Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's complimentary, my dear

My living room has the following: creamy yellow walls, hardwood floors with golden tones, a burlap wall, neutral brown and green couches, dark brown furniture, a neutral green and cream rug, bold orange curtains, and throw pillows and art with orange and greens.

So, what the heck was I thinking when I decided to paint my end tables sky blue? Well, a couple simple things and I'll break it down for you.

Enter, the Color Wheel:

I'm sure you know the basics, primary colors, secondary, tertiary (which are made by combining primary and secondary, like red-orange). One major reason I knew blue would work is that blue is the compliment of orange. That means it is directly across the color wheel from another color. Compliments provide both impact and stability. There is such a strong correlation between complimentary colors and that is why the colors provide stability. It's like having legs on a ladder. They balance and provide the structure for the rungs. But compliments also allow a color to pop. When I put the colors together, it creates bigger impact. Compliments are: 
red and green;

blue and orange;

and purple and yellow.

There are other color schemes that can give you confidence in your color choices, such as analogous. This just means that you use three colors that are touching each other on the color wheel. For example, you start with green and add yellow-green and blue-green.

I just went one step to either side of green on the wheel. (I could go all the way to blue and yellow, but those are big leaps for the eye and it's not as comfortable. More on that in a bit.) 

A split complimentary really is what it sounds like. Let's start with green again. The compliment is red, but in a split complimentary I would then pick the colors on either side of red so red-violet and red-orange (or go all the way to purple and orange). 

Mapped on the wheel, this scheme makes a "Y". 

Let's think about my room again. My main colors are yellow and orange. 

(I do have some brown and green but both are reading as neutral in this space, so for the purpose of color schemes we'll ignore the neutrals.) Yellow and orange are both what we call warm colors. Red is also a warm color. If you think about how those colors feel, warm should just make sense. Blue, green, and purple are considered cool colors. Red is the warmest and blue is the coolest.

When we are in a warm room with no cools the warm can feel kind of intense and sometimes even agitating. And conversely a room with only cool colors can feel cold or even stark. So, a room can be mostly warm or cool, but should have a balance with a color from the other family. You may notice that the color schemes from above naturally do that. My bold orange curtains are definitely warm, the complimentary color, blue, is cool. So a little bit of blue is like blowing on a hot coffee. I don't want to make my coffee too cold, I just want to be able to take it. Make sense?

Okay, but why light blue? Why didn't I just choose a blue that was as dark as my orange, like this?

Those colors do go together. You will find them in sports uniforms in particular. It might be fun in a room like a kid's room where you are trying for more intensity. But most of us don't want to live with color that intense all the time. Our eye can get confused about what to look at and then it won't rest. (This happens without you noticing. You'll just notice the fatigue eventually and you many never know why. So, if you give a kid a room with all intense colors, it's fine for play, but don't expect them to do their homework in there.)

So, the solution is to vary the intensity of colors. Having one lighter than another or one brighter and one more muted. Your eye can then take it all in, skip from one thing to the next and settle. (By the way, having a room with only one color can cause eye confusion as well. You can solve it by having variations on a color.)

So, when I decided the next layer of my room needed to help cool off all the warm, I decided to compliment the boldest color in the room, orange. But I did not want to be as intense as the orange or they would be competing for attention, so I went with sky blue. The color combo allows each piece to shine without overpowering the other.

Keep in mind that for every color "rule" some one has successfully broken it. So this is not hard and fast, but if you feel like something is not working in your room, you can go back to these basics and find the fix to make your room a place you want to be. So here are my three colors one more time:

Oh, and just because we are talking colors, I see a lot of people going with all white schemes. If you are going for comfy and cozy, make sure that your white choices are warm, usually by having a white with yellow added, though it could be orange or red. If you want airy and breezy, then pick whites with cool colors added, usually blue but also green and purple. But somewhere have a balance. Maybe by having warm wood tones in a cool white room. Or by adding a blue art piece in a warm white room. All white rooms are harder to pull off than they look. Successful ones are not "just white." 

Linking to:
Tatertots and Jello


  1. Thanks for sharing this great info. I am chosing colors now so it is a great reminder!


  2. An excellent arcticle to read about!
    Great work!


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