Select paint colors by using a color wheel as your guide. This tool, favored by interior designers and pros, is a no-fail way to select the perfect color combinations.

By Sarah Egge

Every decorative color pairing can be defined by where it resides on the color wheel. This circle organizes all hues around the basic foundation of the primary colors—red, yellow, and blue. The good news is that you don't have to be a professional to benefit from the color wheel tool. Once you learn how to use it and its hundreds of color combinations, you'll never again be stumped about what colors to try in your home.

The Color Wheel

When picking paint colors, the most common concern is, what goes with what? The color wheel answers that question. It's organized with red, yellow, and blue as equidistant spokes in the wheel. Colors verge between spokes. Between blue and red, for example, are the purple shades. Between blue and yellow are the green shades. You can rely on this segmentation to pick a color wheel paint pattern. Choose between monochromatic color wheel design (all shades of one color), an analogous color wheel scheme (colors next to each other on the wheel), or color wheel complementary colors (colors opposite each other). There is a lot of science behind the color wheel relating to the way our eyes take in and perceive colors. The clear, simple message is that these color wheel-prescribed pairings work, and you can use them room to room, as this house shows.


The easiest color scheme to understand, but perhaps the trickiest to pull off, is the one-color palette. You simply pick shades of the color that speaks to you. It can be hard to get right because a room filled with just one color can feel boring or overwhelming, depending on how you handle it. This bedroom shows a monochromatic palette that succeeds, thanks to a variety of shades and textures. The palette sticks to the pale pink wedge in the color wheel, but includes various tints that range from blush to rosy. A livable powder pink canvases the painted walls, which are the largest portion of the room. Brighter pink fabrics in the throw pillows keep the scheme from being dull. Finally, fluffy faux fur and a dangling pendant light add textural variety to the narrow color scheme.


To build an analogous color scheme, choose among neighboring shades on the color wheel. These hues work well in conjunction with each other because they share the same base colors. The key to success for this scheme is to pick one shade as the main, or dominant, color in a room; it's the color you see the most of. Then choose one, two, or three shades to be limited-use accent hues. This living room demonstrates an analogous scheme of greens, yellows, and oranges. The dominant shade is a livable yellow used on the bedding, wall art, and lampshade. Because green and orange accents share the same golden undertones, they suit the yellow features. A warm gray wall color rounds out the room.


To find complementary colors, look at the color wheel chart and choose hues that are directly across from each other. These colors work well together because they are opposites, and they balance each other visually. Blue and orange are an example of a complementary pair. A red-yellow shade like pumpkin balances a blue-green shade like teal. You can pick any shades in these complementing color wedges that appeal to you. For instance, in this bathroom, the complements are orange and blue, but the colors play out as coral and watery blue. The key is to not let one color overtake the other. Coral appears more prominently, while the blue appears in smaller doses. Other elements in the room do not tip the scales: a creamy white door serves as a palette cleanser, while the metallic accents add a bit of glitz.


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