Picking a colour scheme for your space can be a real challenge. A lot of homeowners know how they want their space to feel, but don’t know what colours will create the atmosphere that they are looking for in their home.

Turning to google to search for colour palettes is really helpful, but often the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming. With all the options, how do you pick the colour scheme that will work for you?

We have nailed down a handy list of tips and tricks that interior designers use for picking colour schemes. These design tips will help you to easily make the right colour choices for your space, like a pro.

As we go through the tips together, I am going to create my own palette, so that you have a clear-cut example to guide you through the process.

Design colour tip #1: There are no rules

 

One of the main reasons that people battle to decide what colours to incorporate in their space is because they worry about getting it right.

Let’s start right off by clearing up the fallacy that there is a right way to do colour, and a wrong way. Any colours can work together if they are used carefully and thoughfully.

The important thing is not about choosing the right colours, but using the colours you choose in a way that works. For instance, red and brown don’t work together, right? Wrong.

Take a look at this trendy red and brown bedroom:

Modern bedroom in a brown, red and white colour palette.

Architectural Digest has a great list of other seemingly “crazy” colour combinations that work well.

It’s true that some colours naturally work better with others, but you can make any colours in your home work. So pick the ones you like and fill in the rest with the tips we will give you.

    Design colour tip #2: Warm, cool, or somewhere in between

     

    The starting point in creating your home’s new colour palette is to decide how warm or cool you want your space to feel. Ask yourself, do I want my space to feel warm and cosy? Or cool, calm and tranquil? Or, a combination of the two?

    If you want to create a warm atmosphere, then you need to have mainly warm colours in your palette; and that means starting with these sections of the colour wheels:

    Neutral and colour wheels showing warm colour tones.

    A cool atmosphere will be achieved by starting with these sections of the colour wheel:

    Neutral and colour wheels showing cool tones.

    If you are trying to create a balanced space of warm and cool tones, then you can look at both the warm and cool sections of both colour wheels.

    You may have noticed that both purple and green are marked for both the warm and cool tones. Depending on the shade of green or purple, it can be perceived as either warm or cool.

    When determining the warmth or coolness of a palette, you are looking at the overall impression of the palette as a whole. It is important to understand the effects of using warm and cool colours. Ask yourself how you feel when you look at the entire scheme – warm, cool or balanced. 

    I want to create a cool colour palette so I know I should stick to the cool side of both the neutral and colour wheels.

    Design colour tip #3: Pick neutrals and colours you actually like

     

    Many people struggle to put together a colour palette because they focus on creating a palette that works, rather than opting for colours they actually like. So, before you worry about the exact shades in your space, make sure that whatever neutrals or colours you use, are actually colours that you appreciate and want in your space.

    As I mentioned, practically any colours can work together. What is important is how you actually use the colours in your scheme.

    It seems obvious, but eliminating colours that you don’t like makes it a whole lot easier to determine what colours you do actually like.

    My favourite colour is blue, so to start off I am going to have blue in my colour scheme.

    Rough colour palette consisting of blue

    Design colour tip #4: Decide on a colourful, neutral or balanced space

     

    Now that you know which side of the colour wheel to focus on, the next step is to decide whether your style is rather colourful, neutral or more balanced. In other words, you need to determine your colour personality.

    Look at the images below and decide which one you prefer:

    Three different dining rooms, ranging from neutral to very colourful.

    If you want a colourful space, then you will be looking more to the colour wheel than the neutral wheel.

    Source your colours mainly from the neutral wheel if you want a neutral space.

    Should you want to achieve a more balanced feel, then you can pick colours from both the neutral and colour wheels.

    I want a balanced space, so I will pick both colours and neutral in my scheme.

    Design colour tip #5: Know how many colourful colours to pick

     

    Your total colour palette (consisting of neutrals and colours) should consist of no more than five colours.

    The number of colourful colours in your palette depends entirely on your tastes – but a safe limit is three.

    Referring to the below graphic, you see that for a colourful space, you can select two or three colours from the colour wheel. More than that may well be too much colour.

    If you prefer a more balanced space, then pick one or two colours from the colour wheel.

    Should you prefer a completely neutral space, then either don’t pick any colourful colours, or select a maximum of one. It’s as simple as that.

    Graphic comparison of neutral, balanced and colourful colour palettes

    For example, I want my color palette to be balanced (neutral with some colour), so I am going to pick a total of two different colours from the colour wheel for my palette.

    Since I am creating a cool colour palette, I will select my second colour from the cool side of the colour wheel. Looking at the colour wheel, I see that the remaining cool colours are purple and green. I dislike purple, so that leaves green if I want to incorporate a second cool colour into my scheme.

    Sample colour scheme consisting of blue and green.

