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Color Schemes 101

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

For some, it's instinctual. For others, it's a shot in the dark. This post will describe basics in creating a color-scheme that will satisfy.

Do you remember in Kindergarten when your teacher would have that one box of crayons you could never touch? It was the box of crayons everyone yearned for, because they were sharp, unbroken, and had no missing colors. Today my intention is to give you that glorious box of crayons and the tools to effectively utilize any color of the rainbow.


First, take a look around you and determine whether you are wanting a complete change or you want to punctuate what you currently have. Next, evaluate how often you want to change your surroundings. Lastly, reflect on the personality and impact you want to make.


If you are a poor college student, chances are you are going to be looking for things that have a short shelf life, because things are going to change dramatically and quickly. If you recently graduated and are entering the workforce, you're in a state of seriously redefining yourself. If you're middle-aged and set well into your career, chances are you have defined preferences and are just looking for additives.

So what in the world does this have to do with color? Because, depending on where you are in life will determine what you actually like. Color is expressive. It's life to any design.

The other thing to take into consideration with color selection is budget. If you plan on completely deviating from colors that already exist in the space, there could be a hefty price tag attached.

DESIGN CLOCK: tick, tick, tick, tick, tick

When to use more neutrals more dominantly: This would be done if you want lower turnover in design elements. You'd choose neutrals that can contrast and create interest, but would add splashes of color to freshen the design every now and then. These type of color schemes have more sustainability and relevancy.

When to use color more dominantly: This would be done if you've had a long-term commitment to a particular color (a true love affair). Or, on the other hand, you would do this if you're an individual that likes change and plans to do it often.


Regardless of actual colors, remember to be bold and to be you. If you prefer tranquility, embrace it! If you love loud and assertive places, own it! Like I said before, color is expressive, but more importantly it should be SELF-expressive. The key is to find harmony and balance in those choices to appropriately reflect you.


Like any coursework you've taken, you have to understand where it all begins. Red, Yellow and Blue are the primary colors, with complementary colors being Green, Purple, and Orange. The below chart outlines the pairing of these colors, as well as the tone group.

So, if you love red, it's best to pair it with green to make it pop more in the room. Or the other side of this is true, that if you want to tone-down a color you'll use its complement more dominantly versus in equal parts. Now, while you may not choose these exact colors, you will need to be mindful that there is an undertone of one or more of them associated with your color scheme decision.


Incorporating neutrals is essential for design longevity. This doesn't mean you have to live in a sea of gr-eige, tan, gray, or brown. It means that you mindfully weave light and dark neutrals to emphasize your color scheme more effectively. It's important to remember that even though something is deemed "neutral", it will still have warm or cool undertones.

So what is considered neutral? Black, brown, gray, and white-related color groups as well as metals/metallics (brass, gold, copper, silver, mirror).


The following three guidelines will simplify how to determine your color scheme and effectively apply the principles discussed above:

1) At a minimum, determine two dominate colors

2) At a minimum, determine one accent color

3) At a minimum, determine two neutrals

Here's an example and explanation:

Two dominate colors: Navy Blue, Saddle

  • The dominate colors are complementary to one another, being that they're shades of Blue and Orange.

Accent colors: Brass, Green

  • To ensure the color scheme stays warm, I chose Brass to pop against the Navy and Saddle. I also wanted to add life to the room, so I'll incorporate splashes of Green.

Neutral colors: White, Black, and Mirrored Glass

  • To add variety, I'm going to play with darks and lights. Black and White reads more contemporary. The Mirrored Glass will be used to contrast against the Brass in small degrees (again, to add variety).

Let's see it all come together in different finished spaces designed by wonderful and talented designers (click on pics to link to sites).

The dominant colors are easy to see on the wall (Navy Blue) and in the seats of the chairs (Saddle). Note the accent colors in the floor lamp (Brass), couch (Green), plants (Green), circular side table (Brass), picture frame (Brass), and so on. The neutral colors show up in the lamp shades (White), picture (White), pillows (White and Black), and chair frames (Black).

The dominant color in this design is Saddle, found in the side board, chairs at right, and the rug. The walls are Black, but appear to be more Navy Blue in ample sunlight. The Brass accent color is in the side board handles, tip of the chandelier, and the knick knacks. The Green accent is found in the plants. In this scenario the neutral White is used as a dominant color on the walls and trim and the casing of the side board. A Black chair is complemented by Black striped vase and Black shaded table lamp.

In this case, Navy Blue and White are the dominant colors used on the walls. The Saddle color shows up muted in the pillow, lamp shades, wood floor, basket, and rattan window covering. The Brass accent is creatively used in the three brassy flower arrangements, geometric pillow, and side table design at the back of the room. The handle on the forward side table has a crystal handle (Mirror neutral). The striped rug and the chevron pillow set aside the coffee table are neutral Blacks and Whites.


I'll be providing an updated post of my completed design using this particular color scheme on the Ferguson project. Excited to share the results!

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