What is a colour wheel and why is it helpful for interior design?

October 29, 2020 2:31 pm Published by What is a colour wheel

Artists, designers and even hairdressers all use a colour wheel , but what exactly is it? And how can colour theory help with your interior design?

What is a colour wheel?

A colour wheel is a visual representation of the colours and how they work with each other. It shows the relationships between primary, secondary and tertiary colours.
We instinctively know that some colours work well together and others don’t. A colour wheel can help us understand why this is.

painted colour wheel

What are the primary, secondary and tertiary colours?

It’s probably been a while since you painted a colour wheel (or circle) at primary school so firstly let’s remind ourselves of the colour basics. The primary colours are red, yellow and blue. These cannot be made from mixing other pigments. The secondary colours are green, purple and orange. We make these by mixing equal parts of the primary colours (red and blue make purple, yellow and blue make green, yellow and red make orange).

Tertiary colours are those in-between the primary and secondary colours on the colour wheel. The six tertiary colours are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple and red-purple.

Why is a colour wheel helpful for interior design?

Secondly, let’s look at how a colour wheel can help us understand colour theory and aid interior design by discovering which colour combinations are visually pleasing.

Warm vs. cool

We can put the colours into two groups. Warm colours are those that remind us of energy, sunsets and fire, whereas cool colours bring to mind calm, forests and water. We can therefore use colour in interior design to give each room a particular feel. For example, green in a bedroom can evoke a sense of calm, whereas pink in a home office can be invigorating.

Warm vs cool colours

Creating harmony

Harmony, whether musical, visual or societal is a pleasing combination of different parts. You can use a colour wheel to create a harmonious scheme for your home by following these simple rules.

Complementary colours sit opposite each other on the wheel (for example yellow and purple). These will contrast with each other and make the other ‘pop’.

Analogous colours huddle next to each other on the wheel and look good together (e.g. blue, blue-green and green). Choose 3 of these for your scheme, with one of them dominating.

Complementary & analogous

Split complementary colour schemes use one colour along with the two colours that sit next to its complementary (opposite) colour. For example, blue, red-orange and yellow-orange. This formula is a great way to add some contrast without being visually jarring.

Split complementary

Triadic colour schemes use three colours that are equidistant on the wheel. For example, green, purple and orange. Once again, this creates contrast in your space, but with balance and harmony. Use two colours as accents, with the other as the main focus.

triadic scheme

A note on neutrals

Remember that you can also use neutrals to add depth and contrast. Neutral colours are white, black and grey. Metallics can also be used as neutrals in most colour schemes.

green shades

So now you know the basics of colour theory, give these formulae a try next time you decorate and see how helpful your newfound knowledge of the colour wheel is for interior design!

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Plus, find lots more tips, trends and inspiration for interiors here.