    Design colour tip #6: Every space needs neutrals

     

    Neutrals play a critical role in every design. Every colour palette needs to have neutral colours, to stop the space from becoming overwhelming.

    You wouldn’t, for example, see a pink bedroom with all the furniture, fixtures and accessories in pink– that would just be visually unappealing and overwhelming. The image below shows a vivid pink child’s bedroom that is broken with cream, white, black and soft caramel brown.

     

    Girl's bedroom in a bright pink and white colour palette.

    Neutrals include white, grey, black, brown and all variations of these. Wood is considered neutral as well.

    Depending on how colourful your design tastes, you can pick anything from one to three neutrals.

    I want a fairly balanced scheme, so I will pick two neutrals to go along with my two chosen colours (blue and green). I opt for white and grey, which leaves my draft colour palette looking like this:

    Sample colour scheme consisting of blue, green, white and grey.

    Design colour tip #7: Always have a grounding colour

     

    Every good colour scheme has a grounding colour that anchors all the other colours. This does not necessarily mean black or grey, but a colour that is rich and deep, a colour that stands out as the darkest or most intense.

    For instance, not all of the following colour palette have dark colours, but they all have at least one grounding colour, which I have marked:

    Three sample colour palettes showing the most grounded colours.

    In my sample palette, grey grounds all the colours.

    Design colour tip #8: Find the right shade

     

    Yellow is yellow is yellow, right? Nope. Even more important than finding the right colour, is finding the right hue, shade or tone of that colour. Is it bright or dull? Intense or muted? Dark or light? Colour variations are almost endless.

    Feel free to swop any of your chosen colours out for different shades of the same colours that work better with the other colours overall. Have fun and try out different combinations to guage the overall effect.

    For instance, the below colour palettes are identical, save for the final colour, yellow. The top image contains a bright yellow, which is out of place on the overall palette. Simply adjusting the yellow to a more muted shade suddenly makes the colour scheme work:

    Two sample colour palettes showing how a different hue of yellow affects the schemes.

    Design colour tip #9: Ensure your colours tie together

     

    Looking at your colour palette overall, ask yourself whether the colours tie or flow together.

    If you have found the same thing with your own colour palette, then this can be easily solved by adding what I call a bridging colour – a colour that joins the pieces that don’t quite match.It can be a completely new colour or neutral.

    Another way to add a bridging colour to make your palette more appealing is to add in another shade of one of your colours. For example, if you chose a red, black and grey palette, it might look something like this:

    Red, black and white colour palette in simple and expanded form, with different shades.

    Looking at my colour palette, I can sense that something is missing. It feels a little too cold and clinical, and the variation from grey to blue, then green is harsh. I am going to add another warm neutral to my palette – a soft seasand brown. This completes the colour palette that I created from scratch:

    Sample colour scheme created by Home in a Box, consisting of blue, green, grey, white and brown.

    Design colour tip #10: Layer monohromatic palettes with shades and tones

     

    A monochromatic colour palette refers to any palette that consists primarily of one colour or neutral. For example, an all-white living room is monochromatic because it only has white, and an all-brown bedroom is similarly monochromatic. Literally translated, the word “monochromatic” means “one colour”.

    If you want a monochromatic colour palette, then remember that monochromatic spaces work when the only colour in the palette is used in varying shades.

    Make sure that your palette consists of variations of the same colour. Almost any variation of that same colour will work in your space.

    For instance, look at how the colour brown is transformed when various shades come together to create a monochromatic colour palette that is the furtherest thing from boring:

     

    Monochromatic living room in a neutral brown colour palette.

    A monochromatic space does not have to be a neutral space. Bright colours work well in monochromatic palettes, so feel free to be adventurous if you have a colourful design style.

    Conclusion

     

    Picking a colour palette that works well is not a science, and there is no wrong way to create your perfect scheme.

    Start building your scheme with colours that you like. From there, fill in the palette by deciding whether you want your space to feel warm, cool or balanced; and how colourful you dare to go.

    Always incorporate neutrals into your scheme and have at least one grounding colour.  Then tweak your colour scheme by playing with different hues and shades. If you follow these design tips, you will have a palette that you like, and that will make your space look fabulous.

    In my next blog, I will explain in detail how to actually apply your chosen colour scheme when decorating your space, so that you know how much and where to use your chosen colour palette.

    If you are struggling to put together a beautiful colour scheme for your home, or need help professionally re-designing your space, get in touch with us.

    Founder and interior designer of Home in a Box, Taryn De Nysschen

    Written by Taryn De Nysschen

    Taryn practised as an attorney for 12 years before pursuing her love for interior design. She is the lead interior designer and founder of Home in a Box.

    Home in a Box specialises in virtual and comprehensive interior design concepts in South Africa, and is passionate about re-decorating homes conveniently, simply and affordably.