How to Choose a Colour Scheme

Changing the colour scheme in your home can be challenging – and you don’t want to end up decorating all over again in short order because the choices you made just aren’t working. Get it right first time with our colour know how.

Revise the basics

colour scheme

Image source: Tampa Interior Designers & Decorators Paul Anater via Houzz

If you once knew a little bit about colour, but have forgotten over the course of the years, here’s a little reminder. There are three primary colours: red, yellow and blue.

Put together these primary colours and you get secondaries: red and blue combine to create violet or purple; yellow plus red is orange; blue plus yellow is green. Add a primary and a secondary and you’ll arrive at a tertiary colour: for example, blue and green together make blue-green.

Altogether, this makes 12 colours, which can be represented on the colour wheel interior designers often use (above).

And if you’re thinking, ‘But there are more than 12 colours out there,’ you’re ready for the next lesson. You might prefer a lighter version (tint) of a chosen colour, created by adding white to it – for example, pink is a tint of red. Add black to a colour and you’ll get a shade, which is a darker version of the original. Incorporate black and white (in other words grey), and you’ll get a tone, which looks different again. Of course, unlike an artist, you probably won’t be mixing paints to make the colour you want, while wallpapers, fabrics and so on will definitely come as they are. However, it really is useful to consider the family from which your proposed colours come.

Think colour qualities

When you look at the colour wheel, you’ll see that half of it is made up of colours you’ll instinctively recognise as cool: violet, blue, green and so on. On the other half are colours that feel warm: yellow, orange and red among them. Keep this in mind because when a colour is used over a large area such as the walls, this warm or cool quality will make a difference.

The warmth or coolness of a colour has another effect that you’ll want to make use of. Cool colours can appear to recede from the eye, while the warm colours advance. The consequence? You can make a small room feel bigger with a pale version of a cool colour for the walls, or cosy up a big room with a dark, warm colour.

Room orientation

colour schemes

Image source: Farrow & Ball

It’s also vital to take into account the light that reaches your room when you’re picking the wall colour. Rooms that face north are the hardest because they’re never going to be blessed with much light, so either go for a rich, dark wall colour to create intimacy, or use a pale that has a warm base – we’re talking cream or yellow.

South-facing spaces, on the other hand, are probably the easiest: go warm or cool, as you like.

Rooms that look east can experience a change from strong sunlight to shade over a day. Blues or greens, or a neutral with a hint of blue or green about it, are recommended because they’ll look good at both extremes.

With a west-facing room, you can use cool or warm colours, but do consider the option of a red-based tint, which will glow in the sunshine later in the day.

The best way to check a wall colour is to hang lining paper painted in the chosen hue and watch how it works at different times. Bear in mind that you won’t always see the colour in daylight and if it’s a space that’s mostly going to be used in the evening, be particularly aware of how it looks under artificial light.

Types of colour scheme

colour combination for living room

Image source: Little Greene

So much for theory, but what else can the colour wheel help you with? It’s actually a great tool for understanding which colours ‘go’. You could pick three colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel – for example blue-green, green and yellow-green – and use them together in your room. Called analogous schemes, these combinations feel harmonious.

When you’re after a more dramatic look, find the colours opposite each other on the wheel (complementary colours), such as blue and orange (above) and use them in your scheme. Remember that you don’t have to use the pure colours. For example, red and green might seem too bold while pink with a dark green appeals.

Even one colour makes a scheme – but not in a single version because the effect would be dull. For example, if blue’s your chosen hue, bring together the different blues of sea and sky for a stunning monochromatic scheme.

Whichever type you go for, remember that too much colour can be overwhelming, so factor in neutral areas as well: white, off-whites, the tones of a wooden floor…

Make a mood board

choosing paint colours

Image Source: Other Metro Interior Designers & Decorators Eco Chic Interiors via Houzz

So, you know the colours you want, the type of scheme you’re going to use them in, and you’ve paid attention to the way your room faces. Why not try putting together a mood board – another interior designers’ favourite – to represent your scheme and see how it’s working? As well as including swatches of your chosen paint or wallpaper, you can add images of the furniture and accessories, plus samples of the window treatment fabric, the carpet and so on to see how they look together. Our top tip? Keep each element in proportion to the area of the room it’ll cover and you’ll be able to get a really clear idea of the finished effect.

Happy decorating!

Ready to makeover your walls? Get expert advice from one of our qualified and approved painters and decoraters to give your home a new lease of life.

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