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Using Color Theory in Home Décor

October 31 2009

Since Sir Isaac Newton first invented the color wheel in 1666, color theory has been explained in terms of primary, (pure red, blue, yellow) secondary (green, purple, orange) and tertiary (blue-green, etc.) hues.

The wheel is useful in determining color harmony –  colors opposite each other on the color wheel are complementary, but how does that help you choose paint and carpet colors?

To develop your interior color scheme, the color wheel is a good place to start, but it’s only one of many tools you can use. Learning how colors are created and what effect they have on you can also be useful in choosing the right colors for your décor.

Hue, tint, shade and tones 

If there were only 12 colors in the universe, choosing a decorating color scheme wouldn’t be difficult, but it’s the millions of variations of the color wheel that complicate matters.  So let’s start with how colors are created.

The colors that comprise the color wheel are called hues, the point at which any color is at its clearest. See: http://www.color-wheel-artist.com/hue.html.

As pure color, hues are energetic, attention-grabbing, and bold.

If you add white, you soften the hue, cool it down and turn it toward a pastel version of itself, otherwise known as a tint.

Tints are like the early buds of spring – youthful, delicate and gentle.

If you add black to any hue, you deepen and darken the color, which is known as a shade.

Shades tend to be rich, mysterious, and sophisticated.

A tone is composed of a hue with added grey, or a blend of white and black.

Tones tend to be neutral, relaxing and comforting.

Color and mood

Keeping the effects of hues, tints, shades and tones in mind, colors have the power to energize or to relax you, to annoy you or to soothe you. The impact they have on how you want to feel is largely due to how much color you use and where. 
The main color  – To choose a main color for your décor, think about how you want to feel when you’re in the room. A stimulating color such as red is terrific for dining and entertaining areas, while a bedroom or master bath may be more attractive in a restful tone of blue. 

Accent colors – Whatever you choose as your main color, you can punch it up or tone it down by putting other colors around it. For example, you may choose a neutral beige or tan for your couch and draw attention to it with a bright orange throw or accent pillows.

Placing color for effect 

Start by choosing the color family you want based on your favorite hue, such as royal blue. Imagine the whole room done in your color and you may begin to see a problem –the hue is simply too intense.

Next, imagine only your walls painted in your royal blue. Still too intense? That’s your cue that you need to tone the color down for a larger space.

Choose whether or not you want the color on the walls to be dark or light, and that will tell you whether or not you want to go in the direction of a tint or a shade.

Now, imagine your room again in the color you’ve selected. More pleasing this time?

If you like the color but still think it needs some modifying, just tone it down further by adding more grey, or by lightening the color to a tint.

If you prefer the drama of a deeper or richer tone on your walls, you can lighten the effect by painting your doors, trim and crown molding a soft white which will make any wall color pop. 

The beauty of color theory is that you can use almost any color you wish in a home, if it’s appropriate to the room’s purpose and in the right amounts. You don’t have to give up your royal blue. You may simply find that you enjoy your favorite color more in smaller doses, such as accessories or dinnerware.