easy decorating color schemes
with your color wheel

Learn how to use a color wheel for interior designing your own home

Put together your own decorating color schemes - that really work!

We're looking at the ways interior designers use color wheels to come up with color schemes that look simply gorgeous...

Why I recommend this approach...

With a color wheel you don't need to worry about your colors clashing, or creating a scheme that is dull and uninspiring...

The color wheel does all the work for you - all you have to do is decide which look you prefer...

Here we are taking a look at some very simple decorating color schemes...

Just because they are simple, don't dismiss them - the simple schemes are often the most effective...

And because they are so simple, it makes them really easy to get right...

We'll go on to look at some more complex color schemes later...

But for now, we'll stick with some tried and tested favorites - these are the ones I like to stick with for my own schemes...

..because I know they'll work!

Let's get familiar...

primary and secondary colors on the color wheel

Before we get started, let's make sure you are familiar with the whole concept of the interior design color wheel...

You should understand:

  • Why interior designers use a color wheel
  • The terms: Primary color, Secondary color, Tertiary color ... and how they fit together to make up the color wheel
  • 'Warm' and 'Cool' colors

If you need to recap on any of these points you can do that here

When you've done that, come straight back here and we'll continue learning how to create some simple, but very effective, interior design color schemes...

LEt's get confident with color...

I want to show you, now, how you can use your knowledge of the interior design color wheel to create successful color schemes for your home...

Color schemes that you can use with confidence - because you know they will work wonderfully for you.

As you get more experienced, you will get a 'feel' for which colors look really good together, and which color combinations you prefer...

You will be able to come up with your own, really unusual, color combinations. 

Use the color wheel to come up with your own color combinations that you KNOW will work

tried-and-tested color combinations

There are a few tried-and-tested, guaranteed-not-to-fail, decorating color schemes you can use.

Professional interior designers use these color scheme rules all the time - so take a look for yourself...

You can use this page together with your Color Checklist to help you gather together all the information you need to make your own color choices...

Click here to download your free Color Checklist

choose your decorating color scheme

The decorating color wheel (simplified form)

Use the color wheel to discover decorating color schemes that work

Monochromatic Color Schemes
Based around one color

Harmonious Color Schemes
Several colors similar to each other

Complementary Colors
Two dramatic colors together

Triadic Color Schemes
Using three colors together in a balanced way

Advanced Color Schemes

We'll start with the simplest scheme...

decorating color schemes

A monochromatic (one color) decorating color scheme - using greens
monochromatic color scheme on the color wheel

This is the simplest color scheme, but it doesn't have to be dull and boring...

Here's how to do it...

  • The monochromatic color scheme uses just one color, with its shades and tints, to create a scheme.
  • In its simplest form, this is shown by one paint swatch color card. One color, with white or black added.
  • In practical terms, the monochromatic color scheme does not have to be just one paint swatch - but it does have to be just one color - for example just blue...
  • But to make it interesting, you would use all different tints, tones and shades of blue.

This scheme is really easy to get right - and its very simplicity is the key to success.

To stop this scheme becoming too boring, try using a deep shade of your chosen color on the floor, a mid shade on the walls, and a paler shade for woodwork or furnishings.

Make sure you add lots of accessories in all different tones of your chosen color.

Add lots of texture too - this will help to add 'depth' and interest to your room.

The photo below shows how you can use all different shades of orange to create a layered or textured look... 

a monochromatic decoratic color scheme using different shades and tones of orange

A monochromatic scheme uses different tints and shades of the same color.
It doesn't have to be boring!

The next photo (below) shows a much more subtle monochromatic color scheme...

Using all different shades of blue...

Don't be afraid to add neutrals like white, cream, beiges, browns and greys to tone-down or lighten the look...

You do, sometimes, have to be careful that decorating in just one color doesn't become too overwhelming... 

monochromatic blue bedroom - add neutrals to break up the color and provide visual relief

It can be a really good idea to use a lighter shade of your main color for walls - and keep to darker shades for the accessories... (or do the opposite - and try darker walls, and lighter accessories as accents, like in the photo above).

