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The Color Wheel in Home Decor

The Color Wheel

When you construct a circle out of the spectrum of colors (basically the colors of the rainbow), you have a color wheel. Primary colors on the color wheel are red, yellow and blue. The full spectrum of colors includes red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. In a circle or wheel arrangement, it is easy to see how the colors interact with each other. The chroma of a color is the intensity (amount of lightness or darkness in the color) and purity in the hue. A neutralized color is a color that has been muted or "grayed" so that it loses some of its intensity.

In the following descriptions, you can refer back to the color wheel see how they fall in comparison to each other. Lime green and shocking pink are complimentary colors because they fall directly opposite on the color wheel. They are ideal colors together because they intensify and compliment each other.
color wheel

On the color wheel above, you see strong orange and royal blue opposite each other (again, complimentary colors), keep in mind as we go though this sections that this also holds true for all values and tints of those colors, thus sky blue and peach would be complimentary colors.

Types of Color Schemes Based on the Color Wheel

In reading the following, you may want to go back and look at the color wheel to see where the colors (also their tints and values) fall compared to each other. Determine where your home decor falls on the color wheel.

  • Complementary Color Schemes - When schemes that are built around two colors that are on the opposite sides of the color wheel, the colors will intensify each other and make a exciting home decor and a stimulating room. Colors can be pure and vivid or neutralized and muted. Examples: burgundy and forest green yellow and purple.
  • Triad Color Schemes - This scheme is applied when a room's colors are based on three colors on the color wheel that are located at equal distances from each other. Colors can be pure and vivid or neutralized and muted. Example: red, yellow and blue
  • Analogous Color Schemes - This color scheme uses two or three adjacent hues on the color wheel. It is a very harmonious scheme and can be very restful. The accent color in an analogous color scheme is often a complementary color from the opposite side of the color wheel. Colors can be pure and vivid or neutralized and muted. Example: terra cotta, orange and gold
  • Monochromatic Color Schemes - This is when only one color family is used in a scheme. Diverse tints and shades of one color can be used throughout the room. Colors can be pure and vivid neutralized and muted. Examples: white, ivory and beige pale pink, rose and burgundy

A "Little" Technical Background on Color Schemes

Most rooms color schemes and home decor will typically be made up of 3 to 5 colors. One (or two) of the colors should be the dominant color and will be used extensively throughout the room. It will cover the majority of the space, such as the color on the walls or wall to wall carpeting.

A secondary color or colors are used a little less than the dominant and will provide interest and balance to the color scheme. It might be the background color of a printed upholstery fabric or the color of the fabric for the window treatment. It will not be the main color in the room, or be the color of major room decor, but will play a secondary role. There are usually only 1 or 2 secondary colors.

Accent colors are used the least, so often, a strong color that makes a statement is used. Accent colors breathe life into a room and are used in home decor items, pillows, rugs, art pieces, or as contrasts on window treatments.

There is no hard set way to determine which colors in a room fall into which categories, you may have two designers that think a room has a different secondary color than the other. This doesn't necessarily mean that one is right and one is wrong. With color - everything is very subjective - therefore, it helps to digest the above information, but that doesn't mean that you can't bend the rules a little. ....after all, Picasso did.

Neutrals are used to anchor a color scheme. Neutrals are not just white, ivory, off white and gray. Almost any color can become a neutral once it is "grayed" or neutralized with its complementary color. Neutrals are often used for trim work, but can also be used as the dominant color, the secondary color, or even an accent in a room. A room that is built around neutrals as the dominant and secondary colors is often a very sophisticated and elegant space Often, in traditional interiors the dominant color is neutralized and accents are more bold. There is no reason why you cannot do the reverse and allow your accents to be the more neutralized colors in the room and the walls more vivid. This is done frequently in contemporary design.

color in home decor
In this room, the dominate color in the scheme is black. It is the color that you first become aware of when entering the room. The secondary color is red because you then
notice the red carpet. The accents are white and green.
The white is also the neutral. Some designers may argue that the red is also
a dominate color - and it could be considered so.


Color Facts & Home Decor
  • If you want a room to appear larger - the floor color should be similar to the wall color. For instance: a room with an ivory carpet will look larger with the walls painted the same shade of ivory. A room with wood floors will look larger if the walls are painted in a shade (although you can go a bit lighter) similar to the wood floor. This will create an unbroken line and will room will not seem as fragmented.
  • The darker the color of a room, the more intimate and smaller the room will appear. (I personally love rooms with dark walls. It makes a space much more inviting and cozy). Light colors recede visually and will make a room appear more spacious.
  • As an elderly person ages, the lens of the eye yellows, therefore, when selecting paint colors an elderly person is seeing more "yellow" in the colors than a younger person would. Leave yellow out of the home decor for the elderly.
  • Warm colors typically have a yellow or orange undertone to them and cool colors typically have a blue undertone. Example: Blue red (cool red) and Orange red (warm red).
  • A room on the North side of a house will generally be more comfortable in a warm undertone color. A room on the South side of a house, is more comfortable in a cool color scheme.
  • White will make colors around it seem paler. Black makes adjacent colors appear darker and bolder. The same shade of yellow will appear soft next to white, but can appear bright and vivid next to black.
  • Matte (non shiny) surfaces look darker because they do not reflect as much light, while shiny, high gloss surfaces appear lighter.
  • If you want to look great all the time, paint all your walls in your house peach. This is the most complimentary color to all skin tones. Think about how much candlelight helps!
  • Blue will tend to make the skin look pale and sallow. Blue also happens to be an unappetizing color. If you use it in your Kitchen, throw in accents of yellow or peach. However, blue is our favorite color (according to color research) and is perfect for the bedroom because it is soothing and calming.
  • Orange has the unhappy honor of being our least favorite color - but this is only true in its vivid and strong value. Generally people are very fond of terra cottas and peach.
  • Colors in the yellow or orange family may become too glaring and bright if used in a pure, vivid color over an extensive area. It may be wise to go a bit more neutral in an orange or yellow color than you originally intended.


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