Color Theory Applied: Real-Life Examples

, , , , , , By Catherine

I am wrapping up my article series on colors, so let’s recap: You now know that proportions are key when it comes to colors, and a small change can make a big difference in your overall design scheme. You also know that colors have an impact on how we experience a room, and that there is a process as well as a few principles to consider when choosing a color for your walls.

Now, I am showing you what all that color theory means in real life, showing you concrete examples of Scandinavian interiors and their palettes. You will also see how playing with color intensity and brightness can perfect your color palette -And your décor!

Example 1

This interior is layers and layers of yellow, orange and red-orange, all in different tints, shades and tones. It is a very harmonious look, and a perfectly executed analogous palette.

Example 2:

In the example above, the colors are all pretty much different shades of orange*, and it is easy to interpret this palette as monochromatic; it is a very cohesive look with layers of the same hue in lighter/darker/desaturated versions. However, to be truly monochromatic, all undertones have to be the same, but is not the case here – The whites (walls, sofa, marble table) have cool undertones and read as blue, which is the opposite of orange on the color wheel. This is therefore a complementary palette. The painting, also with blue undertones, is the perfect touch to tie the look together.

Example 3

Here’s another great way -and this time more obvious- to use a complementary palette consisting mainly of orange with blue as an accent, for a visually balanced interior.

Example 4

Shown here is the home of Joanna Lavén.

I didn’t cover the double-complementary relationship in my previous article about color theory, but it follows the same principle as a complementary palette – Just double it! This color scheme offers interesting variations like with an analogous relationship, but with more contrasts.

Example 5

We’ve seen that an analogous color scheme, in the most traditional sense, consists of three hues next to each other on the wheel, but it can go up to four or five. This is a preferred combination when the goal is give an interior a (visual) temperature – A warm palette of four analogous colors include red, red-orange, orange and yellow-orange, as shown here. For a cool palette, you could choose violet, blue-violet, blue and blue-green, for instance.

Notice here the subtle touch of red in the marble tables (Plinths, by Menu); which is a clever way to reuse a color from the palette on another surface, adding depth and dimension to the design scheme.

Example 6

This is again an example of a warm analogous color scheme with four hues.

Example 7

Here I’ve used an image shared by Karen, one of our Insiders. As you can see, her bathroom’s color palette is very harmonious, and everything blends in beautifully together. The look is visually pleasing and interesting, thanks to layers of warm shades, tints and tones.

Notice that it is the same color palette as in example 5, but the look is completely different! It is to show how much proportions can make a big difference in your overall design scheme, just like we’ve seen in the article Six interiors, One color palette.

Not all designers create their interior concept using the color wheel every day (if at all), nor do they necessarily decide to create a specific color combination at the very beginning of a project. With a trained eye and experience, using colors is a second nature. It becomes an intuitive process; they just know what looks good. I can’t confirm whether or not the creators of the interiors shown above intended to specifically create complementary, analogous, monochromatic or split-complementary color schemes… But my goal was to show you that there are some guidelines, theories and principles you can learn and use to improve your home and avoid mistakes.

Sometimes though, we just add a throw pillow in a color we love, without following design “rules” – And that’s perfectly alright! As long as it feels right to you, that’s what matters the most.

But if you feel something’s missing or not right about a room, take a good look at the color palette, and experiment – What if you tweaked it by adding a few more elements in the same hue, but in different tints, shades and tones? What if you created stronger contrasts by introducing a complementary color? What if you removed items in colors that do not help you achieve the desired mood for the space? Consciously playing with colors can be the most transformative thing you can do for your space.

*A note on wood: Wood is usually seen as an orange on the color wheel, but it can also be a yellow-orange or even a red-orange depending on the species. If you have a lot of wood in your home, remember to include it in your base palette (see step 2 in my top tips to choose a wall color with confidence), and let it guide you when using the color wheel. If you want the look to be warm and harmonious, or to de-emphasize a wooden floor you don’t like, choose a monochromatic or analogous color scheme. On the other hand, if you want contrasts and make your wooden element stand out, a complementary or split-complementary color scheme is the way to go.

Did you find the tips in this article useful? Let me know by posting in the community! Do not hesitate to share your home’s color palette with us.

Revisit all articles in the color series here:

Six interiors, One color palette
My top tips for choosing a wall color with confidence
Interior design and color psychology
Color theory to help you choose a palette like a pro

First photo: The Poster Club – Remember: As an Insider you can get 20% off when shopping at The Poster Club! See your discount code here.


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