Design Rules

How to choose colours like an Interior Designer

23rd June 2015
How to select colours like an Interior Designer

Colour is the biggest element that’s used in design.  Everything has a colour.  Those cream or white walls that you have, yes, they’re a colour too.  When I talk to people about colour, I often find a hesitation or nervousness about selecting (or committing to) a colour that’s unfamiliar.  The main concern actually being, what will people think of me, or will I be able to style the room with the colour I’ve chosen for the walls.

And yes, I agree, these concerns are valid.  The colour choice is a very important decision to make at the start of the design process, and it’s important to get it right too.  Below I’ve shared 11 colour design rules to help you learn a bit more about colour and to give you some practical steps on how to use it.  I do hope that by the end of this post, you feel more confident in being able to select a colour scheme that works for you.

Before we get started on the 11 colour design rules, I want to share something else with you.  The colour wheel, if you want to learn how colours work together, then you need to invest in a colour wheel.  I use this one that I bought off of Amazon, and it’s a great tool to have and to play around with.  I’ve also got one here for you to download, but please be aware that depending on your printer, the colours may not be accurate, so it’s best to purchase the one off Amazon.

11 colour design rules to help you choose colours like an Interior Designer:

  1. Colour has 3 attributes; these 3 attributes combined help to identify and distinguish colours from each other.
    1. Hue – the identification of a certain type of colour
    2. Value – how dark or light it is
    3. Intensity – it’s saturation
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  2. The shape of the space, the quality of the light and the function of the space will help you decide which colour is best to use for that space.
    There are certain colours which lend themselves to certain spaces, eg: red in the dining room, blue in the bathroom etc, but this of course is flexible, and I implore you to be brave and ignore this ‘rule’.
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  3. Colours towards the red end of the spectrum have longer wavelengths and tend to ‘advance’ towards you.  While colours towards the violet end of the spectrum have shorter wavelengths and tend to ‘recede’ away from you.
    Think about using this trick in small spaces to help make the space feel larger, or conversely in larger spaces to help make the space feel more cosy.
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  4. The purer a colour the more advancing properties it has, the more ‘combined’ a colour, the more these qualities will be lessened.
    Equally, the paler a colour the more it will recede and the darker a colour, the more it will advance.
    This is why a bright orange or yellow accessory often pops out when you place it in a room, the pure yellow or orange advances more than the other colours.  This is a great tip to use when adding ‘interest’ points around the room to help draw the eye through the room.
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  5. Colours can be drastically affected by other colours surrounding them; this is because the eye tints a colour with the complimentary of an adjacent colour.  This needs to be kept in mind when planning colour juxtapositions.
    The best thing to do here is pull out your colour wheel and ensure that the colours you choose are complimentary to each other.
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  6. Colours take on individual qualities in different climates, because of the various levels and quality of sunlight.  The grey UK climate suits cooler, lighter colours that maximise natural light and space.  While the bright sunshine in Italy can be absorbed by the yellow, siena, orange and umber coloured houses.
    Think about the quality and intensity of sunlight that your space gets, select the colour to suit that level of light.
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  7. Looking at an individual colour in natural light and then artificial light will alter its quality depending on the type of artificial lighting used and the amount of windows.  So it’s important to buy paint testers and paint at least a square meter on your wall to see what it looks like with the lighting that you have in both day and night.
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  8. We all have personal associations with colour that affects how we feel about them.  Colours are also believed to have strong healing powers and are often used to treat physical illness or mental imbalances.
    Use colours that you love in your design scheme.  This is important as you want to feel good in your space.
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  9. Colour can be used successfully in the interior to regulate the mood of those spending time there.
    As above, certain colours help calm and relax us, use these in the bedroom. Other colours help to invigorate and excite us, use that in the dining room, where we want to encourage interaction.
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  10. When selecting colour schemes, choose analogous hues, or colour families (3 or more colours that are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel). Use one colour as the dominant hue and the others as accent colours.  This is a very easy way to get started using colour.
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  11. Always try to achieve a harmonious balance between neutral, midway and intense colour and between the lights and darks within a space.

I’d like to add one more thing, have fun and be brave.  Using colour in your home is such an adventure. I do hope that you feel a little more confident in selecting a colour scheme for your design.

Contact us for a free interior design consultation to discuss the colour schemes in your home.

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  • I’d like to know, apart from looking, is there a scientific reason why a colour looks different in a room with a northern aspect and one with a southern aspect? ‘Buttermilk’ appeared very different in the north facing room and quite frankly, not nice! I was thinking, is it because a warm tone doesn’t work in a cool light?

    • Indeed there is. The quality of light is different. In simple terms, Northern light contains more blue and is cool. Southern light contains more yellow so is warmer.

  • Jane McIntyre

    Great article, I love the fact that you say “Be Brave” – I always encourage my clients to be just that and am saddened that so many are too scared to take the leap. Colour has had such a huge influence on my life, be it in everyday items and views or the shades of my living spaces, I am therefore surprised that some people are almost immune to it.

    • Yes I agree. Colour is so incredibly powerful. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  • Jane McIntyre

    Great article, I love the fact that you say “Be Brave” – I always encourage my clients to be just that and am saddened that so many are too scared to take the leap. Colour has had such a huge influence on my life, be it in everyday items and views or the shades of my living spaces, I am therefore surprised that some people are almost immune to it. Looking forward to your next post!