Paint is the most powerful -- and budget-friendly -- element of any room. Use color to create an emotion, manipulate the perceived size of a room, and visually link spaces together.
Use color to create a mood. Choose calming blues for a bedroom, cheery yellows for a living room, or spicy oranges for a kitchen. Here are the general mood-associations with the six primary and secondary colors:
Red: exciting, energetic, appetizing, dynamic
Orange: zesty, tantalizing, spicy, festive
Yellow: cheerful, friendly, vivacious, playful
Green: refreshing, restful, clean, secure
Blue: serene, quiet, dependable, rich
Violet: passionate, theatrical, artistic, elegant
Black, white, grey, and brown are considered neutral colors. Neutrals are popular because they coordinate with most color schemes and are thought to make small rooms appear larger. But a neutral room doesn't have to equal boring, just add a little variation to improve the look. A tone-on-tone stripe is a simple, effective way to add visual interest. The room still has the quietness of a neutral, but the change of tone gives the room a sense of depth.
Painting one wall an eye-catching color is a fast and effective way to create a focal point. Use it to add a burst of color to a room or to highlight something in the room. Here, the red wall acts as a "frame" for the artwork.
To develop a palette, pull colors from your furnishings that will blend rather than match exactly. Start with a rug or fabric that offers three or four compatible colors. Let one color dominate and set the overall tone of the room. A room palette should include 60 percent of the dominant color, 30 percent of the complementary color, and 10 percent of a third color.
Editor Tip: Limit the 10 percent to accents that you can change easily. You can give your space a dramatic new look each season.
Pass-through spaces, such as closets, hallways, or entries, may be a perfect place to add a punch of color. Striking colors can enliven and relate to accents in adjoining rooms.
In a house with an open floor plan or one in which rooms connect through wide openings, it's important to choose colors that relate to each other in a pleasing way. Choose a monochromatic scheme that changes value from space to space, or choose a three-color scheme. One way to use a three-color scheme is to pick three harmonious colors and paint each room a different color. Another application is to use one color for the trim in all three rooms, another for the walls, and the third on the ceiling.
Painting all the trim throughout the house the same color of white is a no-fail way to create a sense of flow from room to room. There are many shades of white, so select wall colors first, then choose a white that works with all of them.
Furnishings that stand out against the wall color help define a space. Lime green walls contrast crisply with white woodwork and upholstery.
Start with your decor. Look at furnishings that must remain in the space and choose colors that look good with these pieces. Next, look to your favorite color, colors you wear frequently, or your favorite artwork for more color inspiration. Now that you have a starting point, there are three simple color scheme options. The easiest is monochromatic. Choose several shades and tints of one color for a subtle palette. For more contrast, pick colors next to each other on the color wheel, such as blue, green, and yellow. The most dramatic schemes are those that use complementary colors. These colors are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as oranges and blues.
For no-fail options, choose one of our experts' favorite color combos:
-- "Pair organic yellow colors with stony gray or sandy beiges." --Designer Barry Dixon
-- "Peacock blue looks great with a bevy of modern colors: apricot, orange, pink, red, and yellow." --Designer Celerie Kemble
-- "Consider high-contrast combinations such as brown with whites and creams." --Designer Laurie Smith
-- "Consider pairing gray-blue with accent colors such as turquoise or orange." --Designer David Bromstad
-- "I'm crazy about crisp white trim with red walls." --Designer Elaine Griffin