Understanding Color | The "How To" Select Finishes, That Work Well Together Guide for Dudes and Non-Designers

Let's face it, if you didn't go to design school you probably have no idea how to properly select paint, furniture, and accessories for your home or office. Well, don't worry, this guide is going to break down all you need to know. We keep it simple with pictures, there are even some coloring areas. Just kidding but that is actually a good idea. I may have to add that it in later.

I worked at a paint store tinting paint many moons ago and even then I had no idea just how much there is to how colors are created. After putting this guide together that all totally makes sense now. All of those symbols and formulas on top of the paint cans are no longer like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs needing to be deciphered. To think people have been trying to figure this color and decor thing out since the 1600's. It all started when Sir Isaac Newton was having a get together at his place and he couldn't decide which outfit went best with his massive wig whilst complementing his furniture in certain light settings. Kidding. It started with a color wheel. 

"The color wheel’s roots date back to the mid-1600s when Sir Isaac Newton’s work with white light led him to the discovery of the visible spectrum of light. Newton observed the way each color of light would bend as it
passed through the prism. You may have learned the term, ROY G BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) in elementary school science class. ROY G BIV was the result of Newton’s discovery." Stated Albert Munsell in his piece about Sir Isaacs Newtons influence on the color wheel. 




A color wheel is a circular chart that shows primary and secondary colors.

The color wheel most commonly used today is called the HSV color wheel which means hue, saturation, value. The digital form of the HSV color wheel is called the RGB color wheel (shown below). The HSV/RGB color wheel is described below. There are two versions: one in which red, green and blue are regarded as the primary colors (called the electronic or computer color wheel); and one in which magenta, yellow, and cyan are regarded as the primary colors (called the printer's color wheel).

It would be overkill if we went into all the technical terms about colors and the likes so let's just keep to the basics. Understanding primary, secondary, and tertiary colors according to the wikipedia page dedicated to teaching us about the color wheel and the terms associated with it, 

Primary Colors

 The primary colors always appear on the color wheel. There are the three primary colors of light. These are called the three additive colors. They are red (made in pigment by mixing yellow and magenta), green (made in pigment by mixing cyan and yellow), and blue (made in pigment by mixing magenta and cyan). The three primary colors of light are the secondary colors on the printer's color wheel.

The primary colors of light can be mixed together to make secondary colors. A long time ago, people used to think that the primary colors were red, yellow and blue. Now we know they were wrong.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are made by mixing the primary colors of light together. The secondary colors of light are the primary colors of pigment on the printer's color wheel--the color wheel used for color printing). These three colors are called the subtractive colors. They are magenta (a bright pink), yellow and cyan (a light greenish blue). The primary colors of light are the secondary colors on the "printer's color wheel". The three primary colors of pigment can be mixed to make red (magenta and yellow), green (yellow and cyan), and blue (cyan and magenta), but they do not appear as bright when they are made with pigment instead of light. The secondary colors can be mixed with the primary colors to make tertiary colors.

Tertiary Colors

The tertiary colors are made by mixing a secondary and primary color together. The tertiary colors are orange, made by mixing red and yellow; chartreuse green (yellow-green), made by mixing green and yellow; spring green, made by mixing green and cyan; azure, made by mixing blue and cyan; violet, made by mixing blue and magenta; and rose, made by mixing red and magenta.


What does any of this mean when trying to simply pick out decor, you ask?
Everything! Seeing that we all haven't gone to school to receive a degree in interior design, doesn't mean we cannot educate ourselves on simple fundamentals of color theory. Let's learn a few more terms relating to this field
and we will be on our way to impressing those who try to guide us to buy any decor in the future. Let's start with the basics of understanding color terms so we can easily identify which schemes make sense for our persona.


Warm colors 

Are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space.

Cool colors 

Give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression.

White, black and gray are considered to be neutral.

See, this isn't so hard is it? OK, let's learn a few more terms before we really become color experts. 

Tints, Shades, and Tones

These terms are often used incorrectly, although they describe fairly simple color concepts. If a color is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint. If black is added, the darker version is called a shade. And if gray is added, the result is a different tone.

Tints - adding white to a pure hue:

Shades - adding black to a pure hue:

Tones - adding gray to a pure hue:


Now you're getting it! Are we having fun yet? Now that we understand the color types, their segmentation properties, and proper nomenclature we can understand how that all works with decorating. Buckle your seat belts because we are now leaving Kansas and headed straight down to Color Harmonyville and the basics of color schemes. I hope you have been paying attention because there is a quiz at the end of this lesson. If you score 100% on the quiz you win a billion dollars. Just kidding you win a chance to shop for some killer living space decor at our shop. 

Complementary color scheme

Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors (example: red and green).

The high contrast of complementary colors creates a vibrant look especially when used at full saturation. This color scheme must be managed well so it is not jarring.

Complementary color schemes are tricky to use in large doses, but work well when you want something to stand out.

Complementary colors are really bad for text. 





Analogous color scheme

Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match well and create serene and comfortable designs.

Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and are harmonious and pleasing to the eye.

Make sure you have enough contrast when choosing an analogous color scheme.

Choose one color to dominate, a second to support. The third color is used (along with black, white or gray) as an accent.



Triadic color scheme

A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel.

Triadic color schemes tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues.

To use a triadic harmony successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced - let one color dominate and use the two others for accent. 


Split-Complementary color scheme

The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement.

This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less tension.

The split-complimentary color scheme is often a good choice for beginners, because it is difficult to mess up.



Rectangle (tetradic) color scheme

The rectangle or tetradic color scheme uses four colors arranged into two complementary pairs.

This rich color scheme offers plenty of possibilities for variation.

Tetradic color schemes works best if you let one color be dominant.

You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.



Square color scheme

The square color scheme is similar to the rectangle, but with all four colors spaced evenly around the color circle.

Square color schemes works best if you let one color be dominant.

You should also pay attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.






And that my friends is that. After reading this blog you should put on your cap and gown and walk across that stage knowing you can now confidently select paint, furniture, and accessories for any home or office. You understand which colors work well together whether it's print or digital and why. You also understand how to create color schemes that are eye catching to any guests of your home or office. With your new found knowledge of being a color expert, tell me which of our pillows match your present or future decor? 


Great, now that you actually understand how color and color schemes work, why not get an idea of the color trends Pantone has set for Winter of 2020? We wrote about it in this blog post, "Spring? Yeah. but no. Fall & Winter Pantone Inspiration" we dive into the color trends set forth from Fashion Week. If you just want to wing it that's fine too. At least learn how to care for your fabric and upholstery with our nifty cleaning guide that teaches you all about fabric care, cleaning codes, and stain treatments. The R.A.D. Guide to Fabric Cleaning & Cleaning Codes can be passed down for generations. 













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