Color is essential in interior design. You can have great architecture, but with poor color choices, the appeal of the room’s design will falter. You can have boring or unsightly architecture, but with excellent color choices, the design of the space can appear magazine-worthy. The quickest, the most dramatic, and the most reasonable way in which to create instant change in a room is through the use of color. In this article, we’re going to look at the basis of color in interior design, how those colors affect us, and some good color combinations to use in your space.
Before we dive into a discussion about individual colors and good color combinations (which, some feel strongly, are the best color combinations), let’s briefly go over a little bit of color vocabulary. (You can learn more about color theory and color relationships in this article.)
The Color Wheel is “the traditional vehicle for representing the colors of the spectrum and their relationships to each other” – Lindaroseinteriors. The basic hues, or colors, of the color wheel are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Of course, there are many variations within and between each of these colors.
Complementary Colors are those colors on the color wheel that are opposite each other. Examples of basic complementary colors are red and green, orange and blue, and yellow and purple. Complementary color combinations in interior design tend to be visually striking.
Analogous Colors are those colors on the color wheel that are next to each other. Neighbors, if you will. Examples of basic analogous colors are red and orange, yellow and green, blue and purple. Analogous color combinations in interior design tend to be visually harmonious.
Color Saturation involves a color’s brightness, or purity. For example, if a color is highly saturated, it looks clear and bright. If a color is less saturated, it looks muted and greyish.
Color Tone is a description of black and/or white added into a true color. Light tones (aka “tints”) occur when a color is mixed with white; dark tones (aka “shades”) occur when a color is mixed with black or gray.
Let’s look at the basic colors of the color wheel (plus pink) and what each color means in or contributes to home décor.
Red – Red has the longest wavelength of all the visible colors in the color spectrum, which makes it a powerful hue. Red has the ability to appear closer than it actually is, which makes sense since the color has played an important role in human’s fight or flight instincts since, well, since the days of cavemen and fire. “Pure red is the simplest colour, with no subtlety. It is stimulating and lively, very friendly. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive” – Colour-Affects.
Pink – Pink has become associated with baby girls over the past several decades, which is fine for baby girls but isn’t exactly fair to the color itself. Pink comes in a variety of shades and tints so that the color’s visual effect can be highly varied from one tone to the next. Vivid pinks, such as fuchsia, are energetic and glamorous. Softer pinks, such as blush or ballet slipper pink, are soothing and sweet. “Many shades of pinks have a freshness designers love” – HGTV. (Note: Pink isn’t a “basic” color of the color wheel, but I wanted to throw it into this discussion anyway.)
Orange – Orange infuses interiors with energy and vibrancy. Just like its namesake, “orange in all its incarnations has a Vitamin C effect on home decorating. It refreshes and revitalizes” – Traditionalhome. From crisp, bright tangerine to rusty burnt sienna, orange can change the energetic aura of a space, whether on a large or small scale…or somewhere delightfully in between.
Yellow – As the color of sunshine, yellow, whether in its palest or brightest forms or somewhere in between, can’t help but spread cheer. It’s associated with joy and energy, happiness and optimism; too much, however, can lean us toward feeling overwhelmed or conflicted. Yellow “is a good attention-grabber”, so use this trait strategically with yellow in your design.
Green– Green is most heavily associated with the natural world, which makes it also look and feel refreshing and tranquil. In interiors, the color can range (just as in nature) from pale, sweet mint green to bold, vibrant spring green to murky, somber olive green. Ultimately, though, most agree with British spiritualist Paul Brunton that green, “which is Nature’s colour, is restful, soothing, cheerful, and health-giving” – Verywell
Blue –Blue has the exact opposite psychological effects as red; blue is tranquil and calm, happily stopping short of depression levels, though. It is this very effect of relaxation and serenity that makes blue recommended for bedrooms and bathrooms. Blue is quite versatile as well; some blue-gray shades verge on appearing neutral, others such as aquamarine are vibrant and deep, while still others such as sky blue are sweet and soft.
Purple – Purple, like pink, is generally most closely associated with girls in home décor, but this is a narrow view of a most vivid and varied hue. The color works well not only in bedrooms (including adult bedrooms), but also in living rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. In fact, interior designers consider [purple shades] as smart and trendy solutions, especially because of their ability to create a unique and modern ambiance.
GOOD COLOR COMBINATIONS TO CONSIDER
We know that color is a good mood-lifting design tool that evokes calm, drama, cheer, or comfort as needed. Here are some ways to think about color combinations to choose colors that say exactly what you want to say with your space.
Citrus Color – This energy-infused combination can include and and/or all of the zesty hues associated with citrus and other bright fruits. Think lemons, limes, oranges, and even strawberries. Leslie Harrington, executive director of The Color Association of the United States, says, “We react on multiple levels of association with colors — there are social or culture levels as well as personal relationships with particular colors” Huffingtonpost. This is certainly true of citrus color combinations, as we instantly feel the fresh freedom and fun of summertime adventures.
