How to Choose Paint Color Schemes

Choose color like a pro with these tips on how to create monochromatic, complementary and neutral color schemes.
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Related To:

  1. Color
  2. Decorating
  3. Paints

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

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Photo By: Jay Simon Photography ©Denver Parade of Homes

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

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Find Your Inspiration

Everyone needs a place to start. Choose a feature piece in your room, something that you love, as inspiration for the colors of the room. It could be a poster, piece of art, souvenir or curtains. Choose something with variety in color, tone or shape, then choose your favorite color in the piece.

How to Create a Monochromatic Color Scheme

The most striking monochromatic schemes come to life when one or two accent colors break up the "sameness" of one or two base colors.

Step 1 Monochromatic Color Scheme: Choose a Focal Point

In the paint deck or color wheel, find a color that matches or is similar to the color of your feature piece.

Step 2 Monochromatic Color Scheme: Select Three Shades

Find one to three strips in the paint deck, all with similar colors. Choose a dark, medium and light version of your feature color.

Step 3 Monochromatic Color Scheme: What Goes Where

Decide which color will go on the walls. If the feature piece is lighter, consider the medium or dark color for the wall. If the feature piece is darker, consider the medium to light color for the wall.

Step 4 Monochromatic Color Scheme: Determine Accent Color

Use the other colors as references to find accent pieces for the room. If you chose a medium color for the walls, then use dark side tables and foamy white throw pillows — or vice versa — to add depth and variety.

How to Create a Complementary Color Scheme

Complementary color schemes come to life with variations of one color dominating the room and the opposite color used as an accent.

Step 1 Complementary Color Scheme: Match Opposites

In the paint deck, find a color that matches, or is similar to, the color you’ve chosen in your feature piece. Now, checking your color wheel, notice the color that’s directly opposite on the color wheel.

Step 2 Complementary Color Scheme: Then Pick Similar

Find one to three strips in the paint deck, each of those colors with similar hues.

Step 3 Complementary Color Scheme: What Goes Where

Decide which color will go on the walls. All complementary colors are made up of one cool and one warm color. Use the warm color on the walls for cheerful, inviting and active spaces. Use the cool color for more restful, cozy, calming rooms.

Step 4 Complementary Color Scheme: Determine What Dominates

Complementary color schemes come to life with variations of one color dominating the room and the opposite color used as an accent. For example, a dark-blue bedspread with light blue walls and an orange throw pillow will work, as will an orange bedspread with light blue walls and a dark blue throw pillow.

How to Create a Neutral Color Scheme

Neutral color schemes come to life with variations of the neutral tone (light, medium and dark). Variations in texture also add contrast and style to a neutral space. For example, bright walls with neutral furnishings and natural elements will look both rustic and elegant.

Step 1 Neutral Color Scheme: Find the Base Color

If there are any neutral tones in your piece such as gray, beige, tan, taupe, brown or black, find one to three strips in the paint deck that are similar to that tone.

Step 2 Neutral Color Scheme: Add Your Favorite

If there are no neutral colors in your feature piece, look at you favorite color. In the paint deck, look for neutral tones with a similar (or opposite) hint of that color. For example, if your favorite color is emerald green, look for pale grays with a hint of green or rich browns with a hint of red.

Step 3 Neutral Color Scheme: Stay in Hue

Find one to three strips in the paint deck, each with similar hues.

Step 4 Neutral Color Scheme: What Goes Where

Decide which color will go on the walls. Bright decor with neutral walls will be calming but cheerful. Soft colors in a room with neutral walls can be luxurious and comfortable.

Color Wheel

Use the color wheel as reference when choosing a palette. Think about how you want to feel in the room. Warm colors like orange and red represent energy; they are best suited for active rooms. Alternatively, cool colors like blues and greens have a soothing and calming effect.