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How to Use a Color Wheel for Decorating and Choosing Colors That Work

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Choosing colors for your home becomes much simpler if you use one simple tool to help you – a color wheel. Here’s how to use a color wheel for decorating and where to get one for yourself!


A color wheel for decorating can be a really handy tool to have. 

Color is one of two key ways that you can create beauty and cohesive flow in your home decor. (Finding your style is the other.)

Choosing colors that work well together to get that great flow is sometimes tricky. But it’s much easier if you have – and know how to use – a color wheel to help you! 

a decorator's color wheel on a wood table with text overlay that says how to use a color wheel for decorating and choosing colors for your home

 

In order to really understand a color wheel, let’s cover a few basics first. 

What is Color Theory?

Color theory in interior design is the study of colors and how to use them in harmony in your home to create the flow and atmosphere (feel) you want your home to convey. 

Why Using Color Theory is Important 

The colors you use in your home should not be chosen individually, in isolation, but rather with your entire home in mind. They should coordinate.

A basic understanding of color theory will help you to choose lovely color combinations that look beautiful together and flow seamlessly throughout your home. 

You should create a whole home color palette and a color wheel will help take the guesswork out of choosing that color scheme for your home. 

What is a Color Scheme in Interior Design?

A color scheme in interior design is essentially a framework for choosing your specific color palette. 

  • color scheme is the general framework used to put your colors together. It’s based on the color wheel and color theory. 
  • color palette is the specific colors you choose for your home. It includes the names of your paint colors. 

Color Theory Cheat Sheet with color schemes

There are four main color schemes:

  1. Monochromatic – one main color and it’s tints, shades and tones, tends to be soothing and calming depending on the color chosen
  2. Complementary – any two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, typically high contrast, best used in small doses
  3. Split-Complementary  – one main color and any two colors on either side of its opposite, great if you love the idea of high contrast, but want something a little safer
  4. Analogous – one main color and up to six of its neighbors on the color wheel, a fun color scheme, best used with the 60-30-10 color rule (see below)

There are other color schemes too, but these are the most common and will give you plenty of options. 

Related: Color Theory Simplified

Now that you know a few basics, let’s talk about the color wheel. 

What is a Color Wheel?

A color wheel is probably not something you’ve used in a really long time, if at all. But it is a handy tool to help visualize which colors will work nicely together. And it can help you to decide on a color scheme for your home. 

A color wheel is a chart that helps us to understand colors and how they relate to one another and is a very handy tool to have in your decor arsenal! (And it may just save you the cost of many color mistakes!)

My Favorite Color Wheel for Decorating

There are several color wheels out there. But my all time favorite color wheel is this one, available on Amazon

a decorator's color wheel on a wood table

It’s meant specifically for interior design, so it includes colors that are more relevant to decorating than one meant for web or graphic design would. 

It also has the color schemes summarized and a handy guide to colors that harmonize on it too. 

If you’re unsure about the cost of getting a color wheel, keep in mind the potential cost of making color mistakes in your house – the paint, the fabrics, the furniture. If you’re decorating one or more spaces in your home, the return on your color wheel purchase could be huge! 

What are the Basic Colors in a Color Wheel?

Generally speaking a color wheel is made up of 12 colors:

  • 3 primary colors – red, blue and yellow.
  • 3 secondary colors – orange, green and violet (or purple)
  • 6 tertiary colors – yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green

A decorator’s color wheel will sometimes have a more colors, but is based on the same principals that certain colors mixed together make other colors. 

Tips for Choosing Your Home Color Palette

You should ask yourself a few questions when you’re choosing a whole home color palette:

1. How do you want your home to feel?

Warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows will make your home feel cozy and lively. Cool colors like blues, greens and purples are chill and relaxed.

Choose a colors and a color scheme based on the feelings you want your home to convey. 

2. What colors do you love?

Do you have a favorite color? Perhaps a glance at your wardrobe will help you determine what colors you are naturally drawn to?

