Understanding how colour works in Interior design


There is sooo much to say about colour but let’s start with the most basic:  the colour wheel.

Pick a colour.  What comes to mind? Is it your happy colour? Does it make you smile or depressed? What feelings does it evoke?  It is most possible that you associate a certain colour with incidents, feelings, ideas, and objects. If we think about mailbox red, we all know exactly what red I mean.  I painted my son’s playroom orange when he was younger as he claimed orange as his happy colour. So do all of us have some sort of connection to colour. 

In order to understand the power of colour, we need to understand the colour wheel, complimentary colours and what effect it has on our emotions.

The colour wheel

The colour wheel was first created in the late 17th century by Isaac Newton – yes THE Isaac Newton. He had only seven colours on his colour wheel, but today we normally use colour wheels with 12 colours.

 Isaac newton
Isaac Newton. His experimentation with white light led to the discovery of the visible spectrum.

There are 3 Primary colours:

Red, Yellow and Blue

These colours are pure, which means you can't create them from other colours, and all other colours are created from them. 


primary colour palette

The three primary colours, red, yellow and blue.

There are 3 Secondary colours: 

Orange, green and violet.  These colours are formed by mixing 2 primary colours

Then we have 6 Tertiary colours:

Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, which are formed by mixing a primary with a secondary

With each blending (primary with primary, then primary with secondary), the resulting hues become less vibrant.

Neutral colours

In the context of interior design, neutral means without colour.

Neutral colours, therefore, do not compete with primary and secondary colours and instead compliment them.

Neutral colours include black, white, grey, brown and beige

Neutral colour palette
Neutral colour scheme

There are four common types of colour schemes derived from the colour wheel

1.Monochromatic Scheme

These tone-on-tone combinations use several shades (adding black) and tints (adding white) of a single hue for a subtle palette.

Think pale blue, sky blue, and navy. Although the monochromatic look is the easiest colour scheme to understand, it's perhaps most difficult to apply.  A room filled with just one colour can feel boring or overwhelming, depending on how you apply it.

Monochromatic colour scheme
Monochromatic colour scheme with shades and tints of green.

2. Analogous Scheme

For a bit more contrast, an analogous palette includes colours found side by side on the colour wheel, such as orange, yellow, and green, for a colourful but relaxing feel. Neighbouring hues work well in conjunction with each other because they share the same base colours.

The secret to success with this colour scheme is to choose one shade as the main, or dominant colour in a room;(it is the colour you see the most of), then choose one, two, or three shades to be restricted-use accent hues.

3. Complementary Scheme

Using two hues directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as blue and orange, is guaranteed to add energy to any room. These complementary colours work well together because they balance each other visually.

The key is to not let one colour overtake the other. If the wall colour, e.g., blue appears more prominently, then use orange as an accent. The two colours appear on other elements throughout the space for a unified  look.

 4. Triadic Scheme

A triad creates an exciting palette by using three hues evenly spaced on the wheel, such as turquoise, fuchsia, and yellow-orange. These vibrant schemes work well in living rooms because they tend to offer a happy, energising vibe. Use your three colours in varying shades and tints to create more contrast or soften the brightness.

Colour influences your emotions

Cool colours such as greens, tends to soothe, while warmer colours such as yellows are uplifting and energetic. 

Bright reds are passionate and brave, but soft pink (a tint of red) is considered sweet and delicate. Blues are perceived as calming and quiet; oranges are warm and cozy; and purple, a truly tricky colour, can be seen as sexy or spiritual.


Blue colour palette

Calming and quite blues.

Trendy colours

Just like fashion, colour schemes can be trendy and “with it” colours pop up every season. The Pantone colours of 2021 e.g., is PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Grey + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating(yellow)

When you want to re-decorate or add something new to an existing room, ask yourself: Will it date the room, where you want to apply it, in a year? Do not spend a fortune on something temporary but invest money in buying something of quality that will last you for years. (goedkoop koop is duur koop)

In the end, though, YOU need to live in your house, and you need to be happy with your choices.

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