Color Combinations: color theory made simple

Color Combinations color theory made simple

The color wheel demystifies color associations and helps you find colors that function well together. There are no hard-and-fast rules about which colors should be used concurrently, but some natural combinations make successful matches. The following classic mixtures are considered the basics for beginnerOpens in a new tab.s.

Analogous colors

Analogous colors
  • This set uses three colors next to each other on the color wheel.
  • Analogous colors are harmonious color plans.

Complementary colors

Complementary colors
  • Two colors are located opposite each other on the color wheel
  • contrasting with and complementing each other, creating bold color plans.

Triad colors

  • Three colors, or a triad, are spaced equidistant from each other on the color wheel.
  • They form complex, lively color plans.

Monochromatic colors

  • These schemes use many variations on one color theme to create a sophisticated, aesthetic plan.

Color and Light

Light is color; color is light. Color comes to your eyes as reflected light. Change the type of light, and you change the appearance of the color. That’s true no matter whether you’re talking about paint, wallpaper, carpets, or upholstery— basically, anything you put in your home. So you need to control light sources, as well as your paint and wallpaper hues, to control color. At the very least, you need to be aware that the colors you choose will look different depending on the light source in the room. Decorating schemes look very different under typical incandescent light than in daylight. Fluorescent tube lighting comes in several colors, contributing to its colorcast.

Color and Light

Natural light is sunlight, the purest light and the easiest on the eye. It covers the entire spectrum of light and shows the truest color.

General lighting is also known as ambient lighting. This artificial light can come from incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, or LED sources. “Daylight” bulbs—available in fluorescent, compact fluorescent, and LED versions—provide a broader spectrum of light than standard bulbs and produce a more natural effect, so your room’s colors don’t change when the sun goes down the lights are switched on.

Task lighting highlights a workspace or feature area. Track lighting and under-cabinet lighting are examples of this type of light.

Accent or specialty lighting adds visual interest and drama to your decor. Lamps are common examples of accent lighting.

Decorating Pyramid

Many people who attend my color workshops ask: Where do I start decorating? My answer is to plan in one direction and work in the opposite direction. Let me explain:

This pyramid illustrates how to create a decorating plan. Start your planning with the least changeable design element in a room and work toward the easiest to change. So rather than starting with the walls, which can be painted a different color every week, build your decorating project literally from the ground up. Consider first the carpet or floor covering. Then move up to the drapes and upholstery, based on your flooring choice. Continue up the pyramid until you reach paint, the room’s crowning glory. With your plan complete, it’s time to get to work. Start with paint and work your way through the other design elements in the room.
PAINT When all other design elements are present, choose the appropriate color to paint the walls.


Accessories, such as collectibles and displays, add personality and style to a room.


Some lighting is permanent or fixed; lamp lighting and under-counter lighting can highlight areas and add dimension. Lighting also sets the mood in a room.


The artwork reflects a sense of style and adds personality to a room.


Furniture is expensive to replace, but rearranging pieces can completely change a room’s look. The style of furniture creates a particular atmosphere.


Coordinate fabric for upholstery and drapes with flooring. Fabrics with a design and pattern give you a built-in selection of dominant and accent colors.


Choose carpeting, wood, vinyl, or linoleum floors first. These big-ticket items are expensive and time-consuming to change. A neutral shade gives you the most flexibility in your design plan, whereas a pattern or colorful floor can enliven a room.

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