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Choose Paint Colors and Schemes

When you’re decorating your home, choosing the right paint colors is the most important decision you’ll make. As fun as choosing colors can be, this part of the planning can be overwhelming. Thousands of combinations are possible, but by having a basic understanding of color you can create a scheme you love.

Room scene

Basic Color Terms

Room scene.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel identifies color families and how they relate to each other.


Primary Colors

All colors, with the exception of white, come from primary colors. Blue, yellow and red are the primary colors; combinations of these three colors produce secondary colors.

 

Secondary Colors

Mix equal amounts of two primary colors to create secondary colors. The results are violet (red and blue), green (blue and yellow) and orange (red and yellow).


Tertiary Colors

Mix one primary color with larger amounts of another primary color to create tertiary colors. For example, mix one part blue with two parts red to make red-violet.


Other Color Terms

  • The hue of a color is the basic color. For example, blue is the hue in light blue and dark blue.
  • Tone is the result of adding white and black (gray) to a color. Tone makes colors more pleasing to look at instead of pure pigment.
  • The value of a color describes the amount of white or black in the color. The value ranges from light to dark on a gray scale.
  • The saturation of a color refers to its strength or weakness in different light. Think about it in terms of bright or dull.

The Effects of Color

Adjacent rooms

Different colors affect our moods in different ways. Let’s say that you've decided emerald green, your favorite color, is going to be the main focus in your room. Before you buy gallons of emerald green paint, consider the effect it will have on the appearance and mood of the room.


Warm and Cozy Colors

Warm and cozy colors, located on the right side of the color wheel, convey a message of togetherness and strength:

  • Red represents energy, power and passion. It’s also been found to stimulate appetite so it’s a common choice for dining rooms.
  • Less aggressive than red, orange creates warmth and a sense of joy. However, it’s very hard to tone down and is often used as an accent color only.
  • Yellow has different effects depending on how much is used. Generally, yellow is a happy and uplifting color but when it’s overused it can become distracting and overwhelming.

 

Cool and Soothing Colors

Cool and soothing colors, located on the left side of the color wheel, provide a sense of calm and feelings of trust:

  • Green conveys a sense of renewal and growth. It’s also one of nature's most prominent colors and blends easily with any room.
  • Blue is generally a peaceful color. Light blue can make a room appear bright and refreshing, while a deep blue creates a sense of dignity.
  • Violet combines the calm of blue and the energy of red. Violet is often used in bedrooms to communicate an air of serenity.


Pastel Colors

Pastel colors are the result of adding a large amount of white to colors. They create a comfortable, airy feeling in any room.


Neutral Colors

Neutral colors include shades of white, beige, taupe, gray and black. Neutral colors are the easiest colors to use for one obvious reason: they blend with most surroundings. Neutral colors can also be stylish and dramatic. For instance, black and white are neutral colors that create a wonderful palette for additional colors.

Good to Know

If you choose neutral colors, use bold-colored accessories to accent the walls and add interest. When you’re ready for a change, simply change out the accessories.

Various Color Schemes

A color scheme is any set of colors that work together to create a visually appealing layout. The following are suggested combinations, but the possible combinations are limitless.


Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are located opposite each other on the color wheel. Each color brings out the richness in the other. When using complementary colors, one color should be subtle and the other color should be more dominant. For example, an intense, dark violet should be paired with a medium to light yellow.


Split Complementary Colors

Split complementary colors offer a wild and daring color palette. Select a main color. Next, find the complementary color and select colors from each side of the complementary color. These colors are excellent when layering a faux finish.


Related Colors

Related colors are located next to each other on the color wheel. These colors produce a less contrasting effect than complementary colors. For example, a dark blue-green combined with a light blue can give the feeling of floating in a blue lagoon.


Monochromatic Colors

Monochromatic colors are colors with the same hue but different tones, values and saturation. For example, a paint swatch card has several different values of one color. Using two or more monochromatic colors creates a stylish and pleasant look.

 

Planning Your Color Scheme

Purple bedroom.
  • Keep adjacent rooms in mind. Plan your color scheme in relation to how much of each room is visible from another room.
  • Pick the colors you like best; four core colors and two patterns should be the maximum. Use as many accent colors as you like and select a dominant color from the core colors to start. Choose a color scheme, either monochromatic, related or complementary.
  • If you decide to start with a favorite pattern, match your colors to the pattern. Colors that are dramatically different in the pattern can be accented with light or dark tones of the same color. You can also use one main color with several tones to create an energetic color scheme.
  • The wall color is usually the most dominant in the room, so if you're choosing paint for a wall make sure you know what it’ll look like. Paint a 2-foot-by-2-foot color test and allow it to dry. Paint usually dries one to two shades darker. Imagine that 2-foot-by-2-foot section expanded throughout the entire room. A light peach, for example, can make a room very pink in a particular light.
  • Decide where you're going to use the colors in the room. The general rule when decorating is to use three different values: light, medium and dark. Walls and floors are usually done in light colors, depending on the effect you're trying to create. Floors should be a little darker than walls to keep them from floating. Window coverings and large pieces of furniture are often done in a medium value to pull the light walls and floors together. The darkest of the colors should be used as an accent color scattered throughout the room.


Using Color to Create an Illusion

Yellow room.

Use colors to create an illusion in any room by contrasting different values; light and dark, warm and cool:

  • You can visually lower a ceiling by painting it darker than the walls.
  • Make the ceiling seem higher by painting it a lighter color than the walls.
  • Use dark neutrals or warm colors on walls and floors to visually scale down a large room.
  • Make a small room look larger by using light, pale colors on the walls, floors and ceilings.

Using Accent Colors to Change a Room

Use accent colors, whether bold or subtle, to pull a room together:

  • Use one wall in a room as a focal point. Paint the wall a complementary color or a darker shade of the main color in the room.
  • Add white to a room to make patterns and colors appear lighter. If you add a dark color, such as black, the darkness of the pattern comes out.
  • Paint your walls in two bold colors to tie in with a pattern on a rug or chair.

Color Chips, Samples and Swatches

Paint samples.
  1. When you’re choosing color chips, branch out and consider similar shades in all directions. Keep in mind any furniture or artwork that's already in the room.
  2. After you gather all the samples you like, narrow it down to three or four hues for your specific project. View the samples in the same type of light as your home. Compare the colors by holding them next to a sheet of white paper.
  3. Purchase small paint samples so you don’t spend additional money on paint you don’t like.
  4. Paint a one-foot square poster board for each color scheme.
  5. Live with the various colors for a week. Look at them during different times of day and in different lighting. Move the poster board swatches around the room — high, low, in corners and near windows.
  6. Still don’t think you’ve found the right colors? Seek out color cues in items you already own — a favorite piece of art or furniture. Pull colors and color combinations from what you know and love. Bring a pillow, piece of fabric — even a favorite pair of shoes — to Lowe's and an associate will custom blend a paint shade to match.
Good to Know

Remember that to the human eye most colors on paint chips look a shade darker when applied to real rooms. If you're worried that a color is too dark or bold, consider one shade lighter.