Tips for Adding Color to Your Room

Choose a Color Scheme

The bright pink, magenta and yellow-green color theme of this modern living room adds a touch of drama. Design by Grace Sielaff.

Trying to decide on the right color scheme for a room or an entire home can be difficult. You can simplify the process by using your color wheel and narrowing down your choices to two color schemes. There are more, of course, but these are the most effective and provide a great place to start.

Don't Forget the Black

Tall bookcases in a sleek black display a unique collection of pottery in this transitional bedroom. Design by Kenneth Brown.

This is an old adage in interior design. By adding a black element — say, a black box, lampshade, picture frame or other accent — you clarify and enhance all the other colors in the space. Try it — it really works!

Follow Nature's Lead

Need color inspiration? Look outside. Design by Gina Fitzsimmons.

Most people err, not with color, but with value. Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a color. Often you'll see a space that is not balanced in terms of value: one side of the room is too dark (therefore, "weighty" or "heavy") versus the other side, which is light in value and tends to "float away" visually. Try designing your interior space by replicating the color values of the outside world. After all, interior designs are basically our attempt to imitate Mother Nature, who is a great colorist!

Choose darker values of color for the floor (ground), medium values of color for the walls (trees and mountains) and light values of color for the ceiling (sky). If you divide your colors by value from dark to light as you decorate "vertically" in the room, you’ll get an interior design that looks good every time.

Pull From the Pattern

Pick your color scheme from the largest pattern featured in the room. This bedroom uses the colors of the duvet throughout the space. Design by Erinn Valencich.

To help you choose a color scheme, look at the colors in the largest pattern in the room first, be it drapery, upholstery fabric, an Oriental rug or a large artwork. Then choose colors based upon that piece. This is much easier (and less expensive) than painting the walls a particular color and finding that absolutely nothing else on the planet, let alone in your room, will match it. In other words, if your favorite piece of art is red, black and gray, you can choose the gray to be 60 percent, the red to be 30 percent and the black to be the 10 percent — or the red could be the dominant color with the gray and black taking secondary and accent roles.

Flow the Color

Create flow throughout your home with color. Design by Troy Beasley.

In order to create a flow of colors from one room to another, simply choose a color you're using in one room and restate it in a different way in an adjoining space. For example, if your sofa is green, use the same green for seat fabric in the dining room.Use the color in larger or smaller degrees as you move about the home. That same green from the living room sofa mentioned above can also translate as, say, lampshades in the family room or place mats in the kitchen.

Consider Contrast

A high-contrast space appears clearer and more highly defined than a space that incorporates low contrasts. Design by Erinn Valencich.

A high-contrast space (a room that uses light and dark values of colors in combination — for example, deep burgundy with light gold) appears clearer and more highly defined than a space that incorporates low contrasts (say, saffron yellow with sage green). So think about using high contrast to enhance the formality of a room and low contrast to introduce soothing qualities.

Get Emotional With Color

This living room shows an updated casual takeoff of a shabby chic style. Softs blues and whites create a romantic atmosphere. Design by Suzanne Schmidt.

We all associate colors with what they represent. In our minds, red may represent fire, blue the air and sea, yellow the sun, and brown and green often represent trees. These are generally considered to be emotional responses to color as opposed to intellectual responses. Use these emotional associations to their greatest effect in a space by deciding on what emotional impact you want the room to have. Would you like it to be lively? Choose reds and yellows. If you prefer subdued, try blues and browns.

Think About Local and Seasonal Color

Seasonal color variations are another way to choose colors. Spring colors, like pink and light green, add a fresh, uplifting look to a room. Design by Sue Adams.

By studying color schemes from the past — Victorian, arts and crafts or, perhaps, 18th century, for example — you can build a room's colors quite simply by incorporating these already-accepted color schemes. By using colors from your locale, be it the Southwest or New England, you easily can choose colors that reflect the area in which you live.

Live With Color Before You Buy

You can always try before you buy. Get samples and leave them in a room for a few days so you can see them in different lights. Design by Douglas Dolezal.

When shopping for upholstery fabric, furniture finishes, window treatments or rugs, always ask for a sample to take home to see in the space you are decorating. Then leave it in the room for a couple of days and see what the color looks like in the different kinds of lighting used in that space. Pay careful attention to how the samples look during the times when the room will be used the most.

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