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The Secrets of Designing with Color

Modern nautical themed living room corner featuring two wicker accent folding chairs with navy and white throw pillows, sailboat design drawings on one wall next to chairs and large double-hung windows with patterned roller shades on other wall.

The power of color is no secret to interior designers. Not only does color reflect personality and style, it has also been shown to have profound effects on mood. Interior designers utilize this powerful connection to design beautiful rooms every day. However, you don't need to be a professional designer to use color to decorate your home. Here are a few industry secrets to get you started:

Get Inspired

Home decor magazines are a great place to get inspired by color combinations. There are magazines that cater to nearly every design style and budget. There are also a variety of online color tools that will help you mix and match colors to find a style that is perfect for you.

Consider the Room's Natural Qualities

Take time to sit in the room when it is quiet and you are alone. Observe the room from the entrance, and take some time to sit down and settle in. Is the room small but you want it to feel larger? Or maybe it's a large, cold space that you want to have a warm, cozy feel? Color can help you achieve either goal: Light colors can make a room appear larger while darker colors exude warmth and intimacy.

Color design can also evoke specific feelings. Warm colors reflect energy, happiness, love and enthusiasm. Cool colors are calm, relaxing hues that are typically seen in water and nature. Neutral colors are usually combined with brighter accent colors. The impression of neutral colors is affected by the other colors that are surrounding them.

Define Color Scheme

If you've got a colorful rug, patterned upholstery or artwork, choose a color that is reflected in that design. If you have more formal areas of the home, pull one of the darker (more saturated) colors and lighten it in hue when you move to adjoining spaces. Keep the darkest colors grounded near the floor, save mid-tone colors for the walls and use lighter colors for the ceiling.

Colors: More than Paint

While paint is an easy and inexpensive way to change the look and feel of your home, you can also use accessories. Adding pillows, candles, artwork, lighting and vases will not only add color to your design, it can also define a new style trend.

Go Bold (Even if Just a Little)

Use bold, vivid shades to keep things interesting. If you want to play it safe with neutral walls and furniture, add a few interesting bursts of color to bring your room to life.

Use the Rule of Three

When decorating with color, there is an easy rule of thumb to help you balance color in your design. 60% of the area should be in a dominant color, 30% should be in a secondary color and the remaining 10% should be an accent color. Limiting your color design to just 3 colors will be a stylish win every time.

Trends vs. Styles

While design trends come and go, here is a list of the most prevalent design styles that will stand the test of time:

  • Modern/Contemporary: Graphic neutrals like black and white with pops of color make a bold statement while focusing on minimalism.
  • Traditional: Use blues and greens with a neutral palette. Choose darker hues of blues and greens for a modern twist.
  • Transitional: This is a mix of modern design elements with a nod to timeless classic design.
  • Organic: Stick to a neutral palette with colors that occur in nature. Earth tones with a punch of color will complement your home like floral landscaping makes your curb appeal "pop."
  • French Country: Yellow, cream and soft blue with mixed patterns, ruffles and distressed woodwork.
  • Rustic Farmhouse: Simple, earthy colors with natural textures and rugged natural beauty.
  • Shabby Chic: Pink, celery green and lavender brings a feminine look with a sunny, sophisticated feel.
  • Tuscan: Red, gold and green create a warm, inviting space that is rustic, yet effortlessly stylish.
  • Spanish Modern/Mediterranean: Terra cotta, yellow and blue are reminiscent of the sea and sky.
  • Baroque: Bold, vibrant colors such as emerald, plum, cobalt and crimson play against a neutral palette, giving richness, grandeur and drama to a room.
  • Industrial: Raw design with a neutral color scheme derived from natural materials such as wood and metal.
  • Hollywood Glam: Dramatic, luxurious design that makes a statement with bold colors such as purples, turquoise and reds.
  • Mid-Century Modern: Hints of minimalism paired with retro-nostalgia, featuring understated and soothing colors like greens, golds, beige and rust.
  • Coastal: Cool, neutral shades paired with blues and greens and white furnishings is common in this light, airy style.

You Are What You Wear

Look no further than your closet for inspiration. Throw open your closet doors and notice color trends in your wardrobe. You tend to dress in colors that make you look and feel good. Let these color instincts carry over to your home interior design!

Factor in the Light and Test Your Ideas

When you have selected colors for your room, be sure to observe the colors at different times of day and in different styles of light. Daylight is much cooler than a traditional soft white bulb, which casts a warm hue. When viewed in artificial light, some colors can look entirely different.