How to Use Color Theory in Interior Design

For many, the phrase “color theory” can sound overwhelming. It may come across as something only experts in design are familiar with, and something that is difficult to master. And while to some extent that is true, anyone can quickly learn the ins and outs of color theory and easily implement it into their lifestyle.

Whether it’s fashion, graphic design, or interior design, color theory is one of the main pillars when getting started. Knowledge of color theory is not only a great way to add to your personal life, but could even open doors to professions in design, or even in the makeup industry, where they use these techniques on a daily basis. By definition, it is the collection of rules and guidelines which designers use to communicate with users through color schemes and visual interfaces. For every artist, it is the language in which they speak to their audience. To effectively choose the best colors every time, artists and designers use the color wheel combined with a deep knowledge of the human optical ability, psychology, culture, and more.

Using the Color Wheel


When someone has the need to organize their living space, the first thing they must do is create a natural flow through colors and shapes. For this, it’s very important to understand the color wheel. The color wheel demonstrates a visual representation of which colors blend seamlessly together. Using it eliminates any guesswork when trying to use colors consciously in your home. There are multitudes of apps, websites, and pictures that act as a cheat sheet when learning about color theory. Whether they’re built up by the well-known 12 colors, or an infinite amount of shade doesn’t matter, and whether you use one or the other is totally up to your preference.

To better envision what people mean by seamlessly blending together colors, a great example is the method of choosing a wall color that’s complimentary with your style. For instance, if you prefer hanging a lot of artwork in grand frames above wooden furniture, a plain white background offers too much contrast for the eye. A lot of museums use a greyish-green hue that seems white when the entire surface is this color, but seamlessly “embrace” the color of the frames and furniture around it. This is just one of plenty of color theory methods people use in their homes.

As mentioned earlier, most color wheels use 12 colors to demonstrate complementary colors. These are the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow), the secondary colors (orange, purple, and green), and the tertiary colors (the six shades that are the combination of the primary and the secondary colors). When starting out with implementing color theory in your home, it’s best to start out with one of these shades. Picking one will help narrow down your selection when choosing decorations, artwork, and more.

Complementary Colors

Complementary color schemes are the simplest to master. This method uses two colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel. One of them will act as the dominant shade, while the other will serve as an accent. Some examples are red and green, yellow and purple, or blue and orange. These are all extremely high contrast colors, meaning it’s best to use them in small doses to bring a pop of color into your home. For instance, when choosing throw pillows for your sofa or bed, it’s a nice touch to choose complementary colors that bring the best out of each other. Using pops of these high contrast complementary colors is best when you embrace neutrals in the big picture, like your wallpaper and large furniture. Psychologically speaking, these neutral backdrops are a great way to “relax” when those pops of colors become overwhelming.

For those who don’t crave such high contrast, the split complementary scheme is a safer choice. This builds around a base shade of your choosing. Then, instead of picking the color directly opposite of that base, choose two shades on either side of the opposite color. These will not be so drastically different, but will still give a nice accent to the base color. And using this technique you will have more power over using either muted or saturated shades as your accents.

Color Temperature

Each color has a certain temperature. Each room in your home represents a cooler or warmer temperature, which is up to your taste. For some, the bedroom may be a warmer tone, while others use cool tones to decorate. On the color wheel, reds, oranges, and yellows are described as warm tones, while blues, purples, and most greens represent the cooler temperatures. Knowing this can also be used to balance out a room that only demonstrates one temperature. For example, if you see that your bathroom is full of whites and blues, you may find that a hint of warmth makes all the difference and vice versa. Designers also use the size of the room to determine what temperatures would complement it. Larger rooms tend to look stark and hollow when filled with cool tones, while small rooms feel more claustrophobic and tiny when filled with warm colors.

There are myriads of places where you can dive into the world of interior design, color theory, or Feng Shui. These design methods and rules are the pillars of making any space feel like a home. Color theory is a very safe place to start learning about interior design, and the results can be mind-blowing when done right. And once you learn the basics, you will begin to see it everywhere you go, and you may even consider color theory when choosing plants or sheets. While it can seem overwhelming at first, learning and implementing it little by little can go a long way.

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