5 Principal Rules of Color Combination

Choosing the right color combinations for your home can be enjoyable - instead of difficult - when you learn the principal rules for combining colors. By using just 5 simple rules, you can combine colors with confidence.

Why Color Theory Works for Creating Color Combinations

It might seem easy to just combine colors that you love but using color theory to learn which colors work together can save you from a costly mistake. Every color has its basis on the color wheel, so that's the best place to start when you're creating a color scheme.

The color wheel is centered with the primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, as the basis of all secondary and tertiary colors.

  • Primary Colors:Red, Yellow, Blue (Royal Blue, Navy Blue). They cannot be created using any other colors or combinations.

  • Secondary Colors: Include green (Olive Green), orange, and purple. Secondary colors are created by mixing primary colors.

  • Tertiary Colors: Created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color. Look for names like 'blue-green' or 'red-orange' to indicate that a color is tertiary.

Theory of Color Wheel
Theory of Color Wheel

What Are the 5 Principal Rules of Color Combinations?

The 60-30-10 Rule

Interior designers created this rule as a way to easily achieve color harmony in any room. Using a 3-color combination, the main color is used at 60% in a room, add a second color at 30%, and a small accent color of 10%. The 60-30-10 is an easy way to get a professional look in your home.

In practice, a 60-30-10 living room color scheme might feature walls and flooring in a neutral beige at 60%; sofa and accent chair in blue at 30%; and accent pillows and artwork in yellow at 10%. For a 60-30-10 bedroom, the walls and flooring could be gray at 60%; the bedding and draperies in white at 30%; and throw pillows and accessories in pink at 10%.

Read more: The 60-30-10 Color Rule: Applying It & Breaking It

Green and Grey Living Room
Green and Grey Living Room

Complementary Color Schemes

With the help of a color wheel, you can easily identify a complementary color combination by looking at colors that are directly opposite of each other. Being opposite on the color wheel means that these colors create a big contrast used together.

Complementary color combinations can create drama or excitement in a room, like red with green or blue with orange. A complementary color scheme can be overstimulating if the colors are too saturated. Contrasting colors should enhance, not compete, with each other.

Blue and Orange Furniture
Blue and Orange Furniture

Analogous Schemes

An analogous color combination is any 3 adjacent colors on a 12-color wheel. The analogous color combination is ideal for the 60-30-10 rule. This color scheme is colorful and harmonious, and can reflect colors found together in nature, like green, blue-green, and blue, or orange, yellow, and yellow-green.

Because the analogous colors are adjacent to each other, varying the saturation of your analogous color scheme is important to ensure enough contrast to keep it interesting. Keep your combination crisp with pops of brighter color within the analogous scheme.

Green and Blue Living Room
Green and Blue Living Room

Triadic Schemes

This energizing color combination is created by choosing three hues on a 12-color wheel, with three spaces between them. A triadic scheme can be intense, so most designers choose at least two muted colors to soften the room. Red, blue, and yellow is the most classic triadic color combination, with the three primary colors.

A triadic color scheme can also be created with tertiary or secondary colors, like purple green, and orange. The secret to creating a livable triadic color scheme is choosing the right intensity of the three colors, as muted or pastel hues. However, bold color combinations can be tremendously stylish if used tastefully.

Red and Blue Stylish Dining Room
Red and Blue Stylish Dining Room

Color Saturation

This is an informal rule that can help you create both eye-catching and livable color combinations. The saturation of a color is defined simply as the intensity and purity of a color. Depending on how you mix colors in terms of their intensity you will achieve different moods and effects.

When you're designing your color scheme, the combination that will be the most relaxing has colors of similar intensity. Neon pink might look out of place with pastel colors if you don't know how to use it right. The high saturation of the bright colors and the muted nature of the pastels tend to be an unsettling mix that can make a room feel uncomfortable. For a soothing arrangement, choose muted colors and pair them with neutral colors, in combinations like gray with pink, or beige with pastel yellow.

This does not mean, however, that soft hues can never go with more intense color shades. If you want to add punch to an otherwise dull room, a vibrant accent against a muted backdrop will do the trick. The only thing that should perhaps be avoided is using large surfaces of different color intensities. The outcome may at best be tiring to the eye, but most of the time will simply feel clashy.

Pink and Beige Room Ideas
Pink and Beige Room Ideas

Colors That Go With…

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