Color can quickly transform a plain room into a striking space, but selecting the right palette is often a challenge. Follow these tips on how to choose interior color schemes to create your own no-fail combinations.

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Interior color choices are highly subjective, which means there's no right or wrong way to select a color scheme for your space. You don't necessarily have to follow theories of design or the color wheel to create a successful combination. The most important consideration is finding a color palette that feels right to you. The following tips on how to choose a color scheme will help you fill rooms with shades that beautifully reflect your personal style.

Living room with multiple framed artwork behind couch
Credit: Kim Cornelison

How to Choose an Interior Color Scheme

When planning a room's color scheme, resist the temptation to select the paint color first. Because paint is inexpensive and can be matched to virtually any color, it's best to start your color search with room elements that are less flexible, such as furniture, fabrics, tile, or wallpaper. Then base your paint colors on those elements. Here are some ideas on how to narrow down your color choices.

1. Find Inspiration for Your Color Scheme

For an easy way to create a color scheme, base your choices on an image or item you love. This could a piece of artwork, an area rug, a photo you saw online, or a patterned fabric that appeals to you. Pull out specific shades within the design and apply them with your decorating choices. Pay attention to the proportions of each shade to recreate a similarly balanced color scheme.

2. Consider Color Value

As you choose colors, don't forget to consider the value, which refers to the lightness or darkness of a hue. A mix of values within your color scheme helps to keep a multi-hue palette from looking chaotic. Try selecting one dark color, one light color, and one bright color in each room. The color that acts as the dominant hue in the room depends on your personal preference. "Go for your comfort level," says Mark Woodman, interior designer and board member of the Color Marketing Group. "Choose clean and bright, or soft and subtle."

3. Plan Your Home's Color Scheme

If you're wary of color, map it out first. Draw a plan of your home and list what will be in each room, such as the carpet, wall colors, and furniture. Gather swatches or paint chips that represent the colors of those items. Assess the rooms for both positive and negative attributes; write them down. Find focal points from the list of positive traits. You should also consider how one room will flow into the next, what mood you want, and the items to be incorporated into the palette. Plan the house one room at a time. For an easy whole-home color palette, try using one color in different proportions in all rooms: as a wall color in one room and accent in another.

slate walls bedroom with midcentury modern nightstand
Credit: Kim Cornelison

4. Consider How Light Affects Colors

Pay attention to the impact of lighting. Color is a reflection of light, so the kind and amount of light in a room will have a significant impact on a color scheme. Experiment with how natural light or light from lamps and recessed fixtures affects color in fabrics, paint, furniture, and other surfaces.

Daylight is considered the perfect light source because it has nearly uniform intensity over the entire visible spectrum of colors. Natural light changes from sunrise to sunset as the sun's rays travel through varying amounts of atmosphere. When considering a color scheme for a particular room, spend some time in the space throughout the day, taking note of how the shifting light affects it. A room with only northern exposure, for example, receives less daylight than other rooms in the home. A warm color palette would be effective there to soften shadows, and it would react well to more hours of artificial light.

Incandescent lamps emit a redder and warmer light than sunlight. Fluorescent lamps, on the other hand, generally create a bluer, cooler light. When selecting colors for a room that is used primarily before sunrise or after sunset, choose the colors only under the lighting used in the room. Keep in mind that any color with white in it will reflect the colors that surround it. A white wall, for example, will take on the reflections from carpeting, ceiling color, and even furnishings.

hunter green dining chairs at banquet table in modern farmhouse
Credit: Laura Moss

How to Apply Your Color Scheme

Adding color to a room doesn't have to mean a long-term relationship with a chosen hue. If you prefer a neutral background, there are many ways to add color with small touches or even bursts of a selected color scheme. Fabrics and textiles such as rugs, pillows, throws, and window treatments are the perfect elements for inviting color in and can add pattern and texture as well. Artwork brings in color and personality at the same time. Accessories and personal collections can act as colorful accents in your room. And don't forget the lively hues of natural elements like flowers and fruit. Grouped in vases or bowls, they create a colorful mass in any space.

While neutrals might seem safe, there are many benefits to using color in your home. Color can unite disparate styles of furnishings and works well for renewing worn or outdated furniture. A fresh, unexpected pop of color can turn a boring room into a stylish, personalized space. Using color can also manipulate your sense of space. A small room can seem larger with light colors; a large room will shrink with a darker shade on the walls. You can visually lower a ceiling with a dark color and raise it with a light one.

pink-and-blue themed open-concept living room and kitchen
Credit: David Tsay

How to Choose a Color Scheme for Open Floor Plans

In an open floor plan where several rooms connect, choosing a color scheme can be a bit trickier. You don't necessarily have to dress every space in the same tones, but the color scheme should appear cohesive from room to room. When transitioning between colors, let architecture guide you. Look for corners and transition areas for natural places to stop and start a paint color or wall treatment, such as wallpaper. For an accent, apply color to a self-contained wall.

Use your chosen color scheme to help define distinct spaces within an open plan. Delineate a space with molding and use paint within that space for a block of color. To break up endless walls, separate a long wall with a bookcase, shelving, or screen. Cover the back of the casework with colorful wallpaper or a contrasting paint color, and paint or upholster the screen. You can also distinguish spaces with rugs. A dining area might be grounded with a color-banded sisal rug, for example, while in an adjacent living area, furniture could be grouped around a multicolor wool area rug.

You might also consider applying a monochromatic scheme in an open-concept layout. Change the value of a color from space to space to define the areas. Another option is to use a three-color scheme. Apply one color on all the walls, then select another color for the trim throughout the space and a third color for the ceiling.

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