Color and Inspiration — Understanding Color

Color 101

The Color Wheel

color wheel

The color wheel is an important decorating tool. Use it to create a symbiosis between the colors you like and colors that harmonize with them.

Warm reds, yellows, and oranges congregate on one side, while cool lavenders, blues and greens are on the other. Creating a palette within one half of the wheel tends to be more harmonious. But pairing two colors that stand opposite one another adds a dash of invigorating tension. Which do you prefer?

Warm and Cool Colors

Warm Colors
The color wheel can be divided into half, with warm colors on one side and cool colors on the other. Warm colors like red, yellow and orange tend to heat up a room. These colors are a good choice for kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, and play rooms. Warm colors tend to advance and therefore close in a room. Use warm colors when you want to “cozy up” a large room.

Cool Colors
Cool colors like blue, green and violet are quiet and tranquil colors. They are best used in rooms that call for relaxation and calm. Use cool colors in bedrooms, bathrooms, dens and nurseries. Use cool colors in sunny rooms where they act as a counter balance to direct sun light. Cool color are recessive; they give the illusion of pushing back walls thereby making a small room look larger.


Warm colors can be comfortable and cozy. They are thought of as energetic and stimulate activity — but they can also close up an area.  Consider using warm colors in “come together” areas.

Cool colors are refreshing and inspirational while the lighter tints invoke relaxation. Cool colors counterbalance direct sunlight and tend to make areas look more spacious. Use this color range in areas like bedrooms, bathroom or in places where sanctuary is sought.

Color Terms
Although color can definitely speak for itself, there are some words to describe color commonly used in the decorating world.

  • Hue Hue is simply another word for color. It is the quality that distinguishes one color family from another.
  • Shade Shade can indicate any color or hue mixed with black or gray. Tint – Tint is any color mixed with white paint; a light color.
  • Value Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a color.
  • Temperature Temperature is a color’s perceived sense of warmth or coolness in relation to the specific color and the colors around it. Red, yellow, and orange seem warm; blue and colors high in blue content seem cool. Violet and green are neutral in temperature as they both have warm and cool content.
  • Chroma The brightness or darkness of a color is its intensity (chroma). If a color is intense, it is bright and pure – it will enliven your space. Low intensity colors are subdued and contain more gray – these colors will lend an air of calm to your space.
  • Undertones The subtle underlying color of a hue is its undertone. Interior colors are rarely pure. They are mixtures of many colors and the undertones that reflect that mix.

Paint color can transform and revitalize your home. Color expert Kate Smith from Sensational Color realizes this and uses color to engage and create welcoming home environments. Choosing color based on undertone will make all the difference! Proceed with caution when selecting and keep in mind that ALL colors have an undertone. What seems like a safe neutral undertone can change and pop out under certain changes in lighting. Your perfect neutral beige may transform to peach once painted and lit up.  Hirshfield’s advises sampling the actual paint color in the room under various lighting conditions by purchasing a sample pint.

Colorful Illusions
Using color can help to define or alter space

It’s all about creating illusions with color. For example: light, cool colors expand the sense of space; dark, warm colors give the impression of contracting a space. Similiarly, subtle colors make a room seem spacious, while more intense colors have been thought to make a room seem smaller. Other factors including the quality and quantity of the light a room receives can limit these visual effects.

A color’s appearance is also influenced by the colors around it. White may appear warmer when placed next to red or cooler when placed with blue. Complementary colors, colors that appear opposite one another on the color wheel, tend to enhance one another.

Color Harmonies
Color harmony ensures that a room will not only look good but that it will also feel good. When striving for color harmony, take into account your walls and furniture as well as any other accessories in a given room. There are many ways to harmonize colors, and the color wheel is a great tool to assist you. Here are some guidelines to get you started.

A scheme that uses one hue in combination with any of its tints, tones, or shades. It is the easiest scheme to use. This will include all the light tints, dark shades as well as the clean and muted versions of that color family.

A scheme using colors opposite each other on the color wheel. Used together, this combination of warm and cool colors creates excitement and energizes and decor. Opposite colors are perfect as accent colors in a neutral decor.

A scheme using three colors that are equally spaced from each other on the color wheel. Similar color values can be used, such as primary colors for children’s rooms. Colors can also be arranged in varying degrees with one color dominant, another color as secondary and the third color as an accent.

Analogous Colors

A scheme that uses two or three related colors that lie next to each other on the color wheel for a harmonious blend. These schemes evoke a specific mood, such as calm and tranquil or warm and inviting.

Split Complement
A scheme that uses the hues to the left and right of a color’s complement on the color wheel. This combination of colors adds variety to a room in a pleasant but active way.

Double Complement
A scheme that uses two complementary schemes in one room (created by using colors that are next to each other and then finding their opposites on the color wheel).