Color is Challenging

by Barbara Schwab

Color is Challenging

One of the hardest challenges of room design is picking a color palette.

You may have bright colors you are attracted to, or perhaps neutrals, or high contrast black and white, or soft, serene, warm. We are bombarded by color schemes and color terms. Paint samples in all tints and shades in every color on the wheel beacon out to us in the paint isle of the DYI home center.

My great grandfather was a professional painter, this was back when they used chemical powders and pigments mixed into oils and made their own paints and colors. Color was a craft of the painter. I have inherited a love of painting from my father and he from his, my brother painted professionally in his summers during architecture school. As a graphic designer selecting color has been a major part of my life. But when it comes to selecting the colors for a room, rooms or house exterior, the decision is daunting in its permanence. People like me study color their whole lives and even I can get confused. So, there are a few color basics and terms that may be helpful.

Color wheel showing tints, shades and hues.

Warm and Cool colors:
Warm colors are on the warm side of the color wheel. They are red, orange, yellow, red violet. Cool colors are on the cool side of the color wheel. They are blue, cyan, teal, green.

Tints of color:
Imagine a color being mixed with white and being faded to a pastel of the same color.

Shades of color:
This is the same idea as tints only you are mixing in black and the color is being dulled out. This can also happen by mixing in the opposite color on the wheel called the "complementary color" and will make a gray when mixed together.

Hue of color:
The term for the pure spectrum colors commonly referred to by the "color names" - red, orange, yellow, blue, green, violet - which appear in the hue circle or rainbow. Theoretically all hues can be mixed from three basic hues, red, yellow, blue, known as primaries. When pigment primaries are all mixed together, the theoretical result is black.

Color Proportion:
This refers to balance of the relative quantity of a given hue. In order to achieve over-all unity, and/or create emphasis, one should make a clear decision as to which colors should be used in the largest and smallest amounts.

So how can I approach this color selection and know what to choose?

Unless you are starting from scratch designing your interior there are key pieces you will be working with. Take an inventory of the colors that you already have in your environment. I'm not a person that believes in everything matching colors or styles, but if you pick a palette you can incorporate new things and pick a paint colors that will enhance the cohesiveness of your interior design. I like neutrals color as an overall background for the room or use as a color that I weave in and out from room to room to achieve a flow from room to room. A particular favorite is a warm gray color.

Spots of colors can be pulled out from a piece you love. If you have a orange chair. You may want to put together a pallet that works well with the orange. It is always safe to start with the complementary (opposite color). Blue is the complementary color of orange, this includes the bright hue and various shades and tints of this blue. You can also choose colors located adjacent to each other on a color wheel.

A tool that is really cool for looking at combination of colors at A tool that is really cool for looking at combination of colors at

I found a tool that is really cool for looking at combination of colors at If you fool around with this tool you may discover color combinations you might not have otherwise thought off. There are also many existing palettes that can be found online or in paint stores that you can work from and customize for your own use.

I watch a lot of HGTV shows my most appalling visual is walking through a house and every room is painted a electric bright hue that make your eyeballs pop out. This will not be considered a good selection for serene living. Be careful of the amount of bright colors you use i.e. “Color proportion.” Save it for accent colors. The color may be your favorite and look good as a one inch color chip but when you increase the area it becomes overwhelming.

People often ask, what color should I paint an accent wall? This color should be chosen carefully. I have seen it used well and then not so well. One particular way I’ve seen it used successfully is as the back of a wall of shelves or in a foyer where it makes a statement when you enter, but you don’t spend a lot of time in that room. I rather use statement colors through art placement, my preference.

p.s. When in doubt you can always consult with a professional designer.

I will be addressing color issues in future blogs. It’s complicated!

The color palette on the right is derived from a section in our home and translated into the imaginary interior illustration of a mid century room with Danish modern furniture shown at the top of the page..