Color wheel in the interior

Color wheel in the interior


  • How do I use the color wheel?

  • How many base colors are there?

  • Adjusting the base tone with neutral shades

  • Colour temperature

  • Complementary color scheme

  • Split complementary color scheme

  • Scheme on similar colors

  • Triadic combination

  • Tetra scheme

  • Square scheme

Photo: Kati Curtis Design

Recently, we talked about what the color wheel, hue and complementary color are, as well as sorted out the psychology of individual colors – for example, blue. But in fact, individual colors in the interior do not make a special impression on us, just as individual notes from a song do not carry any special coloring. The same note in different works can sound in both major and minor keys. It’s the same with flowers: the most interesting thing begins when several flowers come together – only then they begin to tell a story and make sense.

This is what we’ll talk about today: how to use the color wheel in interior design.

Photo: Caitlin Wilson

How do I use the color wheel?

Similar to trigonometry, the color wheel is one of those things that you learned about as a child and never remembered again. But in order to understand color, let’s dust off this school knowledge: you can’t go far without a color wheel in design.

Quite simply, the color wheel shows which colors work best with each other. Typically models contain 12 colors, however, in theory, a circle can contain an almost infinite number of shades.

It is not necessary to remember it: it is enough if you have access to the network. On the site
Paletton you can create your own color schemes, and
ColorSchemer provides the same capabilities as a similar application on iPhones.

The color wheel is the most important part in design Photo: University of Makeup

How many base colors are there?

No, not 12, as you might have thought from the previous paragraph. There are actually only 7 basic ones. But let’s list everything that is on the color wheel:

  • Primary colors: red, blue, yellow. They cannot be obtained from other colors.

  • Secondary colors: orange, purple, green. They can be obtained by mixing the primary.

  • Tertiary: six shades that can be obtained by mixing primary and secondary colors. If you’re not sure where to start creating a color-saturated interior, then these 12 shades can be a good starting point.

Primary and secondary colors instantly brighten any space.  Photo: Tammara Stroud Design

Adjusting the base tone with neutral shades

By choosing a base color, it is easy to get varieties of the same shade. Just mix it with neutral colors (black, gray, white). Be sure to experiment: you have to feel how delicately neutral shades change the base color.

Create tints by adding neutral colors to the base color.  Photo: Hughes Design Associates

Colour temperature

Red, orange and yellow are warm colors. They look more lively and add a lively feel to the interior. Purple, blue and green are cool colors.

Color temperature affects the perception of volume. So, a narrow room, painted in warm colors, can seem even more cramped. But if you paint a large room in cold colors, you can feel icy abandonment – something like polar agoraphobia.

Use warm colors to stimulate lively conversation.  Photo: Axis Mundi

Complementary color scheme

The complementary scheme – that is, a pair of two complementary colors – is the simplest. On the color wheel, complementary colors are located opposite each other and form contrasting pairs.

For example, red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. Such combinations should be used delicately and in small quantities: for example, when you want to draw special attention to some decorative element. An interesting feature of contrasting pairs is manifested in painting – when mixing such colors and shades, the color of the mixing is perceived as achromatic (white, gray, black).

If you are using an additional scheme, then you definitely need to include neutral tones in it. The eye will be able to rest on them. You cannot fill a room with a clean, complimentary palette: being there, you will quickly get tired.

Use neutrals to balance the high contrast of the circuit.  Photo: Katie Rosenfeld Design

Split complementary color scheme

If you like the complementary scheme, but at the same time it is too bold for your taste, then instead of one of the two colors, you can take two of its closest neighbors. Then you get a palette of three colors, forming a narrow triangle on the color wheel.

The colors at the base of the triangle add a sense of balance. The impact of the vibrant color will remain, but you can use more non-neutral colors.

The split-complement scheme works best when the primary color is dominant. However, instead of using a solid color, it is better to take a muted version of it, and paint the accessories in the colors of the base of the triangle.

Split complimentary color schemes are often quieter versions of their counterparts.  Photo: McCroskey Interiors

Scheme on similar colors

These are just any three colors in a row – accordingly, there are only 12 similar schemes, like the colors on the color wheel. Typical examples are red-orange-yellow or red-violet-blue.

When applying the scheme, it is important to respect the proportion. The standard is a ratio of 60-30-10 – relatively speaking, 60 units of area are covered in red, 30 in orange and 10 in yellow.

Just decide which color will be dominant, as supportive, and which will be accent.

By the way, you can create a similar color scheme using neutral shades. This range is called monochrome. Take black, white and gray instead of bright colors (“Polish rainbow”).


Triadic combination

It is sometimes called a triad. If you mark the three colors of this scheme on the color wheel, you get an equilateral triangle. The three base colors (red-blue-yellow) are the reference sample.

This gamma is even more challenging than the binary complement. It is incredibly contrasting, and you usually see such a palette in the design of children’s bedrooms, toys and logos of multinational corporations.

Pay attention to what is around the area decorated in a triadic scale. There should not be another triadic palette nearby, otherwise it will be overkill. Use calm, predominantly neutral colors.

The boldness of the triadic scheme makes it the perfect choice for a child's room.  Photo: Wen-Di Interiors

Tetra scheme

But this is already something really complicated: we need to balance 4 colors in spaces. When marked on the color wheel, the colors of the tetra-diagram form a rectangle (not necessarily a square): it consists of two pairs of complementary colors.

Color temperature plays the first violin here. Two colors should be warm and the other two should be cold. A balance can be achieved if complementary colors are presented in equal quantities. For example, how much blue is as much orange.

Also, do not be afraid to mix colors: firstly, you will enrich the range, and secondly, you will create less flashy colors. If all the colors are clear, the room will look too saturated.


Square scheme

The colors are evenly spaced on the color wheel – and since there are four of them, you get a square.

Whichever color you start to build a square with, you will surely get it so that one color will be primary, the second will be primary, and the other two will be tertiary. Decrease the intensity of two or more colors in this gamut to make the gamut more subtle.

Just as in the case of the tertiary scheme, the balance of color temperatures is important here, but in the case of a square, you can make one of the colors dominate.

Design language may sound complicated: there are so many terms! But in reality, it all comes down to simple geometric shapes. Practice creating different variations of these schemes, and you will be as good as an art school student in scales and palettes.

But in any case, if you have read this article to the end, you already know enough to tackle your own interior.

Mix patterns and solids to add visual interest.  Photo: Rachel Rader

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About Leona Smith 115 Articles
Hello! My name is Silke and this is my travel blog. I want to show you fascinating places off the beaten track, give you a gentle introduction to history and culture, and help you get around Berlin. After 13 years in Sydney and Andalusia, I now live in Berlin, Germany. I am a travel writer, translator and book author. Read more about me here.

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