When you are still just daydreaming about your decorating project, choosing colors probably sounds like a lot of fun. You simply pick your favorite colors and incorporate them into your design, right? Actually, when it comes to interior design, it’s a bit more complicated than that. That’s not to say it’s not fun, but your favorite colors may not complement each other. Or they might not create the mood that you had in mind for the space that you’re decorating.

The color wheel and understanding the four basic color schemes is a great place to start. Even when enlisting the services of a professional interior designer, knowing the basics will let you understand and enjoy the process.

The Color Wheel

All color selection begins with the color wheel. It is made up of three different groups of colors.

Primary Colors

These are pure colors that have not been blended or created. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow.

Secondary Colors

These colors are created by combining equal parts of two primary colors. For example, equal parts yellow and blue make green. The secondary colors are green, orange and purple. 

Tertiary Colors

By mixing varying amounts of primary and secondary colors, tertiary colors are created. Tertiary colors are muted versions of the original primary and secondary colors. Sometimes they are mixed with either white or black to soften the color or make it darker.

Basic Color Schemes

Once a color has been chosen, you can move on to picking a color scheme. In interior design, the color scheme will help set the mood for the space and reflect your personality.


This color scheme uses tone on tone of the same color. The primary color is either darkened or lightened by adding black or white. If green is the primary color chosen for a monochromatic scheme, it can be lightened to a softer shade, such as mint green, and darkened to a deeper shade like forest green. All three shades of the same color are combined to create this scheme which typically results in a calmer and more traditional feel.

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This type of color scheme uses colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Blue could be used with green or purple. Yellow could be used with green or orange  Two to three colors can be used. The first color should dominate, the second should serve as a supporting color. If a third color is used, it should simply be an accent color. The analogous scheme creates a colorful palette than can be soothing.


If you’re looking for a more dramatic color scheme, a contrast scheme is a great option. The contrast scheme is more dramatic. Here a triad of colors that are evenly spaced out on the color wheel are used, such as green, orange and blue. This type of color scheme tends to be more vibrant, even if paler versions of a color are used. Carefully balanced, usually with one color dominating the others, this scheme will bring more color and energy to your space.

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This color scheme involves using colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, yet complement each other, creating a bold statement. Blue and orange are a perfect example. When used together in interior design, they create a dramatic, high-energy color scheme.

Putting Your Color Scheme into Action

Once they have chosen a color scheme, many people head right for the paint store. Your wall color isn’t always the best place to start. Paint can be mixed in various shades of a multitude of colors and is one of the least expensive items in an interior design plan.

It is best to find furnishings and flooring that fits into your color scheme first, then move on to the wall color. Once your furnishings are chosen, you may decide the wall color needs to be a different shade. You may even decide to keep the walls neutral, creating a clean, crisp backdrop for your furnishings and accent pieces.

Interior Design Beyond Color

While color is at the foundation of your interior design project, there are many other aspects to consider. How do you carry your color scheme throughout your home without every room looking the same? How does your lighting affect your color scheme? Should transition areas such as hallways and stairways carry on with the color scheme or be more neutral?

Your home should be a reflection of your style and personality, but that doesn’t mean decorating it is a project you should do on your own. A professional interior designer can guide you from the color wheel to a beautiful designed and decorated home that is uniquely yours.

CW Interiors was founded on a passion for design and specializes in creating interiors that are warm, inviting and timeless. Designer and owner, Carolyn Wesslen, can bring the interior design you’ve been dreaming about to life. Call her today at (609) 618-2863 to get started!