Color Theory: Werk

When it comes to freshening up the space with softer surfaces, like the furnishings, accent throws, artwork, etc., we typically find ourselves drawn to some sort of color…..even if its just grey. It’s important to have this be harmonious with your harder surfaces, like the cabinets, countertops, flooring, etc., as the two need to complement one another. Typically, these harder surfaces tend to go more neutral, at least for the way most modern homes are being designed these days, and the color comes through in the softer surfaces. Now, there are some that like to flip that script and play with colors on the harder surfaces, and I only have one thing to say about that- WERK. IT. These spaces tend to have a huge impact and be very bold, and there is nothing wrong with that if it fits your style- you just really have to own your space.

Whatever way you decide to break up your use of color in the space, try to remember that while this may be a reflection of your individual style and favorite materials, it doesn’t take much more effort to understand your color palette. It’s important to build out early on in the process so the design decisions can be made easier and quicker, but have no fear if you’re doing all of this just to give your space a refresh. Working with your existing materials allows you to identify the colors already at play in the space, and you may just need some fine-tuning to make it feel more complete. Let me walk you through some basic guidelines to help build out your color palette for the next refresh!

The first thing I want to do is introduce you to the Color Wheel. Many of us may have seen these floating around craft stores or through schools across the country, but for those of you that haven’t, these actually represent a good tool to help consider balancing your colors.


Breaking Down the Types of Colors:

Primary Colors

Red, Blue, & Yellow. All other colors come from mixing these colors in different ways.

Secondary Colors

Purple, Green, & Orange. These colors come from mixing two of the primary colors. Hopefully, most of us have gone over these combinations in kindergarten but there as such:

Red + Blue = Purple

Blue + Yellow = Green

Yellow + Red = Orange

Tertiary Colors

Red-Orange, Orange-Yellow, Yellow-Green, Green-Blue, Blue-Purple, Purple-Red. These colors come from combining a primary color with a secondary color adjacent to it. 

This is a very simplistic way to look at the color wheel; for those who are interested in adding some more complexity to the color palette, it can be further broken down into the differing tints (hue created from adding white) or shades (hue created by adding black). 

Colorwheel items.jpg

Breaking Down the Types of Color Pairings:

Analogous Pairing

You achieve this color scheme by using 3 - 4 adjacent colors on the color wheel. This is one of my favorite ways to add color into a space because all of the colors talk to one another as they use colors present in the adjacent colors. As you can see, I used Red-Purple, Purple, & Purple-Blue. It’s a natural step down strategy that allows you to not worry about matching the same exact color everywhere, while also expanding the color palette’s depth. Sometimes, mixing two-three random colors can feel a little too overpowering for some of us- this enables us to have a subtle but impactful pop of color.

Complementary Pairing

Complementary is one of the easiest color schemes for most of us to understand, as you are pairing a color with another that lies directly across from it on the color wheel. Most of you know of the popular ones like Blue & Orange or Red & Green. It’s using one Primary or Secondary color, and then pairing it with the combination of the other primary/ secondary colors:

Primary - Blue + Orange [Red + Yellow]

Secondary - Green + Red [Orange + Purple]

This can also be done with Tertiary colors, though they end up complementing themselves:

Yellow-Green + Red-Purple

This is a simple, but effective pairing strategy as it usually adds a good combination of warm & cool colors into the same space- a natural balance.

Split Complementary Pairing

Essentially you are doing the same thing you are doing for the complimentary- choose two colors that lie directly across from one another. NOW, the twist to this pairing is that you take only one of the two colors, and replace it with the colors adjacent to it on either side. This is a level 2 complementary pairing. What this does is create a half-combination of Analogous & Complementary strategies. You’re using a set of adjacent colors that share properties of what would have been the actual complementary color, again allowing for some variation to occur. Usually, when I see this color pairing implemented in designs, the adjacent colorways get used most often and provides for the complemented color to pop a bit more from its palette. There is some interest. For example, the Yellow would function as the pop of color, and the Blue-Purple & Purple-Red would function as the more ambient colorway.

Double Complementary Pairing

Essentially you are going to do the same thing you did for both the complementary and split complementary pairings, but just adding another level of complexity. Start with your complementary colors, and then instead of using those direct colors, you’ll use each color’s adjacent hues in the color palette. For example, if we start with Yellow & Purple, we then substitute the Yellow for Orange-Yellow & Green-Yellow, and the Purple for Red-Purple & Blue-Purple. This is a level 3 complementary pairing. I find that this color palette can offer the broadest range of colorways that are cohesive with another, as opposed to 3-4 random colors. It just adds that little level of sophistication and intentionality, which is what helps take our home to a higher level of design.

Triad Pairing

This color scheme is rather simple to understand and offers three random colors that don’t necessarily relate to one another. It provides a more randomized feel to the color combinations, but in a way that still feels cohesive. I feel like I often find that many homes that come out of HGTV use this color palette a lot because it makes a much more significant impact if done right. Typically, these colorways fall into the realm of smaller accessories in the softer surfaces throughout the space because of its impact, and the harder surfaces fall into a more neutral setting to allow that impact to not compete with other elements in the space. I feel like I sometimes see HGTV try to move these colors into harder surfaces, like backsplashes or hardware or even the front door, and it can totally work- but it affects the energy of the space. Having more of these colors surrounding us in a larger format constantly can make the space feel more energetic and whimsical, though that isn’t everyone’s style. 

Monochromatic Pairing

This color scheme is probably the easiest because it only deals in one color, but it amplifies the complexity of the color palette because it brings into effect tints & shades of this one color. This is like mixing Navy Blue, Royal Blue, and Light Blue; you’re staying in one lane but creatively dimensioning the space by adding depth to your color palette. This naturally adds depth to the overall design and thankfully, it’s easy to pair your colored accessories/ softer surfaces. I would warn that you don’t want to be sliding up and down the tint/ shade scale of the color, but stick with a couple of notches darker and a couple of notches lighter. If you start adding too many different hues of blue, then the blues don’t talk to each other as well because they don’t have enough in common and they aren’t being used enough throughout the space to connect to one another. 

Remember that all of this is a fun exercise to try and refresh your space, but none of the rules are set in stone for what makes good design. Try following these guidelines and see if you feel your design style will feel more elevated- perhaps it’s too matchy-matchy for you. Just remember to curate your style into the space as best as you can- you want to be the MOST comfortable in your own space.