Color is easily the most powerful item in your decorating toolbox, color can revamp a room in a ﬂash. But how to pick the perfect palette? Start in your closet. A quick wardrobe scan will reveal the hues that speak to you. And as you mix colors, remember: Balance is key. Temper a vivid scheme with some quiet tones, and you’ll strike just the bright note you’d hoped for. To help you narrow in on what colors work best for your space, we have a guide to get you started in choosing the perfect color palette for you.
Understaning Color 101
To choose color properly and make it look beautiful in our homes, we must first understand exactly what color is. Color is light and travels along different wavelengths, creating a whole spectrum. The color wheel is your foundation for understanding how colors relate to one another, between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors.
Primary colors are placed equidistant from one another.
Secondary colors result from mixing two primary colors together.
Tertiary colors are the combinations of the nearest secondary and primary colors.
For example, mixing red and orange creates red-orange, and mixing green and blue together will create green-blue.
Complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. They intensify each other when placed in the same room.
We experience color with senses beyond our sight. It’s something you can touch, taste, smell, and remember. You can feel it deeply. Exploring how color makes you feel is an important part of making a room come alive and seem personal.
The warm colors are red, orange, yellow, and all the colors in between. Warm colors advance in space (which means they come toward you and can make a big room feel smaller) and feel cozier.
The cool colors are green, blue, purple, and all the colors in between. Cool colors recede in space and feel airier. They are expansive and appear to push the walls of a room outward. They can make a space feel breezier, larger, and cooler.
Tint, tone, shade, material, and even finish can all change how you see a color.
- Tint – Mixing a color with white. An easy example of this is pink as a tint of red. Imagine tints as if they were hues bleached by the sun.
- Tone – Mixing a color with gray, which creates a duller version of a hue that falls in between a tint and shade, but with less saturation. Tone connects intrinsically with saturation.
- Shade – Mixing a color with black. An easy example of this is navy as a shade of blue. Imagine how a hue darkens in the shade of a tree or at night.
- Finish – Whether something is glossy or dry and clay-like or made up of synthetic versus natural materials, affects how we see color and how we use it.
For example, the palest tint of red would act as a warm neutral, a barely pink-white. A tone of green could be army green or dark khaki, and a shade of blue is navy, which is a basic neutral. For finishing think about a shiny red versus a matte red. The matte red is going to feel more relaxed and casual, whereas the shiny red is going to be more luxe.
Neutrals are your foundation. They are the base of your canvas. They are the building blocks of a room, and every palette must have these quieter moments; however, quiet doesn’t have to mean boring. The most important tip to remember is to push the boundaries of what you consider neutral. Think of pale versions of a hue (tints), desaturated versions of a hue (tones), or deep, rich dark versions of a hue (shades). Colors that appear in nature in vast amounts (like sky blues, grass greens, purple mountains, or golden hay in the winter) can be used the same way in your home and feel “neutral” because they’re mimicking something we all know. See grey living room ideas here.
Red is a stimulating and powerful color but it can also be tempered and rosy. A brighter, more saturated red can bring definition to an otherwise neutral space and keep things from feeling too dull, while a softer version can add warmth and energy. Vibrant red usually feels invigorating, cool shades feel romantic, and deep, bold shades feel powerful. The right shade comes from how you want the room to feel.
Orange is invigorating and happy; it’s also warm and has a certain spirited energy. When dialed up, orange is modern and eye-opening, and when turned down it’s rocklike and grounded. Orange can also create a cool, bohemian seventies look or bring a fresh, modern, bright touch to a space. Orange is a great color to use at home because it layers so easily with neutrals and acts as a bridge to other colors. See orange living room ideas here.
Yellow, in all its forms, adds cheerfulness to a space. Yellow can veer into the crisp yellow-green of a Golden Delicious apple to the muted color of honey and wheat to the brightness of a Meyer lemon. Widening your view of yellow is the first step to using it when you decorate. Think about the way yellow feels like a neutral in nature when you want to warm up your space to make it feel sunny but still blended.