The next step from the one-color (monochromatic) scheme is the harmonious scheme, which we'll look at next...

Harmonious decorating color schemes

harmonious color scheme in yellows, oranges and pinks
harmonious color scheme on the color wheel for interior design

The harmonious scheme uses similar colors to create a decorating color scheme.

Look at your color wheel, and use colors which are next to (or very near to) each other on your color wheel.

An example of this is to use a scheme made up of oranges and yellows, or one made up of blues and purples.

The scheme in the picture below shows a harmonious mix of reds, oranges and yellows - notice how all the colors are of a similar intensity... 

harmonious decorating color scheme using reds, oranges and yellows

Harmonious color schemes work really well when you use similar tones...

...that is, if you saw them printed in black and white, all the colors would look the same shade of grey.

You can use a whole variety of colors in this way - going right the way from pastel greens and blues to pastel lilacs and pinks.

It is easiest to mix lots of pastels (light colors) together - you can use a wider range of colors. 

Harmonious decorating color scheme using pastel tones of blues, lilacs and pinks

Try to limit the mount of mid-range colors you want to use in this way...

...but dark colors will also mix together very well.

This is because in dark colors, and pale colors, the black or white is stronger, and there is only a little bit of the actual color...

So all the 'nearly-whites' or 'nearly-blacks' will go together much better than the 'very-blues' and the 'very-yellows'...

Different, but very dramatic, decorating color schemes can be created by mixing soft pastel tones with deeper tones of harmonious colors.

Don't use such a wide array of harmonious colors as mentioned above for this more dramatic scheme - otherwise, it will just look messy!

A harmonious decorating color scheme in a bathroom using yellows and oranges together

This bathroom is decorated in a harmonious scheme.
It uses colors close together on the color wheel - yellows and oranges.

Watch out!!

A word of warning about using harmonious color schemes...

The only thing you should watch out for in using this scheme, is when using colors which fall either side of a primary color on the color wheel...

So, if you want to use red-violet (to the purple side of pure red) with red-orange (to the orange side of pure red) - make sure you always include the primary color with them - pure red, in this case.

Of course, you can use pure red with red-violet, or pure red with red-orange, with no problem.

Remember this is not just for reds - it applies to all the primary colors (red, yellow and blue).

The harmonious scheme is a scheme that is all about balance and harmony...

The next decorating color scheme we're going to look at is all about impact and drama...

Complementary decorating color schemes

This is probably the most exciting and dramatic type of interior design color scheme.

This uses contrasting colors, that work well together - note that I use the word 'contrasting' - not clashing!

complementary or 'contrasting' orange and blue samples
complentary color scheme - opposites on the color wheel

Here, colors are chosen which are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.


  • red and green
  • blue and orange
  • yellow and purple

Also, look carefully at your color wheel, and work out your own choice of complementary colors that are not so obvious - such as blue-green against red-orange.

You can create some really unusual and dramatic schemes like this.

Below you can see a color inspiration that we spotted while on holiday in Wales - it's effective and dramatic because it uses the complementary (or 'contrasting') colors of orange and blue (in actual fact, these are almost red-orange contrasting against blue-green, like I mentioned above)...

complementary color scheme inspiration with oange and blue

Top Tip

If you are wanting to tone down an intense paint color try mixing in a small amount of its opposite.

Try toning down a bright green, with a little red, and see the lovely muted tone you get.

This is much better than just adding black to a color - this tends to 'flatten' or 'kill' the color.

Watch out!

When you use a complementary color scheme, be very careful not to use the 2 colors in the same quantities or intensity.

For example, if you used a bright orange on one wall and a bright blue on another - you would get a 'flicker' or 'strobe' effect when you looked at it.

It really would be quite disturbing and unsettling.

Dramatic is good - disturbing is not!

