Before we delve into how to apply colour in your home design, you need to have your selected colour palette at hand. If you have already chosen a colour scheme for your space – then hello, and welcome to the fun bit.

If you don’t have a colour scheme in mind for your space, then read my easy tips on how to design your own colour scheme like a pro. Alternatively, there are loads of free online colour generators, like Coolers,  that you can use to design your own colour palette.

Once you have a chosen colour scheme for your space, the next step is figuring out how to use the colours in your colour scheme.

Which of the colours in your chosen palette should be applied to the walls? The furniture? The décor? How much colour should you use, and where?

If you are asking yourself the same questions, then my expert colour tips will explain to you, step-by-step, how to use colour in your space.

The 60-30-10 colour rule

 

With your chosen colour scheme at hand, all you to do now is follow what designers call the 60-30-10 colour rule.  This rule will ensure that you professionally apply the colours in your space in the right way.

Proportion is everything when it comes to colour. You can get away with almost any colour combination if you just use colour in the right way.

But what exactly is the 60-30-10 colour rule?

The rule sets the proportions in which to use your chosen colours. Basically, it means that one colour or colour group should take up about 60% of your visual attention in the space. This is your dominant colour or group.

Another colour or colour group should take up about 30% of the visual attention in the room. This refers to your secondary colour or colour group.

Your last colour or colour group, which will be your accent colour, must occupy about 10% of the visual attention in your entire room.

This image shows the colour breakdown of a contemporary living room:

Living room and infographic showing the colour palette breakdown

To demonstrate how the 60-30-10 colour rule works, I have a sample colour scheme that I will use.

Using the below colour palette, I will create two very different rooms, just by playing with the 60-30-10 rule:

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

Step # 1 Divide your entire palette into three colours or colour groups

 

Many colour palettes consist of more than just three colours, and that is why I refer to colours and colour groups.

If you have more than three colours in your chosen palette, then your starting point is to separate your colours into three basic groups.

Keep very distinctive colours separate, and group similar colours together.

For example, in my chosen colour palette, I have blue, green, white, grey and caramel brown. Immediately I am struck that the white, grey and caramel brown are all neutrals, so I am going to group them together. Blue and green are very distinctive colours, so they will each have their own colour group. Voila – I have my three colour groups:

Sample colour palette created by interior designer, and divided into three colour groups.

If your colour palette only has three colours – then you have your groups already.

Step #2 Decide which colour/group will be your dominant colour

 

The next step in mastering the art of styling according to a colour palette is to decide which of your colour groups is going to be your dominant colour. Make sure that this is the colour that you want to see the most of! 60% of your space is going to be in this colour.

Keep in mind how colourful you want your space to be. If you have a very neutral taste, then you may want to pick your neutral colour or group as your dominant colour.

In my example, I am going to create two  different rooms with the same palette, one colourful and one that is more neutral.

In the first scenario (which I call my “colourful room”), I am going to pick blue as my dominant colour.

In my second scenario (my so-called “neutral room”), I am going to select my neutral group as my dominant group:

Step #3:  Select your 30% and 10% colours

 

The next step is to pick the colours/groups that are going to have a 30% and 10% share in your space.

If you have a colourful colour as your dominant colour, then you should not have another colourful colour/group as your secondary (30%) colour. Rather use it as an accent (10%) colour.

In my colourful room, since I have bold blue as my dominant colour, I am going to select my neutrals as my 30% group, and green at my accent colour.

Sample colour palette created by interior designer, showing blue as the dominant colour.

In my neutral room, since I have my neutral group as my dominant group, I select blue blue as my 30% colour. and green as my accent.

Sample colour palette by interior designer showing neutrals as dominant colour group.

Step #4: Pick your wall colour

Since your walls occupy most of the visual weight in your space, a good place to start applying colour is your walls.

You have two simple choices here. Either you are going to apply your dominant colour or your 30% colour. That’s it. Your accent colour can never go on your walls because then it would not be an accent colour.

In deciding whether to use your dominant or secondary group as your main wall colour, you may want to consider how colourful or neutral you want your space to feel. You can also consider the different colour meanings, because every colour inherently creates a certain feeling or atmosphere.

In my colourful living room, I want to be really bold so I am going to apply my dominant colour, blue, to the walls:

Project living room before Home in a Box re-design, showing empty living room with blue walls.

