Color Courage

Color paralysis is easy to understand -- so many choices can be intimidating. Here are three fearless vignettes that require nothing more than a little paint, a few yards of fabric, and a little pluck.

If you're itching to take the color plunge but can't quite muster the confidence, an analogous color scheme is a good choice. Analogous colors are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. Even when working with intense hues, as in this eye-opening breakfast nook, an analogous scheme is a safe choice for achieving a harmonious palette.

The starting point for this room was the single yard of fabric used for the window shade -- but what a commanding yard it is! Because of its huge scale, the only other patterns are found on the table runner and rug.

The warm yellows and oranges are advancing colors that tend to bring surfaces closer. They are great choices for large spaces, or wherever a cozy setting is desired. The addition of white adds clarity and keeps the scheme from turning muddy.

Painted furniture is a terrific way to rev up the color quotient, especially in casual environments.

Need a little energizing? Liven things up with a high-contrast color scheme. Cool violet blue and warm yellow sit nearly opposite on the color wheel, creating a vibrant relationship. Large fields of white add further contrast while improving clarity. These bold colors keep the eye moving and are good choices for people who want a stimulating environment.

Invigorating color schemes are popular in kitchens and dining rooms, where activity and fellowship take place. Kinetic schemes are also popular choices for children's environments because kids typically respond positively to strong color.

When working with contrasting colors, it's important to create visual rhythm with the accent hue. In this room, the lamp, flowers, and rug create a pleasing path. Because yellow is a strong color, just a few accessories make a bold statement.

Here's another analogous color scheme, one that lands largely on the cooler side of the spectrum. If most of your favorite colors fall in one portion of the color wheel -- warm colors such as yellow, orange, and red, or cool colors such as green, turquoise, and blue -- you might enjoy living with an analogous scheme.

Plus, aside from a monochromatic palette, these colors are the simplest to coordinate because they share common roots, blue and yellow in this case. An analogous scheme can be an effective way to bring harmony to an eclectic assortment of furniture and accessories.

Even so, analogous schemes can result in daring rooms. Here, blues and greens vibrate as the greens move toward yellow, providing a pleasing tension between warm and cool. Although cooler colors tend to be restful and recessive, pattern and texture combine to invigorate this sitting area. Again, liberal use of neutral white provides additional contrast and energy.

Color Basics

Hue is a color's name, such as red, yellow, green, or blue.

Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a hue. Lighter colors have added white; darker colors have added black.

Chroma, also known as saturation, is the intensity of a color, which is determined by how much gray is added to it. The primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, are pure colors with intense chroma.

Tints are colors that have been mixed with white, such as pastels.

Shade refers to a color that has been mixed with black, such as brick red.

Color Moods

Although color associations vary from person to person, general attributes can be assigned to most colors.

Blue is tranquil but can feel cold without warm accents.

Red is exciting and passionate. A hot color, red advances in a room.

Pink is soft and acquiescent. As red shifts to pink, the association also shifts from masculine to feminine.

Yellow is luminous and cheerful. Energizing in small amounts, it can seem harsh applied to large fields.

Green can be quiet and relaxing. As in nature, green contrasts well against warmer hues.

Brown is earthy and natural and can convey a sense of familiarity.


Virtually anyone who has painted knows how deceptive a tiny color chip can be. The larger the area, the stronger a color appears. What looked like a pleasing camel with a hint of yellow in a small swatch can turn sickly orange when applied to a wall.

Fortunately, paint manufacturers are creating wet sample programs -- small paint pots that are available for a few dollars. Before painting, buy three samples -- two shades you think you want, plus one wild card. Paint generous areas with the samples; paint multiple walls in a large space. Evaluate the colors for several days, in the morning, the afternoon, and at night before choosing your hue.


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