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How to choose a paint colour scheme for your home

Selecting the right paint colour scheme is often a challenge as interior colour choices are highly subjective. In this blog I help you make considered choices for a scheme that's right for you.

A white wall is a wasted opportunity.

Colour can transform a space

The easiest way to transform a space completely is with colour. You can facelift an entire room, simply by applying a different colour scheme. It's relatively cheap, easily done and worst case scenario, you paint it again. I always say 'a white wall is a wasted opportunity'. Of course, that isn't necessarily true. Purposely white spaces can be very striking. The key word here is 'purpose', and with intent. Because quite often people 'just go for white' because they don't know what else to choose. And 'Anything goes with white', right? Hands up if you feel guilty!

Selecting the right interior paint colour palette is often a challenge. Interior colour choices are highly subjective, which means there's no right or wrong way to select a colour scheme for your space. You don't necessarily have to follow theories of design or the colour wheel to create a successful combination. The most important consideration is finding a colour palette that feels right to you.

Base your interior paint colours on less flexible elements

Generally when people plan for a new space, whether that's a new built, a renovation or simply the desire to change things up, they start with certain colours in mind. However, when planning a room's colour scheme, resist the temptation to select the paint colour first. Because paint is inexpensive and can be matched to virtually any colour, it's best to start your colour search with room elements that are less flexible, such as furniture, fabrics, tile, or wallpaper. Then base your paint colours on those elements.

Resist the temptation to select the paint colour first.

I have made this mistake myself. I picked a gorgeous sofa in the shop, with fabric that we loved (hubby's choice actually, so I have blamed him ever since). Sofas are expensive, this was quite an investment. But did I match the fabric swatch with our (then) green walls? No. Did I regret it? Yes. It just wasn't quite right. I would have made a different choice, had I consciously put the two together. Not an entirely different colour scheme (I certainly knew what I wanted) but a slightly different tone of either the paint or the fabric. In the end, it never felt quite right. Both the colour and the sofa have been long gone since, but I learnt from this experience in my own home.

As previously stated, colour has the ability to transform a space, to set the mood and influence the style and personality of a room. Whether you want to excite, inspire, welcome or soothe, the key is to choose a colour palette which embraces you when you walk through the door. It should make you happy, and to do that, the colours need to be well balanced and inviting. To choose your perfect palette you do need to have a basic knowledge of colour.

Take note of the colour wheel

Now I already said it is not my intention to set out the theory of colour in this blog. But being aware of the so-called colour wheel is certainly beneficial (although it's not the be all, end all). The colour wheel is a visual representation of colours, with hues arranged according to wavelength. Colour wheels allow colour relationships to be represented geometrically, and show the relationship between primary colours, secondary colours and tertiary colours. Ideally, your colour palette should be no more than three or four hues. To understand which colours will work together, start by looking at a colour wheel.

The primary colours are red, blue and yellow; they’re pure colours and cannot be created by mixing other colours together. Secondary colours are orange, green and purple, made from equal parts of two primary colours. Tertiary colours are a mixture of primary and secondary colours in varying parts.

Hue is another word for colour. Tints, tones and shades are variations of hues. Tints, sometimes known as pastels, are any colour with white added. A shade is a colour with black added, and tones are created by adding both white and black.

Methods for creating colours schemes: colour harmony groups

The colour wheel attempts to put method to how you arrange colours together to create schemes. For example, a monochromatic colour scheme is one with one color in various tints and shades (so not necessarily black and white, as often thought). Or, an analogous color scheme involves neighbouring colours on the wheel, like red, orange and yellow. These types of arrangements are called colour harmony groups.

Colour harmony refers to the property that certain aesthetically pleasing colour combinations have. These combinations create pleasing contrasts and consonances that are said to be harmonious. These combinations can be monochromatic, complementary, split-complementary, triad, tetrad, square or analogous.

You can study lots about colour theory and harmonies, and play around with the schemes. You might find this colour wheel tool by Adobe quite handy to create your own colour schemes in certain harmony groups. I know for example I am naturally drawn to complementary colour schemes. They feel right to me, it makes me feel most at ease in a space. This doesn't mean that I always start with this fixed idea in mind however.

In my experience, people often get lost trying to fit a certain scheme into a harmony group, and worrying whether or not something is 'right' or 'wrong', with the correct theoretical background. In that case, you lose sight of the most important property colour has; the ability to make you feel something. What does your gut feel say? Does this scheme feel right or wrong? As I mentioned before, colour schemes and personal preferences are very subjective.

Find inspiration for your interior paint colour scheme

Worried about creating the perfect colour scheme? Don't be. The idea is to start thinking about colours in different ways, and in different combinations. What you could do, is work the other way around, as opposed to starting from tried and tested colour wheel harmonies. For an easy way to create a colour scheme, base your choices on an image or item you love. This could a piece of artwork, a rug, a photo you saw online, or a patterned fabric that appeals to you.

