How to Choose a Color Scheme for Interior Decorating
Interior decorating: some people love it, others can’t stand it for more than a few seconds. Wherever you fall on the subject, you can’t deny that it’s an essential part of owning a home and making it really feel like your own, and it all begins with picking a color scheme.
Color schemes provide guidance and direction for the design of each space, and more than that, a good color palette can evoke a wide range of feelings and emotions, setting the mood in each room. Figuring out how to choose color palettes can be challenging (which is a big part of why so many people don’t like interior decorating). But don’t worry, this article covers nine of the most essential tips on how to choose color schemes to make your interior decorating projects that much easier.
1. Examine the Style of Your Home
First up, you should begin by taking a good look at the style of your home, both to get a little inspiration and to understand what features you are working with. While it’s great to start out with an idea like painting one wall in your living room bright green, it’s best to really consider all of the existing fixtures and the general design of the space to make sure that the exact shade and overall aesthetic is going to mesh with your home.
Remember, a modern style house is going to have a very different layout – and ambiance – than a country home, and it’s likely that each is made out of different building materials. Learning about the construction of your home can also help you make smarter and more sustainable choices when it comes to deciding on your color palette.
It should not be surprising that a traditional style house like this 2-story, 4-bedroom country home plan with 3 baths and 2 half baths, top, uses traditional décor and a neutral color scheme in its interior, bottom (Plan #120-2176).
2. Check the Trend Reports
Every year various publications and organizations release trend reports that cover all the latest and hottest design topics, including the trendiest colors of the season. These reports can be a huge resource for choosing color schemes that are modern and attractive, rather than dated and bland. One of the most popular reports comes from the color experts at Pantone, who declare a Color of the Year annually, for the freshest color inspiration.
3. Remember the Color Wheel
While color trends can be helpful in choosing a starting color, you still need to flesh out the palette with colors based on secondary and tertiary colors in the color wheel – like orange and blue-green, respectively – to create a truly balanced theme. Otherwise, you would be too limited in choices for decorating throughout your home.
Relying on the color wheel is a great way to find complementary and contrasting colors since it outlines all of the colors in the spectrum and tells which ones match with each other. Just remember that you aren’t strictly limited to what it says is or isn’t a match (use it as a guide) – taking a bold risk with contrasts can sometimes make a room truly stand out.
The traditional color wheel provides a guide to pairing up colors (and their tones and shades) so you end up with pleasing rather than jarring results. Remember that the colors in the wheel are based on primary colors and do not include blends of white and black, which provide the subtleness of pastels and other shades and tones that you use in interior decorating. Colors opposite each other on the whell are comlementary and pleasing to the eye when paired. (Photo credit: Extracoin on Dreamstime)
You might want to try a bold color somewhere. Shades of white, cream, gray, and black can be dramatic and offer more flexibility with accents and other touches. Experiment with bold paint colors, and give your home an exciting, vibrant, and interesting feel. But, don’t use a bold color in huge spaces like your living room. Temper it with neutral shades to create balance in the room.
This eye-catching front door painted in a bright shade of red adds to the charm and curb appeal of a Ranch style home plan with 3 bedrooms (House Plan #141-1241).
This orange wall in the bathroom of a 1-story, 3-bedroom Acadian style home plan is balanced with neutral shades – white cabinets, drawers; and taupe trims and floor tiles (House Plan #142-1090).
4. Focus on a Single Room
It’s always a good idea to begin your interior decorating in a single room. After all, it’s much easier to choose a color scheme for a smaller space. Many people begin with a living room or dining room because they are used frequently in pretty much every home and typically command a lot of presence in the overall home’s design.
When you scale your planning down, you can focus more on getting the details right and finding all of colors that suit the space. Another benefit is that it allows you to plan around the nuances of the room. For example, if your living room has very high ceilings but the rest of your rooms don’t, then you can focus on color-scheme variations that work with the area.
This great room in a 2-story, 4-bedroom Craftsman home plan is a great place to start decorating to set the tone of the home’s décor. Here, the neutral palette of the walls, carpet, and furnishings complements the subtle reds, browns, and other earth tones of the brick and stone (House Plan 161-1017). The gold carpet is a darker tone than the walls – but the same color family – while the white ceiling provides the feeling of height. (See “Design from Dark to Light” below.)
