10 Tips for Adding Color

Learn the top 10 tips for adding color to any space.
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Orange and White Fireplace

Contemporary Orange and White Fireplace

This orange and white fireplace with tile border makes a bold statement against the muted yellow walls. A brown chair with white middle stripe and orange pillow sits on an orange patterned rug fitting the contemporary feel. Above the fireplace, a bright floral painting adds a little extra color.

Tip #1: Use the 60-30-10 Rule 

When decorating a particular room, divide the colors into percentages:

  • 60% of a dominant color
  • 30% of a secondary color
  • 10% of an accent color

Translated to a room setting, it typically means:

  • 60% of the room's color is the walls
  • 30% of the room's color is the upholstery
  • 10% of the room's color is, say, an accent piece or a floral arrangement
Blue Living Room With Leather Ottoman and Patterned Area Rug

Transitional Blue Living Room

This living room boasts deep blue walls and crisp white molding. The furniture is arranged to invite conversation, and everything is tied together with a beautiful brown leather ottoman atop a dramatic blue and white patterned rug.

From: Renovation Raiders

Tip #2: Choose a Color Scheme

Complementary Color Scheme

Complementary colors are across from each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, blue and yellow, or purple and orange. Rooms decorated with a complementary color scheme tend to provide a clear separation of colors and often are more formal and more visually challenging. Complementary color schemes should be used in the more formal areas of the home — for example, the living room or dining room.

Analogous Color Scheme

Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel, such as yellow and green, blue and violet, or red and orange. Rooms using an analogous color scheme typically are more causal, restful and muted in terms of coloration. This color scheme is best used in the more informal areas of the home. Family rooms, dens and bedrooms — places where you’re searching for rest and recovery from the day — look and "feel" great in analogous colors.

Tip #3: Study the Color of Your Clothes

Most people buy clothes in colors they like to wear and think they look good in. Similarly, you should decorate your rooms in colors you look good in.

Transitional Brown, Red and White Bedroom

Earth-Toned Bedroom With Red and White Accents

This small bedroom goes big on patterns—a graphic red-and-white print on the curtains, squares and circles for the bed linens. A white dresser and nightstand provide storage.

Tip #4: Define Your Color Value

Choose darker values of color for the floor (ground), medium values of color for the walls (trees and mountains) and light values of color for the ceiling (sky). If you divide your colors by value from dark to light as you decorate "vertically" in the room, you’ll get an interior design that looks good every time.

Tip #5: Pull From Pattern

To help you choose a color scheme, look at the colors in the largest pattern in the room first, be it drapery, upholstery fabric, an Oriental rug or a large artwork. Then choose colors based upon that piece. This is much easier (and less expensive) than painting the walls a particular color and finding that absolutely nothing else on the planet, let alone in your room, will match it. In other words, if your favorite piece of art is red, black and gray, you can choose the gray to be 60 percent, the red to be 30 percent and the black to be the 10 percent — or the red could be the dominant color with the gray and black taking secondary and accent roles.

Tip #6: Go With The Flow

A living room with patterns and a mix of traditional and contemporary.

Transitional Patterned Living Room

This living room, which opens to the kitchen, features a mix of different shades of blue. Light blue is used on the wall to create a soft palette, while pops of bolder blues are used in the patterns in the rug, pillows, and furniture to create contrast.

In order to create a flow of colors from one room to another, simply choose a color you're using in one room and restate it in a different way in an adjoining space. For example, if your sofa is green, use the same green for seat fabric in the dining room.

Use the color in larger or smaller degrees as you move about the home. That same green from the living room sofa mentioned above can also translate as, say, lampshades in the family room or place mats in the kitchen.

Tip #7: Contrast 

When paired, black and white are somewhat formal in appearance, not unlike a tuxedo. White with beige, however, has a low contrast and a feeling of calmness. Combining white and black with gray is very low key and also creates a restful space.

Tip #8: Get Emotional with Color

We all associate colors with what they represent. In our minds, red may represent fire, blue the air and sea, yellow the sun, and brown and green often represent trees. These are generally considered to be emotional responses to color as opposed to intellectual responses. Use these emotional associations to their greatest effect in a space by deciding on what emotional impact you want the room to have. Would you like it to be lively? Choose reds and yellows. If you prefer subdued, try blues and browns.

The emotional impact of color should reflect the activities being performed in the space. If it is for rest, such as a bedroom or family room, choose darker values of colors that relate to restfulness such as greens, blues and browns.

Tip #9: Think About Local and Seasonal Color

By studying color schemes from the past — Victorian, arts and crafts or, perhaps, 18th century, for example — you can build a room's colors quite simply by incorporating these already-accepted color schemes. By using colors from your locale, be it the Southwest or New England, you easily can choose colors that reflect the area in which you live.

Seasonal color variations are another painless way to choose colors. Fall colors such as mustard yellows, russets and browns will create a calm and subdued space, perfect for resting. Spring colors, on the other hand, are more uplifting; pinks, lilac and saffron yellow impart a naive, fresh look to a room.

Tip #10: Live With Color Before You Buy

When shopping for upholstery fabric, furniture finishes, window treatments or rugs, always ask for a sample to take home to see in the space you are decorating. Then leave it in the room for a couple of days and see what the color looks like in the different kinds of lighting used in that space. Pay careful attention to how the samples look during the times when the room will be used the most.

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