When you think of paint palettes, you most likely picture a painter with a splotchy board in his hand, but you don’t have to be the next Picasso to create a beautiful work of art in your very own home. By understanding how colors complement one another and influence moods, your next interior painting project will go a lot more smoothly.

The Color Wheel

Color Wheel

The color wheel comprises three different kinds of colors—primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary colors are red, yellow, and blue; these are the purest colors. Secondary colors are formed by combining two primary colors, which results in orange, green, and violet. Finally, tertiary colors are the combination of a primary color and a secondary color, such as blue-green, red-violet, or yellow-orange.

Just because a color is your favorite in everyday life doesn’t necessarily mean it will work well in a room. Consider the mood you want the room to have: cool-toned colors—blues, greens, and violets—will make a room seem more calm and open, while warmer colors—reds, yellows, and oranges—will make a room seem more intimate and cozy. Additionally, the darker a color is, the more dramatic and intense an effect it will have on the room. Think about how you want to feel in a given room, and choose a color that will enhance that feeling.

Color Schemes

If you’ve picked out one color you like but are unsure how to coordinate it with other colors, there are many different color schemes based on the color wheel that you can utilize to help you.


Complementary. Complementary color schemes involve colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel, such as blue and orange, red and green, or violet and yellow. Because the colors are opposites, they create a striking, yet pleasing, contrast.


Analogous. This color scheme coordinates colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. While there will still be some opportunity for contrast depending on how dark or light the shades you choose are, this scheme will be much less drastic than that of a complementary pairing.


Triad. For people who love lots of color, triad is the way to go. Triad schemes combine three equidistant colors on the color wheel, such as red, blue, and yellow or violet, orange, and green. Working with three different colors can give you a lot of options when it comes to accents and furniture.


Monochromatic. Monochromatic color schemes focus on just one color, using various shades of it to create contrast. This is best for people who like a more subtle look or who have chosen one color but cannot find a different color to contrast with it.


If you’re finding it difficult to commit to a bold color choice or your room already has different colored elements that are hard to coordinate with one paint color, you’re not out of luck. While neutrals like white, gray, beige, and black are not on the color wheel, they are still perfectly acceptable paint choices. In fact, using neutrals as a backdrop can make any other accent colors in the room really pop. Choosing different paint textures and finishes can also keep neutrals from looking too plain or standard.

Test Before You Decide

The way a paint chip looks in the store is not representative of how it will look on your wall. Before deciding on a color, get a sample to paint a small area, or pin a large paint swatch to the wall. View the sample during both night and day and under artificial and natural light to make sure that you are completely happy with how it will look under all types of lighting.

Take into account how different colors transition into one another as well. Stand in different parts of your home where more than one wall can be seen to think about how the colors will interact with one another. For instance, if you are standing in a foyer that overlooks a hallway, dining room, and living room, it may not look aesthetically pleasing to have every single one of those areas painted a different intense color from random parts of the color wheel. Conversely, it may be too overwhelming or boring to have them all painted the same color.

Because interior paint schemes can have such a profound effect on the mood of a room and how your home is perceived, it is important to put a lot of thought into the decisions you make. While you can always paint over a color you don’t end up liking, painting can become costly if you have to constantly change colors. By putting a proper amount of thought into the process up front, you can save yourself time, money, and stress while ending up with a beautifully painted home.

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Sources: Benjamin Moore; HGTV; This Old House.