Colour theory is one of the most intriguing yet complex aspects of design. Some combinations of colours are pleasing, while others are unpleasant or fail to evoke emotions. This raises the question: what determines this impression? The answer lies in the presence of a coherent relationship or order between colours. Combinations of colours that create a pleasant impression are known as harmonious. Thus, the fundamental law can be formulated as follows: “harmony” equals “order”.

The colour wheel is a fundamental concept in the basic theory of colour. It represents the spectrum of colours used for selecting colour combinations and schemes. It consists of three primary colours — red, yellow, and blue — along with their derivatives. Red, yellow, and blue are considered the primary level of colours. They are followed by their mixtures: orange, purple, and green. Next are the colours of the third level, obtained by blending the second-level colours. Shades of a single colour or tone can range from extremely light to extremely dark. However, technically speaking, black and white are not separate colours and are not included in the colour wheel.

There are different models of the colour wheel, including Johannes Itten’s colour wheel. Itten, a Swiss artist and author of the popular book “The Art of Colour,” created a colour wheel that helps in selecting colour combinations based on colour schemes.

On Itten’s colour wheel, we will find warm colours that evoke a sense of warmth, energy, and vitality. These hues include reds, oranges, and yellows. In contrast, cool colours create a feeling of calmness, serenity, and tranquility. These colours include blues, greens, and purples.

Understanding the temperature associations of warm and cool colours allows designers to manipulate emotions and create desired atmospheres in interiors. Combining the oposite hues can give us even more creative outcome, so check out some basic rules and ready-to-use colour combinations that can help you make right colour choices for your interior and wall art.

warm colours (reds, oranges, and yellows) and cold colours (blues, greens, and purples) on Itten’s wheel

Cold and warm palette in interior design

60-30-10 Rule.

In terms of percentages, it can be represented as 60-30-10, where the primary colour occupies the largest portion, followed by the secondary colour, and the smallest portion is reserved for accents. This does not mean that the palette for an interior design project consists only of three tones; there can be more. In such cases, the colours are distributed within the group.

The primary colours usually apply to the ceiling, floor, and walls. Additional colours are introduced through furniture, which can also serve as accents. Details, textiles, and metals often act as accent colours. This division is conditional, as designers experiment with colours and shades. Schemes can be deviated from, expanded, or complemented if they align with your goals and objectives. The second principle that stems from this rule concerns the favourite colour. Many are willing to paint the walls in their beloved vibrant blue or green. However, after a couple of years, they start regretting this decision, leading to another round of renovations. Our advice: opt for a more neutral palette as a base. It can be a greenish or blueish palette, but it is better to choose calmer, muted shades within that range. You won’t get tired of them easily. Additionally, when selecting colours, it’s important to consider the size and dimensions of the room. Not all colours look good on large surfaces, such as walls. This can be determined through test swatches.

Colour theory 60-30-10 rule

60% white – walls, sofa, artwork; 30% brown – furniture, accessories; 10% blue – artwork

Analogous colour scheme.

These colour combinations are usually composed by 3 colours that are neighbours on the colour wheel.

These colour schemes are quite versatile and pleasing for the eye. By utilizing colours that share similar undertones, such as blues and greens or oranges and yellows, we create a sense of unity and balance within a space. This colour scheme allows for a smooth transition from one colour to another, evoking a serene and cohesive ambiance. Analogous colour palettes create comfortable and harmonious interiors.

Colour wheel analogous color scheme

analogous combinations are usually composed by 3 colours that are neighbours on the colour wheel

Interior in blues and greens

Complementary colour scheme.

Complementary colour combinations involve the artful pairing of two hues that reside on opposite ends of the colour wheel. Whether it’s the powerful combination of fiery reds and cool greens or the striking contrast between serene blues and energetic oranges, the dynamic relationship between these complementary hues infuses a space with a sense of drama and a captivating focal point that draws the viewer’s gaze.

Practical tips: pick one colour as a main colour and a complementary one to highlight and make items (artwork) to stand out. Use neutrals in walls and furniture and concentrate contrasting hues in décor.

Green interior with reds
Complementary colors on wheel

complementary colour combinations involve pairing two hues that are opposite each other on the colour wheel

Split complementary colour scheme.

It is also known as a “contrasting triad.” In this case, you need to choose one colour, find its opposite, and take two colours adjacent to it on the colour wheel. This scheme usually offers more creative freedom and the ability to create a joyful and lively atmosphere. It is inherent in nature.

The harmony becomes less aggressive and less uncompromising. You can adjust the brightness or saturation of the shades, highlight a colour by reducing the others. To soften the colour harmony, you can use one warm colour against a range of cool colours. The visual effect of this harmony creates conflict, action, and energy in the work or object. The emotions evoked by this harmony are much stronger than in the case of analogous harmony. It forms a triangle consisting of colours that are maximally far apart on the colour wheel. It is believed that this harmony is the most universal and the most difficult to spoil.

Colour wheel

split complementary combination involves pairing a base colour with two hues adjacent to its complement on the colour wheel

Yellow interior blue art

Triadic colour combinations.

Colours in such harmony are equally spaced from each other on the colour wheel. With this type of harmony, you can easily saturate the visual aspect of the work. Therefore, it is desirable to make one of the triad colours dominant, the second one foundational, and the third one accentual. This palette allows achieving both contrast and harmony simultaneously. The principle here is that one colour dominates and accentuates the other two. Such a composition appears lively even when using pale and unsaturated colours. The scheme is ideal for children’s rooms. It can be said that the possibilities of the classic triad are limitless. Its palette is universal and can be used practically without restrictions. By changing the tone, saturation, or lightness of one of the three shades, you can obtain a completely new result each time.

triadic colour schemes bring together three hues that are evenly spaced on the colour wheel

Tetradic colour schemes: rectangle and square.

This scheme includes one main colour, two additional colours, and an additional colour that emphasizes the accents. For example, blue-green, blue-violet, orange-red, orange-yellow. It offers more colour variety than any other scheme, but if all four colours are used in equal quantities, the scheme may appear unbalanced and excessive. Therefore, it is necessary to choose one dominant colour. Avoid using pure colours in equal amounts. A rectangular tetrad is easier to balance than a square one due to the presence of closely related shades on the colour wheel.

A combination of 4 colours equally spaced from each other on the colour wheel makes a square colour scheme. This is the most complex scheme. These colours differ from each other in tone but also complement each other. For example, purple, orange-red, yellow, blue-green. The square tetrad is more suitable for experienced authors who have a lot of experience working with simpler harmonies. The colours in such a combination intensify the intensity of each of them. In some combinations, they can be unpleasant.

Colourful interior

a combination of 4 colours equally spaced from each other on the colour wheel makes a square colour scheme

To sum up.

In conclusion, understanding the principles of colour in art and interior design opens up a world of creative possibilities. By harnessing the inherent emotions and associations of different hues, we can create harmonious, dynamic, and captivating environments that truly resonate with our senses. So, embrace the fascinating world of colour and unleash your creativity to transform spaces into vibrant and harmonious works of art.