A selection of colour swatches with brushes

Using the Colour Wheel

Understanding how colours relate to each other will help you to create a successful colour scheme for any room in your home. A colour wheel represents the science of colour and shows how colours relate to each other. It’s the go-to tool professional interior designers use for getting the formula right every time.

Analogous Colours

The way in which people see colour depends on the way light is reflected from its surface. The colour wheel presents the entire spectrum of colours as a circle divided into segments.

Each segment is placed adjacent to the hues closest to it: these are known as analogous. An interior design scheme based on a group of analogous colours can look cohesive and harmonious.

Colour Spectrum

Our colour spectrum comprises three primaries: red, blue and yellow which – combined - are said to be the basis of all the others. Each of our secondary colours – orange, purple and green – is a combination of two primaries.

There are six tertiary colours formed by combining a primary with a secondary colour, thus red/orange, yellow/orange, red/purple, blue/purple, blue/green and yellow/green.

A blue chair in a wooden interior with white flowers

Complementary Colours

Colours positioned directly opposite each other on the colour wheel are called complementaries and include blue-orange, green–red and so on. They relate in a very dynamic way and can be used to create a vibrant and stimulating interior design scheme.

The effect can be dazzling, and it’s a good idea to choose a tint or tone of one of the hues to avoid them ‘fighting’ with each other.

Split Complementaries

Split complementary colours are those on either side of a hue’s direct opposite and these three can be combined to create a split-complementary design scheme. Blue, for example, can be combined with orange and yellow. The effect can be enriching and colourful but less intense than a complementary scheme.

Colour Temperatures

The perceived ‘temperature’ of a particular colour can have a profound effect on a space. We use the terms ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ to describe colours, red being considered the hottest hue, blue the coldest.

Hot colours tend to be associated with the sun and daylight and are stimulating, demanding our attention. Cold colours, by contrast, appear to recede and have a calming effect on our emotions. Colours on the warm half of the spectrum incorporate red through orange and yellow to yellow-green, while green through blue and purple to red-violet occupy the cold half of the colour wheel.

A green statement candle with a green sofa and printed artwork

Shades, Tints & Tones

Variety can be added to a colour by adding black or white to it (or grey, a mix of the two). A shade is created by mixing in black, which deepens a colour, thereby increasing its ‘value’. The addition of grey creates a tone, a more mellow version of the hue; and mixing white creates a tint, a lighter, pastel version of the original hue.

Black and white are not considered colours but can be used as alternatives to create both subtle and dramatic interior design schemes.

Think of the drama of a room with black walls contrasted with architectural features picked out in white; or how calm a space you could create using all-white softened by grey silk curtains and a grey and white patterned Moroccan-style rug.

But where to start? Plan your interior design scheme by picking a colour you love, decide what mood you want to create then use the colour wheel to create the effect you want. If you’re overwhelmed with the multitude of possibilities, narrow them down by taking as inspiration the combination of colours in a favourite artwork, fabric or rug.

Feel free to share images of your stunning interior with us at Cotswold Grey through our social media channels – we love seeing our readers’ stunning room transformations!

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