Muted Color – Not all color palettes scream in bold, vivid color. In fact, even the subtlest of variations can create a well-defined color palette. This neutral combination, for example, is muted and on the buttery-soft side of things, which exemplifies warmth and serenity, despite the rustic grains visible.
Ombre Color – One technique to make a space feel more colorful but without going over-the-top is to employ some ombre gradients into the space. For example, a light blue nightstand against a deep blue wall looks different enough to feel colorful but doesn’t introduce a second color, which stops a sense of visual busy-ness.
Watercolor – Watercolor décor has been trending over the past couple of years, and the look is still going strong. The flowing, artistically seamless mix and blend of color in watercolor-y color combinations add so much visual vibrancy to a space while still maintaining a restful aesthetic. The colorful, artistic print [of watercolor] adds an airy, graceful element to anything it touches. Analogous colors look particularly well in watercolor-esque combinations, but the interesting thing is that watercolor brings out the analogous element to many colors – lavender fades to blue, which turns to aqua, which connects with green and, ultimately, yellow.
The same flowycombination of colors used on the previous watercolor-y art is used here, but in a different format. A branch light fixture with colored blown glass globes is both sophisticated and sweet, as it utilizes those pale colors to soften a rather angular, modern silhouette.
Associational, or Seasonal, Color – All-white kitchens have certainly had their prominence and appeal in contemporary kitchen designs. While white kitchens still serve a purpose, there is a definitive trend toward kitchens with a bit more personality and warmth, brought about largely by their color combinations. This muted red, green, and gold will feel naturally inviting all year round, in large part because of the color palette’s evocative good cheer and gathering of loved ones that happens during the holidays.
Green, Blue, & Brown – One fundamentally organic color combination includes browns, blues, and greens, specifically those variations found in nature. This plaid that embraces pea green, stormy-sea blue, and muddy brown is laid out in structured simplicity and straightforwardness (the appeal of plaid patterns everywhere). The colors are kept in balance on this particular chair by staying on the outside of the chair’s upholstery with a basic neutral on the main front.
Here’s another example of that pea green, muted aqua, and chocolate brown color combination. It feels organic and natural…and also cleverly fresh when combined in a creative way, such as this mounted upholstered head with curved chair legs as antlers.
Fuchsia & Green – Fuchsia is pink, and pink is mostly just a tint of red (kind of), which means that of course it’s going to make a fantastic color combination with green! When these colors are combined, we get the beautiful feminine appeal of the color pink combined with the stronger, more rooted appeal of green. Ultimately, a color combination that combines a typically feminine color with something more earthy will strengthen the feminine space or soften the masculine one. Either way, it’s a win.
Here’s a twist on the fuchsia and green color combination, which includes a shocking (ultra?)violet with a refreshing plant green. This is a very approachable and easy to execute combo, allowing each color to pop in contrast to the other. And the entire room gains an energetic look when combined with warmer orange and brown tones.
Black & White – Black is, of course, a universal color that looks elegant in any combination. So, however, is white. Which means that there could hardly be a more classic color combination than black and white. Other combinations, regardless of how well they work together, will likely swell and ebb in popularity over time, but black and white? Never. It can be presented to create whatever impression you want – bold and dramatic, or simple and elegant – making black and white a design power house.
Red, Black, & White – Speaking of classic color combinations, we couldn’t escape that category without at least mentioning red, white, and black. It’s vibrant, exciting, and welcoming. The influence of this power trio is so strong, which makes it particularly necessary to use it strategically and with balance.
Can’t you just feel the energy exuding from this happy, cleverly designed, and colorful space? Plenty of bold geometric patterns and shapes with an equally bold, unabashed color combination. Keep this in mind as you consider red, white, and black for your own home – the color combo will stand out, so use it in such a way as to emphasize the excellent components of your space (architecture, furniture, natural light, etc.), but avoid it if the color palette will emphasize the wrong things.
Teal & Wine – Sophisticated, thoughtful, romantic, and intimate, teal and wine combine in their rich, deep togetherness to create a magically intimate setting. Even in a dining room for six (or more), this color combination makes you feel like you’ve stepped into some secret, secluded space. To keep things from feeling too heavy and dark (because there’s no natural light here that we can tell), mirrors and loads of shiny gold metal pieces are used to continue the elegance but also bounce some light around.
Blue & Orange – Although this photo is “merely” a display (showing what is quite possibly the most beautiful range any of us has ever seen), it provides an excellent study on one of the best color combinations of all time: blue and orange. Vary these shades up as you like, going deeper or brighter or paler or lighter with either of these complementary colors, but the end result is the same: a sure bet for a fantastic palette.
Here’s another example of the beautiful color combination that is blue and orange. In this case, aqua and peach are paired and set off nicely with white/clear and a soft banana yellow. The presence of so many pastels is given a grown-up aesthetic with the glassy nature of the chairs themselves.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the best color combinations for interior design (of course, there are always more out there that look amazing in their spaces), it’s easy to realize that color plays a huge role in effective interior design. In fact, colors set the mood in unique ways, making sure you have ways of influencing yourself and your guests with subtlety. We hope you find the courage to enjoy the color combinations you love in your space!