5. Design from Dark to Light
One of the best ways to quickly and easily flesh out a color palette is to start with a single shade and work from dark to light, or light to dark, to create a natural gradient within the room. The darkest color should be used in the floor of the room, such as with carpet or area rugs. Next, move up to mid-tones for the walls and furniture accents, and finally, end with a light shade for the ceiling. This creates a natural color flow that mimics what we see outside in the world.
At the same time, think of your house as a painting on one huge canvas where everything is connected and makes sense. Don’t go from blue to pink to red. If you want a little variety in the interior spaces, select complementary colors or different shades of a color. Keep in mind that it’s one house and every room must flow smoothly into the other.
Take a look at the flow of colors – yellow, blue, yellow-orange – and the elements that connect the kitchen and dining area of this 2-story, 4-bedroom Craftsman style home plan. Glass windows with blue-trimmed panes match the ceiling; the yellow walls and a yellow-orange half wall that serves as divider have brown trim. The kitchen fixtures and countertop complement the main colors of the space (House Plan #153-1781).
6. Match the Function of the Space
Sometimes you can run into color palette disagreements when your home has certain characteristics or spaces that serve a double purpose, such as an eat-in kitchen or a living room that flows out into a backyard. The key here is to focus on colors and tones that match the primary purpose of the space and only create the divisions you want. If you want the main kitchen area to feel separate from that in the eat-in space, then you can vary the color scheme just a bit to help each area feel like its own space without clashing completely.
By making the eating counter and stools in this open kitchen of a 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath Craftsman Ranch style home plan much darker than the rest of the space, the owners create a subtle signal that the two areas serve different purposes (House Plan #141-1038).
7. Match the Color Scheme to Your Decor
Sometimes your existing décor can serve as the inspiration for your new color scheme, rather than trying to change all your furniture to match the new colors. Maybe it’s an antique chair from your grandmother with stunning blue upholstery or a painting you’ve had since college that includes a striking red and orange sunset. Whatever it is, look to the items already in your home and try building your new color scheme around the pieces you already love.
The blacks and grays of this bathroom in a 4-bedroom, 4-5-bath Contemporary style home plan make perfect sense when matched with the matching angular lines and sleek contemporary design of the interior (Plan #107-1015). The warmth of the wood provides a soothing contrast, while the accessories and flowers lend dabs of bright color.
Top: A mix of soft beiges and white paint provides just the right touch for the family room of a 2-story, 4-bedroom Country style home. The colors highlight the warm fireplace wall as well as the beige and brown furniture. Bottom: The various shades of brown in the kitche/kitchen island area are highlighted by the off white paint color on the walls and ceiling (Plan #120-2176).
There are a number of features in a home floor plan that are of visual interest – a fireplace, stairs, or a door with a unique design. Draw attention to these features and transform them into focal points by using paint. As a rule of thumb, experts admonish homeowners to paint the focal point in bold colors like orange, vibrant blue, red, or purple to contrast it with neutral tones on the walls and furniture.
Artworks are the points of interest in the hallway of this 2-story, 3-bedroom luxury European style home plan. Framed in black, the paintings with their vibrant images stand out on the cool green of the walls. A dim light fixture that illuminates an artwork at the other end of an arched entryway casts a shadow on the outer wall that makes the paintings more interesting (House Plan # 153-1897)
Don't forget to test paint colors! What may look perfect in the paint can or around the store may not work on your walls. Experts advise testing the paint on a wall opposite windows to get a better picture of the color. Don’t be timid about asking for paint strips or sample-size paint jars to experiment with at home under various light conditions.
8. Follow the 60-30-10 Rule
The 60-30-10 rule is a great way to choose your secondary and accent colors once you have settled on a primary color, and it can help you get a sense for how the colors will feel working together in a space. The rule states that 60% of the room should use your primary color, 30% your secondary color and 10% the accent color. This can work especially well when choosing a color palette for contemporary homes, which carry their own unique interior color schemes.
The accent blankets on the bed and easy chair of this bedroom in a 3-bedroom, 3-5-bath Texas Ranch style home plan provides a pop of bright color in an otherwise muted, neutral – and relaxing – color scheme (House Plan #106-1274).
9. Finally, don't forget the prep and supplies
Once you've decided on the colors, don't forget to get all of the supplies that you'll need before you start - that includes all of the materials you'll need to prep the walls as well - you don't want to have to run out in the middle of the project! If you're not sure where to start or what supplies you may need check out The Complete Guide to Painting Your Home.
Make sure to check out our huge selection of house plans for more interior decorating color scheme inspiration. You can also share your own tips for picking a color palette in the comments below.