15 Designer Tricks for Picking a Perfect Color Palette

Our insider tips will make it easy to fill every room in your home with color.

Keep in mind: Price and stock could change after publish date, and we may make money from these links.
By: H. Camille Smith and Kathy McCleary

Photo By: Tobi Fairley

©Lamps Plus

Photo By: Photo Credit: Edward Addeo © Gibbs Smith, Farrow and Ball, Brian D Coleman, Edward Addeo (photographer)

Photo By: Kathryn MacDonald © Photography by Kathryn MacDonald

Photo By: Photography by Ron Rosenzweig

Photo By: Photography by Ryann Ford

Photo By: Judith Balis

Photo By: Photography by Emily Payne

Photo By: Nancy Nolan

Photo By: Allison Corona Photography, Let It Shine Photography, Doug Petersen Photography

Photo By: Mark Lohman (styled by Heather Chontos)

Pick a Color, Any Color

If only choosing a color palette for your interiors was that easy. Well .... actually, it is! Our palette-perfecting tips explain the color rules that designers follow and make it a snap to put them to work in your home.

Choose a Color Scheme From the Largest Pattern in the Space

If you've got patterned upholstery, a colorful rug or large piece of artwork, pluck colors you like from the pattern. For a neutral wall paint color, look to the pattern's whites and beiges.

Decorate From Dark to Light, Vertically

A real "cookbook" way to make any space look good without much risk, says designer Mark McCauley, is to use darker color values for the floor, medium color values for the walls and light values for the ceiling. "Any interior space replicates the outside world," he says. "The exterior environment is generally darker below our feet (the earth itself), medium-valued as you look straight ahead (buildings/trees) and lighter skyward."

Start With the Formal Areas of the House

Specifically, the living room, dining room and entry way. Choose a color scheme for those areas first, then pull one color from the scheme. For example, take the red sofa and tone it down (say, to burgundy) for an accent in more private spaces such as the den, office or bedroom.

Use the Color Wheel

In general, analogous color schemes — colors next to each other on the color wheel, such as blue and green — are more casual and relaxing, and work best in informal or private spaces. This is a good strategy for a bedroom, where you want to rest and recover.

Take a Cue From Your Clothes

Most people buy clothes in colors they like to wear and they look good in. Similarly, you should dress your rooms in colors that flatter you. If denim is your go-to, consider a navy sofa or if you look (and feel!) perkiest in bright yellows, try mixing in a few citrusy accents with pillows or accessories. 

Back to Black

Designer Mark McCauley advises adding a bit of black in every room. "The black clarifies the rest of the room's colors," he says. For a small pop, try a black lampshade or a black vase; for bigger impact, paint your kitchen's base cabinets in the high-drama hue. 

Go With Grays

Put today's trendiest neutral, gray, to work in any style interior. Gray's chameleon-like quality allows the color to appear either warm or cool and pair beautifully with both pastels or kicky colors like hot pink, Kelly green or citrusy shades.     

Use the Rule of 60-30-10

"When decorating a space, divide the colors into components of 60 percent of a dominant color (walls), 30 percent of a secondary color (upholstery) and 10 percent of an accent color (accessories)," advises desginer Mark McCauley. "Works every time!" he says. "This ratio ensures that the colors are properly balanced and there's just enought pop for interest."

Make Small Spaces Pop

If you have a small room in your house, don't paint it white to make it seem bigger. Instead, give it more oomph with a look-at-me color choice. Let your big rooms expand with light, and your small rooms envelop you.

Contrast Warm and Cool

Designer Brian Dittmar proves that neutrals need never be boring in this chic bedroom that pairs cool gray with warm honey-colored shades. While the overall effect is restful, contrasting these two opposites creates just enough tension to wake up the otherwise sleepy space. 

Rely on a Timeless Pairing

Always chic, black + white is one dynamic duo that never goes out of style. Here, designer Tobi Fairley proves that the two colors, accented by just a bit of metallic gold, are all you need to create a compelling color story.

Rock a Monochromatic Look

Shine the spotlight on your favorite color by filling a small space, like a bathroom, with just that hue. Here, designer Judith Balis created a cheery master bathroom featuring the preppy color Kelly green. Balanced with white walls and floors, the saturated shade is eye-catching but not overpowering. 

Follow the Rule of Three

Limiting your palette to just three colors is a can't-miss strategy in any space. In this cheery bedroom, saturated shades of sunny yellow, navy blue and grass green feel fresh, preppy and always on-trend. HGTV Magazine shares more ideas for pushing color boundaries

Showcase Your Personal Style

If you decorate honestly, other people will appreciate it because it's you, even if they'd never decorate their own house in the same way. That means if you want to make every room in your house red, white and blue, go for it. You can make any color look good as long as it truly suits your personal style.

Shop This Look