In my neutral room, I want the space to be more neutral so I am going to apply my 30% colour group (consisting of grey, white and caramel brown) to the walls. Obviously, I won’t use all three, I will just select one of the colours from this group to paint my walls, and I pick grey:

Interior design project showing empty living room with grey walls.

Step #5: Pick your main furniture colours

 

After the walls, your furniture takes up most of the visual weight in your space. This is where you should next turn your attention.

If you did not paint your walls with your dominant colour, then this must be where you use your dominant colour.

If you did paint your walls with your dominant colour, then you should apply your 30% colour to your furniture.

I don’t mean that every piece of furniture is going to be in the same colour – that would be either very boring or incredibly overwhelming. Just keep your main or biggest furniture pieces in the colour that you have chosen.

In my colourful living room, since I selected my dominant colour (blue) for my walls, I know that I must turn to my 30% colour group for my furniture colours. Therefore, I can use grey, white and caramel brown when selecting the large furniture pieces in my space:

Interior design project showing living room with blue walls and neutral furniture.

For my neutral living room, I again selected my dominant 60% colour for the walls, so I will turn to my 30% colour (blue) for my furniture:

Project living room by interior designer with grey walls and blue furniture.

Step #6: Select your rug and curtains

 

As a general rule, your rug and curtains should not just be in your accent colour, because that would inject too much of your accent colour into the space. It’s great if there is some of your accent colour in your rug and curtains, as long as there are other colours or neutrals there as well.

Here, you can start having some fun, and can select curtains and a rug which incorporate all of your colours, or just some of them, as long as they don’t just have your accent colour.

If you selected a bold colour for your walls, then turn to your 30% or 10% groups for the colours for your rug and curtains.

In my colourful living room, my walls are bold blue, so I will add a neutral rug to the space:

Living room in blue, with furniture, rug and curtains

For my neutral living room, I am free to pick any of my colours (except just my accent colour), so I will go with my 30% group consisting of blue.

Living room project showing grey walls, blue sofa and neutral rug.

Step #7: Inject your accent colour into décor

 

Now that you have the walls, furniture pieces, rug and curtains picked out, you can bring the room to life with your décor pieces. Select artwork, cushions, vases and other décor accessories and start incorporating your 10% accent colour.

Remember, we are aiming here for a 10% accent, so that means that some of your décor items will be in your accent colour, and some will be in your dominant and 30% colour groups. Some accents will even be in other, neutral colours that aren’t necessarily part of your basic palette.

There are numerous ways to incorporate and use accent colours in your space, so get creative.

In my colourful living room, I have vases in all of my colours – blue, green and neutrals. My scatter cushions and artworks are a mix of green and neutrals.

Fully decorated living room by Home in a Box with a blue, grey and green colour scheme.

In my neutral living room, I have  selected décor accessories in all of my colour groups:

Completed living room project by Home in a Box in a predominantly neutral scheme, with blue and green accents.

My two completed designs demonstrate very clearly how your decor accessories really pull the colour scheme together and gives the room a beautifully finished look.

Step #8: Stage appropriately

 

Once you have acquired all your furniture and decor, the next step is to stage everything so that it works together.

The first golden rule in staging is not to layer the same coloured items over each other. Layer different colours over each other.

The second secret to professional staging is ensuring that you have items of the same colour scattered in the space. If you have three yellow accessories, for example, don’t clump them together on one table, spread them out. Scattering the same colour throughout your space will make the eye move around the space and it will make the space feel connected and cohesive.

Step #9: Incorporate a little black

 

No space is complete without a little bit of black. It grounds the space and always gives the space a more balanced and finished look.

Your black piece need not be a massive, statement piece, just a touch is enough. There are countless ways to incorporate a little bit of timeless black into your space.

In my two designs, I incorporated a touch of black in the light fixture and woven pouffe.

Conclusion

 

Bringing together your chosen colour scheme in your home is easy once you know how to apply 60-30-10 rule.

If you start by creating three main colour groups, and deciding which of those will be your wall colour, then you have done all the hard work.

Next, focus on the colours of your furniture pieces, then turn to your rug and curtains.

Lastly, incorporate your accent colour in your artwork, cushions and decor accessories.

Applying these simple steps will leave your space looking stylish and cohesive. All of your friends will think you had a professional interior designer on call.

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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 passion for interior design. She is the lead interior designer and founder of Home in a Box.

Home in a Box specialises in virtual interior design concepts in South Africa, and focuses on re-decorating homes conveniently, simply and affordably.