How To Pick Can't-Miss Color Pairs
Do Your Homework
1. Know the color basics
Your first stop when contemplating color combos is the trusty color wheel. Think back to high school art class, says The Color Palette Primer author Joann Eckstut, who explains that there are three basic color schemes:
Monochromatic — colors with the same hue but different values (brown and taupe)
Analogous — colors that are next to each other on the wheel and thus similar (green and yellow)
Complementary — color-wheel opposites that give the most contrast and are exciting to the eye (orange and blue)
2. Look for inspiration all around you
Think about the places where you enjoy spending time or that are filled with objects you love. It could be your garden, a favorite shop, a book about the Grand Canyon or even your shoe rack. "This is what I call your 'happy place,' and it should be the first place you go before you set foot in the paint store," says color consultant Jane Lockhart, who lifted her living-room color scheme off a restaurant menu. "Look at the colors and see which ones stimulate, draw you and how they work with each other."
Consider Your Surroundings
3. Take a cue from nature
Colors found together in the environment are almost always a sure bet inside your home. Beachy hues such as the creamy buff of the sand, the deep aquamarine of the sea, the blue of the sky and the gray of the cliffs look beautiful together.
4. Consider color in context
Think about the setting that color combinations have to work in — that is, in your home and around you. Take note of the color and style of your furnishings, the quality of the light coming in through the windows and the function of the room.
Blue and green is a serene combo for a bedroom, for instance, but it might be cold and dreary if the windows face north or if natural light is lacking. Bright red and yellow, on the other hand, are cheerful in the kitchen but can be overwhelming in the living room. Likewise, monochromatic schemes work well in contemporary homes, but they can be a bit dull with classic architecture. Think about the color combos you enjoy wearing. "If you look and feel good with those colors on, you'll like them around you," says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.
5. Don't go overboard
Even if you adore a particular pairing, be judicious with it (unless, of course, you have an unlimited budget with which to redecorate every year). Stick with a neutral base for upholstered furniture and wall-to-wall carpeting, then "use small doses of color as an accent," says Color Association's color consultant Barbara Schirmeister. "Just a few strategic pieces — pillows, window coverings, lamps — are often all you need to really punch up a room." And that way, once you fall for the next hot color duo, working it in will be a simple matter of switching out accessories and other inexpensive items.