example. The red is considered a warm color, whereas blue is considered a cool color. Now there are warmer blues (blues that have more red in them), which is why the color scheme of the U.S. flag works, because the red and blue in the flag are closer in value.
American Flag
  • One last thing I want to point out about the blocks above: the blue and the orange. Those two colors are what as known as complimentary colors, along with red & green, and purple & yellow. They fight each other, and such color schemes are often used for flags, signs, school colors-and Christmas. When the two colors are laid next to each other they seem to vibrate. Usually not a good combination for a soothing interiors.

So enough color theory-there are text books written on this, just look at Amazon. We are suppose to be talking about how to pick color-Let’s start with our photo: examing the colors in the photo, we can tell we are dealing with warm colors. In fact the colors are generally considered to be comforting, soothing and a strong. We have some reds, oranges, and yellows.

Safe Color Scheme

Here is one idea you could use. This is a pretty safe option. Neutral color, goes well with the photo, probably would go well with anything else one might own.

Safe Color Scheme
Bolder Color Scheme

Bolder Color Scheme

This is a little bolder, again, looks great! But might be a bit much if you are surrounded by it.

Okay so here is what I would do. I would start with a nice bold, but not over powering color on the walls. I would then pop them up with a color that is a little warmer, but stays in the same area of the color wheel. To accent all of this you can swing to warm greens and browns. And ta-da! You have your self a color theme.

Complete color scheme

Complete color scheme

Now, if this does not seem like the most obvious solution, that is because color is tricky. We can spend hours choosing colors for clients, usually having to go off of something very little. We are here to help.
If you have questions about color, color theory, or just want more information-send me a question or visit our website at

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