Why is it that some people seem to possess a special gift for pairing and layering color in their space? It’s easy to endlessly scroll Instagram pages full of cleverly cohesive spaces. And yet, it isn’t always so easy when you try to recreate one for yourself. But, we believe in you. Here’s how to build a color scheme like a design professional:
Start With the Color Wheel
It may be helpful to first think conceptually about the color wheel. Yes, that classic element of art class is of use here. If you’re drawn to a certain area of the color wheel, an analogous color scheme may be right for your space: it would incorporate colors that lie next to each other. If you are looking for something a bit more exciting, contrasting colors should do the trick. As you might assume, those colors lie opposite each other on the wheel. Don’t be afraid to mix warm and cool shades: they look nice together precisely because they lie on opposite sides of the wheel!
Mind Your Tone
The color wheel is most useful for determining the relationship between certain ‘pure’ shades, like red or yellow. But color in real life does not adhere to the pure shades you see on the chart — which is a very good thing! The combination of varied tones is what creates visual interest. For example, a cohesive color scheme might include dark blue, and a lighter tone of blue. Together, they create interest that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
A design professional will typically identify a few key color shades, and then add in additional tones to the mix to make for a more complete color scheme, even if they’re going for a very monochromatic look. Start with one or two key shades, plus two or three secondary shades to create a well-thought-out scheme.
Neutrals Matter, Too
Neutrals are also an important element in any space. Unless you are truly committed to a brilliantly colorful life, neutrals can add a sense of visual rest to a space, and can tie together an otherwise clashing color scheme. They are also great for sprinkling throughout an entire home to create a sense of cohesiveness.
One more pro tip: don’t be afraid to mix neutrals, either! Even the most monochromatic spaces use different shades of white (or whichever neutral) to create a rich, welcoming feel. It’s all about layering, and creating a curated feel that is less “matchy matchy” than it is “collected over time.”
Use What You Already Like
If you’re someone who already has a saved folder or Pinterest board for your space, you can use that to your advantage. See if certain colors show up again and again, or if you’re drawn to more quietly simple spaces. You don’t have to recreate these spaces exactly, but getting a sense of what you really like is much easier when you aren’t focusing on the individual pieces, but instead on the colors and feel of the room. You can even use a color picker tool to grab hex codes from images you love, which may help narrow in on the shades you’re really drawn to.
Buy What You Love
While planning out a color scheme in advance can be helpful if you are contemplating big purchases like a sofa or rug, we also think that it’s important to trust yourself. If you buy things you like, you’ll probably like how they look together! Design isn’t about matching everything in your home — it’s about creating a space that works for your life. So if you like a bright yellow sofa, go for it! And if you want to add pillows in bright green, that’s fine too. As long as you love how it all looks together!
1. The Color Wheel has been around for a long time — this version is from 1908. / 2. A hyper-colorful apartment is actually an analogous color scheme. / 3. A neutral space still uses contrasting shades.