Homeowners Review and Information Guide: Color Theory

Color theory creates a logical structure for use of color in design applications and concepts, including many different ways to organize colors. If you’re planning on redecorating your home, use our homeowners guide to color theory below to consider the color wheel, color schemes, tint, shade, tone, and color moods before adding new paint and decor to your house.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Nov 24, 2020

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Do you want to paint the walls of the living room a new color to refresh the space but are not sure if they will go with the color scheme of the furniture that you already have? Or maybe you have a brand-new house to work with and want to get everything perfect. Color theory can help make that happen. Learn about what colors go well together and how they will look. You will be on your way to having the perfect space.

What is Color Theory?

Color theory makes a logical structure for colors. It is actually quite extensive and covers a host of design applications and concepts, covering many different ways of organizing colors.

However, you do not need to spend several years in college to find the perfect blend of colors for your home. Basic concepts that use the color wheel, color schemes, tint, shade, tone, and mood will get you well on your way.

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The Color Wheel

In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton created the first circle diagram of colors. Artists have been developing and using it ever since. There is a multitude of variations, but the majority follow the rule of logically organizing colors.

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Basic Colors

The color wheel has three categories of colors: primary, secondary, and tertiary. These are each grouped based on their features and how they mix with, or are created by, other types of colors. 

Primary Colors

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. They are based on a traditional color theory that categorizes them founded on them being pigments that cannot be created by any combination of other pigments. All other colors are created by some combination of these three primary colors. 

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are created by the mixing of primary colors. The secondary colors are green, orange, and purple.

Tertiary Colors

This type of color is formed by mixing both a primary and a secondary color together. The tertiary colors include red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, and red-purple. They may include variations, depending on how much of each primary and secondary color is used in their creation.

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Color Schemes

Color schemes are arrangements or combinations of color. The most popular use for them is in interior decoration, such as deciding what color accent pieces, paintings, furniture, and walls should be in a home.

The following color schemes are useful when deciding on what colors you want on the inside (and even the outside) of your house:

Complementary Colors

Complimentary colors can be found opposite of each other on the color wheel. They include yellow and violet, orange and blue, red and green, blue-green and red-orange, yellow-green and red-violet, and yellow-orange and blue-violet. The contrast in each pair of colors creates a look that really stands out. In some cases, this scheme may be too intense.

Split-Complementary Colors

For those who want the vibrancy of complementary colors without it feeling jarring to look at, there is the split-complimentary color scheme. It uses a base color, but instead of including its complementary color, the two colors adjacent to that complementary color are chosen.

Analogous Colors

For something that creates a more soothing effect, consider analogous colors when redecorating. These are groups of three colors that are all next to each other on the color wheel. This will include a primary color, a secondary color, and a tertiary color. A combination of blue, green, and blue-green is an example of this type of color scheme.

Triadic Colors

This color scheme creates a different kind of effect by using three colors that are evenly spaced out on the color wheel. A basic one might include red, yellow, and blue; although they can also use a group of secondary colors or tertiary colors.

Tetradic Colors

A tetrad color scheme creates a vibrant but somewhat chaotic effect by including four colors that are all an equal distance from one another on the color wheel. It is not for the faint of heart and may take some careful arranging and planning to get the right effect.

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Tint, Shade, and Tone

There is more to color theory than just mixing primary and secondary colors. A tint adds white to lighten the shade of a color, while a shade adds black to get a darker effect. A tone is created by including grey or a mix of both black and white in with a color.

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Color Temperature

When we think of color temperature, we refer to colors as cool colors or warm colors. Cool colors will have a bluish aspect while warm colors will be more yellowish. Consider how warm and cool colors will interact in the space you are decorating before buying that new sofa or sofa cover.

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Color, Moods, and Emotions

It is hard to deny that certain colors can affect us in certain ways. It is just human psychology. Red, orange, and yellow are warm colors that evoke emotions and can create a sense of warmth or hostility. Blue, purple, and green are cool colors and can create a calming or saddening effect.

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Getting the Kids Involved (resources related to Color theory for kids)

One of the best ways to get kids interested in color theory is through introducing the rainbow. This arch of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet is nature’s color wheel.

For more ideas on how to get kids involved, visit the following links:

Additional Resources

  • Do you want to get your color theory and home just right? Check out the Color calculator at Sessions College to discover the perfect blend of colors for your home. Or drop by the New York Institute of Art and Design for Cool tools that will help you with lighting, painting, and other aspects of interior design.

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