Choose a Perfect Palette in 3 Easy Steps

Adding color to your home seems overwhelming — but it doesn't have to be! We give you three simple steps to picking a color palette for any room.
By: Jennifer O'Neil and Kitty O'Neil
Related To:
Gray Walls with Different Paint Finishes

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Design by Lori Dennis.

Design by Lori Dennis.

They are the questions every homeowner asks: What color should I paint my walls? How do interior decorators pick a palette in a flash when there are so many colors out there? It’s easier than you think. In just three simple steps, you can choose a palette for any room in the house.

Step 1: Establish a Mood

Start by thinking about the mood of the room. How do you want the space to make you feel? Tranquil? Lively? Romantic? That’s where color comes in! Different colors evoke different feelings, and it turns out those color-feelings are pretty universal.

If you want your space to be passionate and stimulating, embrace red as the main hue. Red is the color of the heart and represents life and love. For a warm room that energizes, go for orange as the dominant hue. Orange used to be a “makes-ya-hungry” fast-food color, but techies and fashionistas know it has been reborn into a vibrant color of the future. Yellow is also high energy, but in an uplifting and cheerful way. When you walk into a yellow room, you can practically feel the sun shining on your face.

Moving around the color wheel, we have green, the color of nature. It creates an atmosphere that’s as friendly and comforting as the landscape around us. Blues are also abundant in nature and suggest the calmness and tranquility of clear skies and ocean waters. For a room on the contemplative and sensual side, pick purple — it combines the arousing qualities of red with the calming essence of blue. White is the color of purity and cleanliness, so use it to make a room feel clean and organized. The earthiness of brown makes a place seem grounded and unpretentious.

All you have to do is decide what mood you would like for your room. For example, if you want a living room that’s friendly and comforting, then you’d choose green. Great! You’re ready for step 2!

citrus toned dining room

citrus toned dining room

Once you've pinpointed your palette's dominant color, tweak it to set a specific mood. Citrusy green and yellow work beautifully together in this vacation home. Design by Shelly Riehl David.

Once you've pinpointed your palette's dominant color, tweak it to set a specific mood. Citrusy green and yellow work beautifully together in this vacation home. Design by Shelly Riehl David.

Step 2: Explore the Rainbow

You’ve chosen your main color, green, but there are thousands of greens, aren’t there? Yes, but don’t fret. You can tweak that green (or whatever shade you choose), again based on mood. Green is friendly and comforting, but if we mix that green with blue to get teal, we add a little calm and tranquility. Want a more lively and cheerful room? Blend green with yellow to get pear. Every color can lean toward its neighbor on the color wheel and pick up some of that mood. Red that leans toward purple is passionate and sensual, ideal for a bedroom. Red that leans toward orange is stimulating and energetic, a good choice for a kitchen.

Once you’ve figured out your main color, you’ll want to choose accent colors. If you chose calming teal as your main color, it can do all the moody work. The accent colors will appear in smaller amounts and won’t affect the mood, which means you can choose from anywhere on the color wheel. Try color-wheel neighbors to create a palette that feels harmonious. For example, enhance your teal with touches of green or blue. Reach a bit further around the wheel to add a bit more excitement. Just think how jazzy teal looks with lime or purple. The further you travel around the wheel from your main color, the more dynamic the combinations. If you pick the color exactly opposite on the color wheel, that teal would vibrate with red-orange accents, a look that is intense and modern.



Consider a room's style and decor when finalizing your color palette. Cool, tranquil blues suit this casual-chic bedroom. Design by Linda Woodrum.

Consider a room's style and decor when finalizing your color palette. Cool, tranquil blues suit this casual-chic bedroom. Design by Linda Woodrum.

Step 3: Style Your Palette

Once you’ve selected a main color and accents, it’s time to match that palette to your decorating style. To do this, pick out a paint chip that includes your main color, teal. As you move up the paint chip, that teal gets lighter as it is tinted with more white. As you move down the strip, the teal has more black in it and gets darker. These different tints and shades coordinate with different styles of decor. If you gravitate to traditional, choose the darker, muted versions of your whole palette to help capture that traditional look. If your taste is cottage chic, go for a lighter palette. The extra white in those hues will suit your whitewashed furniture perfectly. But if your home is casual contemporary, you can use the palette as is. Those true colors will pop!

Jennifer and Kitty O'Neil ( are certified in Color Design by Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. They are frequent contributors to as well as Crafts ’n Things, Woman’s World, and Create & Decorate magazines.

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