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The simplest way to colour coordinate a room

Updated on November 15, 2009

Where do you start?

 At some point or other, you are going to look at a room in your home and say, 'This room needs a shake-up.' Yes, rooms need refreshing to keep you interested and comfortable. Home needs to be a pleasure to return to after work and play. It needs to feel attractive to you and any visitors. So how do you go about refreshing a room's décor in a simplet and budget-conscious way? You start by stripping back the lot. Yes! Take everything out of the room until you are left with the three or four largest pieces of furniture and nothing else but the fixed items such as cupboards in the walls. You might or might not be able to change the window treatment (blinds/curtains). Now that the room is stripped, decide on whether you want to change the wall colour. This is expensive but you might just need it. A lick of paint will work wonders, but you need to plan a lot around this. Don't just leap for a trendy colour - you must accessorize, so go for a shade you can either buy around, or that goes with what you already have. A safe way is to opt for a shade or two lighter or darker than what's already there!

With that hurdle out of the way, look at the floor. Wall to wall carpet is expensive to replace. Timber or cork is expensive to treat or resurface. Tiles are tiles.

So rugs (small and large ones) are the most reasonable way to give a room the desired facelift. Choose a pattern and texture that go with your wall. That is, the smaller the room is, the closer to the wall colour the rug must be. You need to complement, not contrast. If, on the other hand, your room is large and you want to inject cosiness, a contrast is not a bad thing.

The same goes for curtains and blinds: choose a contrasting colour in a large space, and a complementary one in smaller spaces.

You need a colour wheel

This teaches you a lot about colour combos
This teaches you a lot about colour combos

What's complementary, what's contrasting?

How do I know when a colour is contrasting?

Aha! You need a colour wheel. You can find this at a decorating outlet or online. It is a wheel that shows colours in slices next to each other, going around in gradations, following the spectrum more or less.

How do you use it? The rule of thumb is that colours opposite each other on the wheel are contrasts, and colours side by side are complementary. Elementary, my dear. So the closer two colours are on the wheel, the more they belong together, and the further apart, the more opposing. That's why you'll find dark blue and orange are across from each other!

But, you say... dark blue and orange really go well together. Yes, it's true - colours opposite each other on the wheel contrast but go well together. That's why you need a wheel - to find which ones do and which ones don't. Ultimately, of course the choice is up to you, but some help is nice to get you to choose.

Because you have emptied your room, you can see clearly now. Decide whether you want to paint your large pieces of furniture. Brown (wooden) furniture is making a come-back. Everything was painted white and distressed until recently. The trend is heading back to wood. This absorbs a lot of light, so the more bare or polished wood you are going to have in a room, the more light you need. Light comes from natural sources like doors and windows, or light fittings.

If the room is a night-use room, you need to think hard about light fittings: you can go for lamps. If it's a day-use room I hope you have plenty of natural light. Think of the colour of your light. (Yes, light has colour.) If you have yellow sunlight, think how well this goes with your furnishings. If you have stark white blinding light, you can go for darker fabrics and wood. Lucky you.

Try to go for complementary shades for most of your furnishings, adding touches of contrasting shades in very small splashes. For example, you can go for various shades of yellow for floor, walls, curtains and carpets, then add a few dashes of dark blue in pillows, cushions and throws, or a picture on the wall that's most dark blue. A touch of dark red will go nicely too, but only one or two, not more.

Sticking to the rule of thumb of three colours is a good rule for beginners. Knowing when to go crazy with colour is a tricky thing.

It's not hard to colour coordinate a room

Pic courtesy Elle.
Pic courtesy Elle.

Must I stick to Rules of Thumb?

No - what feels like a rule to me might seem like an old-fashioned thematic to you. By all means go for what feels right. Still, there are a few tried and tested factors that will make a room attractive... and not just to you. Visitors are sure to make nice comments when you do certain things.

Like what? Like keeping clutter down, and placing splashes and doses of your complementary colour in regular places, to balance the eye.

How? Let's take this example - a lounge, where the owner has stripped everything back and gone for a very pale green (hardly there) for the walls, a mint green for the carpet or rug, and an olive green for the couch cover, which he bought rather inexpensively online from a stretch couch cover firm. He retained his cream curtains, cream cushions and pillows, and cream throws. He needed a third colour, so went for a very dark navy blue. What could he find to inject inexpensive splashes of this blue? He found various things such as a platter for the wood coffee table, a cover for his old ottoman, a mostly dark blue painting over the fireplace and a bunch of dried pussy-willows which he dyed navy blue and stuck in a cream vase.

This example shows how three basic colours: green, cream and dark blue, will go very well together to create a pared-back interior and refresh it. The magic is that the dark blue items can all be taken away and replaced rather quickly with dark red or even orange, to ring the changes.


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      Harley 4 years ago

      Colors that are next to each other on the colorwheel are called Analogous :)

    • profile image

      Harley 4 years ago

      Complimentary colors are colors opposite to eachother on a colorwheel.