Instead, to get round this problem, try creating a mainly blue scheme, with a few orange accents - like in this lovely teal blue kitchen which uses orange copper pans as gorgeous accents... 

beautiful copper pans are an orange accent against a teal blue wall - a complementary decorting color scheme

Or, you could use the 2 complementary colors, but in more subtle or pastel tones.

Subtle tones of yellow and purple look great together - and are a far less obvious decorating color scheme then a full-on bright yellow and purple (which I would certainly find quite hard to live with, I don't know about you!) 

Use softer pastels of complementary purple and gold for a complementary color scheme that is still dynamic and a joy to live with

This color scheme is still relaxing - but has that little bit of 'zing' created by using this dramatic complementary scheme.

The red and green color scheme, below, has used a rich red against a softer green accent...

I think it works really well, don't you?

The effect would have been much different had the room used a rich, deep green instead of the soft color they have chosen... more 'Christmassy', for a start! 

This red living room is not too over whelming as it uses a little of the complementary color in the scheme - green

Use red tones, with accents of soft green.
This gives you an interesting complementary scheme, that is easy to live with.

The photo below shows how you can easily use intense tones of red and green together...

Try them as colorful accents in a neutral scheme...

I'm sure you agree they really pick up this very neutral dining area to make it feel modern and lively...

red and green accents make this color scheme lively and vibrant

The last scheme on this page branches out into using three colors in the decorating color scheme...

Triadic decorating color scheme

color swatches for a triadic color scheme of red, yellow and blue
triadic color scheme on the interior design color wheel

These use 3 colors which are spaced equally around the color wheel...


  • red, yellow and blue
  • orange, purple and green

Just like the complementary colors, these can 'flicker' and compete for attention, if you use the 3 colors in equal quantities or intensities.

So, just like the complementary color scheme - try toning them down, or use one main color, with small accents of the other two.

I think this bedroom (photo below) has done a really good job of mixing together red, yellow and blue...

The main wall color is a deep, rich red, a lighter yellow is used for bed-spread and lighting...

...and an electric blue is used to accent the scheme with a real 'kick'. 

A triadic decorating color scheme using red, yellow and blue in a bedroom

It's welcoming and interesting - but not over-the-top!

You can see how I used the red, yellow and blue triadic scheme to inspire my own makeover, here...

Here's another one I like...

Here (below) the living room uses a triadic scheme of orange, green and violet (purple)...

An unusual choice - but it works well... 

Triadic color scheme in a living room with orange, green and purple

The deep rust orange and lime green are both intense and dramatic...

But the scheme is kept calm by adding lots of light neutral colors - floor, walls - and the chocolate furniture...

And were you looking carefully? - the 'kick' here is with the violet bowl on the sideboard...

Adding the third color takes a little of the intensity away from the vivid orange and green...

A bit of visual relief that balances the look nicely...

Why not give it a go for yourself?

You will find this is an interesting and unusual decorating color scheme - and you can get some really great results.

If you stick to these interior design color scheme rules - you really can't go far wrong!

Combine this with a color you are crazy about - and you will soon be really loving your decorating color schemes!

You can add any thoughts about your own project to your Color Checklist...

Click here to download your free Color Checklist

Where to go next

When you've mastered these basic techniques, you're ready to move on and look at some more advanced paint color wheel techniques - use them to create something more unusual with your color scheme!

If you'd like to move on to schemes with lots of colors, I'll share with you the color inspiration book I find most useful for my own decorating color schemes.

How to pick your color

Click here to find out how your personality, and the mood you want in your room, can affect your color interior design choices.

You can also have fun choosing a color scheme to suit your own personality with my new e-book: Perfect Personality Palettes - click here to find out more and try it for yourself...

Watch video clips...

Take a look at some of these short video clips to give you more ideas on choosing colors for your home...

Simply click on the picture to start the player... 

More about colors

You may also like to learn more about physical and emotional responses to color - and find out how your decorating color schemes can be used for physical, mental and emotional healing. 

And don't forget to return to the main color page for all the info on the individual colors, and how to use them, plus ideas about color and lighting, and color and proportion.

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