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Top Tips for Choosing Interior Colors

Making Confident Choices When Decorating With Color

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Top Tips for Choosing Interior Colors
Photo © Michael Grimm/Getty

A room without color is like a person without clothes. Color is absolutely necessary to make a room appear presentable and finished, yet for a beginning decorator, it is one of the most feared additions in any space.

Choosing interior colors doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary. In fact, choosing colors for your home can be downright fun. Consider these tips when you are choosing interior colors.

  • A great place for color inspiration is your closet. We are naturally drawn toward colors in clothing that enhance our coloring and personality, and these colors in your room will act the same way. After all, your home should reflect you!

  • Feeling overwhelmed by the number of color choices? Start with the golden rule of three. To begin with, choose three colors and build your palette around these, then repeat these colors around the room or space.

  • Use the ratio of 60:30:10, where 60-percent of the color in your space is the dominant or main color, 30-percent is a secondary color and 10-percent is an accent color. For example, the walls could be painted the dominant color, the upholstery could be in the secondary color and accessories such as vases or throw pillows will be in your accent (or 10-percent) color.

  • If your space starts to feel too matchy-matchy with only three colors, try using the same colors but in a different pattern, texture, sheen or shade – as in one or two shades darker or lighter than those in your existing palette.

  • If you are trying to add color to a room that is partially furnished, pull your dominant color from a piece of furniture or decor that is already there. That way, even as you add new pieces, everything will blend and flow together.

  • Mix a balance of warm and cool colors. For example, combine one rich warm color with two cool, light colors; or balance a bold, cool color, like cobalt blue, with a sunny yellow (warm) and soft lime green (warm).

  • For a sure match, choose colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel, aka “complimentary colors.” (Hint: There’s a reason they are called this … it’s because they naturally flatter each other!)

  • Remember that soft, muted colors and simple patterns reduce visual weight and feel lighter in a space, thus they tend to work well in smaller rooms. Bold patterns and saturated colors will add visual weight and can help to ground larger rooms.

  • Don’t forget that white and black act as colors in a space. So do textures, patterns and wood tones. All of these “colors” count toward your color choices and should be considered when planning your decor.

  • Ground your space with the darker colors in your palette. Just like in nature, our rooms usually look best with the darkest colors lower in the space and lighter colors up high. Floors should be a little darker than walls to keep them from “floating.” Light walls and a dark ceiling can make a space feel like the sky is falling!

  • Go with your personality and style. For example, if you are introverted and feel overwhelmed in rooms with a lot of pattern and color, avoid a lot of bright colors and large prints. If your personality is as big as the moon, you may quickly get bored with a color palette full of neutrals.

  • Make yourself a swatch booklet and keep it with you whenever you go out. It is the rare person whose eye can retain a perfect color match longer than a few seconds. Don’t trust yourself; trust your swatches.
Decorator’s Tip: If you are more experienced with choosing colors or you naturally have a “good eye” for color, then by all means, feel free to break the rules. After all, color is about what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own home, not about what a decorator says should be done. Just remember that you want your guests to feel comfortable and happy, too, so maybe that black and neon yellow fabric should be used somewhere besides the dining room... just sayin.’

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