Green is the basis of plant life, so it’s a color that is often all around us in nature. The green spectrum can be calm and restorative, vibrant and energizing. While green is a cool color, it still feels very alive. One of the easiest and most natural ways to bring green into your home is with plants. It’s hard to mimic nature’s complexity of a color, so bringing in the real thing is best. See green living room ideas here.
Blue feels expansive, cool, and full of possibility. It reminds us of everything from “clean” to “peace” to “freedom,” and it’s always changing, like the blue of the ocean. In many instances, blue acts like a neutral; shades like deep navy look good with everything. Most people feel comfortable using blue, so that’s why this is a great color with which to experiment. Explore all of its moods. See blue living room ideas here.
Purple is a moody and complicated color. Purple feels rich like lustrous amethyst stones. Purple may seem potent, but it’s a great color to use at home. It’s a way to add passion to a room, or to create a dreamy, calm vibe. Engage with brighter versions of purple and counterbalance them with warm wood tones. You can also explore the edges of purple by using a gray-lilac when you would normally just use gray. See purple living room ideas here.
Finding your colors starts with looking at the world. Before you begin decorating your home, or even pulling together color palettes, you need to explore. Go back through your color memories, connect with them, and jot down other color memories that come to mind. Start noticing the subtleties in color you see in everyday life and how they make you feel. Creating a deep connection to your surroundings starts with understanding what you really like.
Next, set out on a color hunt. This sort of scouting can become part of your daily routine. Slow down to notice color in the world around you.
Go out into nature. Take a day trip to the mountains, the beach, the forest, a stream, or the desert. Explore places that are a bit beyond the confines of your daily routine but still close enough to do in a day or weekend.
Noticing the colors, patterns, shapes, and beauty around us is one way we can slowly change and grow. It’s a practice that can increase and have a big impact on the way you live. Embrace curiosity. Gather all of your color-hunting images, objects, and notes together and keep them in one place so you can take stock of what you’re drawn to, and identify any patterns that arise.
Creating a Color Wheel
Once you have a solid idea about the particular colors you’re drawn to, start to look at how they interact with one another. You can use anything to create your personal color wheel—pieces of paper, paint chips, leaves, packaging, stationery, fabric swatches, photos, shells, broken ceramics, stones.
You might find you love one color in particular, with several shades represented, but only one shade of a different color. Everyone’s color wheel will look different. Try to narrow your choices to just a few tints or shades of one hue so you have to get more specific about your selections.
Don’t forget about neutrals. They are important in creating a cohesive room. Include them in your color wheel next to the colors they are closest to, or create a separate section at the bottom.
Notice how finish, texture, and material affect your feelings about the color. Is it the fabric that you love? Or the claylike texture of the eraser? You may respond differently to the painted version of a color. That’s important because it will provide you with valuable information about what form of those colors you’ll want to use later.
Choosing The Perfect Color Palette
- To start, think of a palette as five hues. Begin with a color that you’re most drawn to.
- Next, add at least two neutrals. (Remember, neutrals can just be less intense versions of a hue.) Think back to tint, tone, and shade.
- Then add a “connector” color—something that bridges the gap between your neutral colors and the anchor you started with.
- Lastly, add an accent color that will liven up the arrangement. This could be a ribbon or accents of color that will be used only in select areas or something calmer that enhances the whole mix.
You can, of course, adjust the formula here and there, creating endless possibilities.
Think about color palettes inspired by places, scents, and the seasons. How would you visualize a palette based on the scent of home, the coast, or a favorite memory? Try to break down the individual scents into colors. Which season do you connect with most? Choosing a “season” for your home could help you pull a cohesive palette together.
- For fall, you could pick richer and deeper colors, like jewel tones and anything autumnal.
- If your style veers more toward feminine and dreamy, you might want to pick a spring-like palette.
- For a summer vibe, choose bright, strong, crisp colors
Try making at least five palettes before decorating any one room. Try to create a variety of options and just play. Once you’ve arranged them, think about how they make you feel.