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color wheel interior designer

Choosing that perfect color combination can be a daunting decorating challenge. Take a cue from the pros: use the color wheel to choose winning color schemes.

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Whether you crave a calm, cool, collected look—or something more vibrant and vivacious—choosing the right color scheme showcases your unique style and really sets the mood for every room in your home. Understanding the relationship between colors will help you create beautiful combinations every time.

Here’s how to use the color wheel to select winning color schemes:

The basics

Thanks to special cells in our eyes called “cones” (no, not of the ice-cream variety), we know that roses are red and the sky is blue. If you look at a random object—a banana, for example—the color you see depends on the wavelength of reflected light. Pretty cool, no?

A visual representation of how colors relate to each other, the color wheel consists of three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow), three secondary colors (violet, orange, and green), and six tertiary colors (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, and red-purple).

color wheel infographic

Color combinations

Learning how colors work together will help you choose beautiful color schemes. A good starting point is selecting a color you love (blue, for example) and deciding what type of mood you’d like to create. Then use the color wheel to choose the accent colors, tints, and shades that will pull off the look you’re after.

If you’re confused about color schemes, luckily, there are a few rules that’ll help you “fake it ‘till you make it.” Here are a few color schemes, regularly used by professional designers, that each create a distinct mood and aesthetic:

1. Complementary

Comprised of colors opposite each other on the color wheel, complementary color schemes are fresh, vibrant, and lively when paired together. In this design, for example, shades of red and cyan create a stunning, complementary look.

front porch furniture blue red brown

(image: Wicker Paradise)

2. Analogous

Analogous color schemes consist of three colors that sit directly next to each other on the color wheel, creating a harmonious look when paired together. When using an analogous color scheme, be sure to vary shades, tints, and tones to create enough contrast. For the most impactful and balanced look, choose a dominant color to lead in with.

In this design, for example, azure blue takes center stage with other shades of blue as supporting colors. Altogether, tints of azure, cyan, and spring-green combine for a harmoniously cool, serene look. Subtle pops of tan and yellow add balance, contrast, and plenty of visual variety.

blue bedroom headboard

(image: Maegan Tintari)

3. Monochromatic

When we hear the term “monochromatic,” images of black-and-white designs typically come to mind. But a monochromatic color scheme can be comprised of any one color, often in various shades and tints. To pull off a monochromatic look, vary textures and materials, and choose several saturations, shades, and tints of the same color.

In this design, for example, several tints of gray create an elegant, monotone look. With a range of materials used, from metallic accents to wood-look floors, this kitchen is anything but boring. Darker and lighter shades of gray throughout create a balanced, put-together look.

modern kitchen white grey flooring

(image: Bill Wilson)

4. Triadic

Formed by three colors that are equidistant from each other on the color wheel, triadic color schemes are bold and vibrant. If you’re looking for a more muted look, choose one dominant color and two accent colors. If you elect to go bold, let all three colors shine in their daring dalliance.

In this vibrant living room, for example, shades of red, blue, and green create a modern, diverse look. Walls stacked with unique art and keepsakes add loads of visual variety and really pull this eclectic look together.

sitting room bright colors

(image: ღ ℂℏ℟ḯʂ ღ)

Which would you choose?

Are you in the midst of redecorating, like me? I think I’ll use a monochromatic color scheme in my kitchen, a complimentary color scheme in my living room, and an analogous color scheme in my bedroom. Which of these color combinations would you try? Be sure to weigh in below.

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Tanya Roberts

Tanya Roberts is a writer and marketer who loves to spin stories about interior design and home decor. She is principle strategist at Bluefinch.ca