Decorating with Harmonious and Contrasting Colours
Using harmonious and contrasting colours
The colour wheel is an invaluable tool. It illustrates the natural complements and contrasts of each colour, and is a ready reminder of how colours relate to each other. Use it as a guide to which colours work well together and to inspire unusual combinations.
Harmonious colours are neighbours on the colour wheel and together they will create a relaxing atmosphere. A tighter variation on this is to work within a single colour, from its lightest tint to darkest shade, but without straying sideways into the next segment of the colour wheel. This results in a monochromatic scheme, and will also provide a calm, easy-to-live-with ambience.
Building up a monochromatic scheme
Use paint colour cards as a guide — these are easy to pick up at paint stockists. There will probably be several cards to cover all the possibilities within a single colour, giving you a wide range to play with. You might use the palest value of the colour for the woodwork, a slightly stronger tint for the ceiling, a mid-tone for the walls and a deeper shade for the floor covering. Also look out for papers and fabrics that use different tones of the same colour.
You will find most monochromatic schemes need brightening up with accent colours — look back at the colour wheel to see which hues contrast with your chosen colour.
Contrasting or complementary colours are opposites on the wheel: red and green; yellow and violet; blue and orange. By choosing contrasting colours, you are automatically teaming a warm colour with a cool one. If you focus on a strong hue of a warm colour (red, for example) for a minute or so then look away, you will see an ‘after colour’ of its opposite (green) — the eye plays strange tricks!
When used together, contrasting colours can be stimulating and exciting, but if the colour values of both are too bright the effect can be disturbing. However, contrasts include the colours in all their tints, tones and shades — so a scheme based on sugar pink and olive green or turquoise and terracotta will still be contrasting but not overpowering. Such ‘diluted’ contrasts work well in rooms where you don’t want to relax too much, but don’t want to be continually stimulated either.
A contrasting colour scheme can also be split-complementary, by using a primary colour combined with the two tertiary colours that flank its opposite — such as blue with red-orange and yellow-orange.
You can create an equally successful contrasting colour scheme without actually using direct opposites, as long as you combine warm and cool colours, for example, blue with yellow, orange with jade-green or green with violet.