Find a certain image of inspiration (a favourite good looking dish, or maybe a beautiful bird, or sunset) and then analyse the colours in that picture. The most perfect colour combinations are found in nature. Choose a calming, analogous scheme inspired by the beach – greens, blues and soft yellow tones. Or maybe the complementary hues of red and green with a hint of pink found in a flower. You could create an entirely new palette that way. I have decorated an entire home with the help of goose feathers. Pay attention to the proportions of each shade to recreate a similarly balanced colour scheme.

You could also think of some general colours you'd like to include, and then google colour palettes of those colour combinations. You'll find tons of images that way with suggestions that you could work out further.

Easy way to draft your interior paint colour scheme

Did you know it's quite easy to work out a colour scheme of your favourite image, simply by using your smart phone? Let me show you. I have taken an image of my blue sofa in front of the exposed brick wall in my home. Using the mark up tool on my phone (I use an iPhone), I simply selected some colours with the colour picking tool and brushed them on top of the image. This way, I created a simple colour scheme within minutes, that I could now work out further, colour matching them with actual paint swatches, and tweaking nuances. You could do this with any image you love.

Use a coherent colour scheme for the entire house

This doesn't mean the entire home has to be the exact same colours. But there should at least be a relation between them, a coherent feeling. 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 colour palette, try using one colour in different proportions in all rooms: as a wall colour in one room and accent in another.

Consider how light affects colours

Pay attention to the impact of lighting. Colour is a reflection of light, so the kind and amount of light in a room will have a significant impact on a colour 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 colours. Natural light changes from sunrise to sunset as the sun's rays travel through varying amounts of atmosphere. When considering a colour 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. The exact same colour can appear very different in different parts of the house at different parts of the day.

For this reason you need to be careful with using colours that are very close together. You won't be able to spot the nuance differences between shades that are very close together and it might just look 'not quite right'.

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

Use colour to help define your space

In an open floor plan where several rooms connect, choosing a colour scheme can be a bit trickier. I stated before there should be a relation between spaces, a coherent feeling. This also goes for the various areas within an open floor plan.

Colour can help define distinct spaces within an open plan. Delineate a space with moulding for example and use paint within that space for a block of colour. To break up endless walls, separate a long wall with a bookcase, shelving, or screen. You can also distinguish spaces with rugs if you find colour blocking a little scary.

When transitioning between colours in an open space, let architecture guide you. Look for corners and transition areas for natural places to stop and start a paint color or other wall treatment. Consider using feature/accent walls as they can make a great impact on your design to draw attention to a particular architectural feature or differentiate the room. You would want to limit the use of too many feature walls as they tend to lose their effect if not done with intention in an open plan.

Be brave: choosing paint colours is not a life-long commitment

While neutrals might seem safe, there are many benefits to using colour in your home. Colour can unite disparate styles of furnishings and works well for renewing worn or outdated furniture. A fresh, unexpected pop of colour can turn a boring room into a stylish, personalised space.

Using colour can also manipulate your sense of space. A small room can seem larger with light colours; a large room will shrink with a darker shade on the walls. You can visually lower a ceiling with a dark colour and raise it with a light one.

When you opt for a more neutral colour scheme, which can be absolutely gorgeous, layer different hues of the same colour for a classy and sophisticated look. This sort of layering colour scheme lets anything wood such as flooring, trim, beams, fireplace surrounds, window frames, and even brick or stone make warm statements within the understated room.

Explore the beauty that colour can bring to your space

As anyone who has been through the process of searching for room color ideas will attest, choosing the right color for a room can be a minefield with endless choices and subtle nuances to understand and overcome.

Decorating with colour can be particularly intimidating when your default is neutrals or pastels at best. However colour can do so much for your home, and for each personality there is a matching colour scheme. Push aside your doubts or fears and be open to exploring the beauty that colour can bring to your space.

You can start experimenting with one room, and see how that turns out. If you are concerned you might get fed up quickly with your chosen interior paint colour scheme, or think it might be trendy now but ages quickly, then consider the architecture of the home. What are the architectural features? Does your colour complement the era? Is the environment of your space urban or country? Just remember, colours that complement the era of your home won't date.

Colours that complement the era of your home won't date.

Enjoy the wonderful world of colour. I am curious to see what you come up with! Tag me on Instagram and show me your creations!


Would you like to learn more about Interior Design? Or perhaps become an interior designer yourself? Follow my footsteps and study Interior Design with The Interior Design Institute where I could be your personal tutor. Click here to read more and receive a discount.


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Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

I am Marieke, a Dutch Australian interior designer, business executive, tutor, content creator and social media influencer.


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