In last week’s design basics post, you read about the theory of colour - what colour is, how we perceive it, and how it works.

Since colour is so important in interior design, I want to spend a few more words on colour schemes, and show you a few examples of rooms that feature a successful use of colour.

Monochromatic colour scheme

A monochromatic scheme uses different values (tints, shades, tones) of only one colour, with the possible addition of white, black, and grey. Monochromatic schemes are easy to get right and can be very effective.

Monochromatic schemes with large white areas give a  fresh, serene look – e.g. white walls and ceiling, bleached timber floor, and furniture in variations of the same colour.

Cool monochromatic schemes are soothing and peaceful, and make rooms appear larger than they really are. Use  different values – from light to dark – to create interest and give depth to the interior.

Warm monochromatic schemes are energetic and vibrant, and have more visual weight than cool schemes. Add white to make the scheme lighter.

Use neutrals (grey, off-whites) with light pastels to create calm, airy interiors.

Use black, white  and grey to create elegant, calming interiors.  Any colour that you introduce in a black and white interior will draw the eye and add interest.

Analogous colour schemes

Analogous colour schemes use 2-3  colours close to one another  on the colour wheel. Adjacent colours are naturally harmonious, and are usually more interesting than monochromatic schemes.

While cool colours are usually easy to live with, warm colours – especially red and orange – can feel overwhelming, both for their visual weight and for the energy they convey. If you like warm colours but want to retain tranquility, use them only as accents against a neutral background.

Complementary colour scheme

Complementary colours are colours located opposite each other on the colour wheel; when used together, they enhance and complete each other. In complementary colour schemes, you usually choose one colour as your main colour, and its opposite as an accent. For an elegant look, use a saturated colour against a muted one; if you prefer bold schemes, choose intense  colours against a neutral background.

Triadic colour scheme

The triadic colour scheme uses three colours equally spaced around the colour wheel. Use this scheme if you want  your room to offer both a strong visual contrast and a balanced, harmonious look. In the first picture, the triad consists of blue, magenta (red-purple) and yellow (gold in  cushions and fabric). In the second picture,  the yellowish pine flooring  completes the triad blue – magenta – yellow.

Split-complementary colour scheme

A variation of the complementary scheme, the split-complementary scheme uses one colour and the two colours adjacent to its complementary. Use it if you want to retain high contrast but prefer a more serene look.

Colour schemes are meant to offer a guide, but don’t feel like you have to follow them too strictly. Sometimes you can choose variations of colours that are not exactly  part of a colour scheme, but still work well together.

In this sitting area, green, blue and purple create a vibrant yet balanced combination – although not adjacent on the colour wheel, the colour used are still close enough to be harmonious.

In this dining area, the yellow chair adds vibrancy to the delicate cool pastel colours; the scheme works well because all colours have light values.

When in doubt, take your inspiration from nature. A couple of examples? Lime green and orange are part of the same citrus family, and work really well together; purple and green are at home in a vineyard, and look  striking in any interior.

In the next post of the Design Basics series I’ll talk about texture – and consequently, pattern.

Photo Credit: 1,2,3 - Polly Wreford; 4,5,7,8 - Ideal Home; 6, 24 - Per Magnus Persson; 9,10,20,25,26 - Living Etc; 11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,21,22,23 - Bolig Magasinet; 27 - Richard Powers


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