By starting with a color that you love, it is unlikely that you’ll get tired of your color scheme quickly. 

3. What colors are you stuck with?

Most of us can’t change or renovate everything all at once. Some things have to remain long-term in your home.

Take cues as to colors you have to implement based on the unchangeable things in your home, like floors or cabinets that you’re not replacing for awhile (or ever). 

4. Do you want a high contrast color scheme or something a little more soothing?

Take a look at the four most common color schemes above again, paying particular attention to their descriptions. If you love high contrast color, you may want to utilize a complementary color scheme. But if you want more of a soothing space without jarring pops of color, stick with a monochromatic color scheme (particularly one with plenty of neutrals). 

How to Use a Color Wheel for Decorating and Choosing Colors for Your Home

Once you’ve asked yourself the questions above, you should have an idea of one one color that you really like, plus the type of color scheme you will use. 

To choose colors for your home using an interior design color wheel:

1. Turn the wheel so that your favorite color is located at the top, under the “Main Color” title. Let’s use blue-violet as an example:

color wheel on a wood table with blue-violet at the top

2. Next, locate the coordinating color(s) on the color wheel for the color scheme you’d like. 

For example, if you’re using: 

  • a monochromatic color scheme, you will use the various shades of blue-violet beneath the main color on the color wheel. 

color wheel for decorating showing a monochromatic color scheme of blue-violet

  • a complementary color scheme, yellow-orange and its shades, tints and tones will be the complementary colors you use with the blue-violet. 

color wheel on a table with blue-violet and yellow-orange circled to show complementary color scheme

  • a split-complementary color scheme, yellow-oranges and red-oranges will be your coordinating colors. 

color wheel on a wood table with blue-violet, yellow and orange circled to show a split-complementary color scheme

  • an analogous color scheme (also called a related color scheme), green, blue-green, blue-violet and violet will be among the colors you use to go with your blue. 

decorator's color wheel on a wood table with blue-violet and it's adjacent colors circled to show an analogous color scheme

3. From these basic coordinating colors, you can choose paint colors, fabrics and all the necessary decor items for your space. 

Related: How to Create a Whole Home Color Palette + a Hack for Perfectly Coordinated Colors Every Time! 

Decorator Tip: No matter which colors or color scheme you choose, use varying shades of your colors to add interest to your spaces.

So, now that you’ve chosen a basic color scheme to use in your home, how do you use those colors in each space? 

You utilize something called the 60-30-10 color rule. 

The 60-30-10 Color Rule

The 60-30-10 rule is a basic and timeless interior design rule that states that 60% of the room should be a dominant color, 30% should be a secondary color (or pattern/texture) and 10% should be an accent. 

It’s a rule that when followed brings balance to the colors used in a space. 

60% is the Main Color

The easiest way to incorporate your main color into over half of your space is to use your main color on the walls. If your main color is a bright color, you may not want to do that. But if you do, try to use plenty of neutral colors too, to keep the space from being overwhelming. 

30% is the Additional Color

The purpose behind the additional color is to bring some life and interest to the space. 

It’s best to use this additional color on furniture, rugs and curtains.  

10% is the Accent Color

Generally, the accent color will be the brightest or most intense color in a space. 

You can utilize this accent color on vases, throw pillows, candles and various other accessories. The benefit of using your accent color on these things, is that they can be changed with the seasons or when you get bored of a specific color. 

Decorator Tip: Use your accent colored accessories in at least three places in order to draw your eye around the room!

white bedroom nightstand with blue walls and yellow sheets to illustrate the 60-30-10 rule

In our daughter’s room, the main color is a lovely blue, with white as the additional color and pale yellow as the accent color.

pink grey blush girl's room to illustrate the 60-30-10 rule

In our other daughter’s room, the main color is gray (in varying shades), the additional color is white and the accent color is blush pink.

Our living room is mainly black and beige. By keeping the bigger things neutral, we can change out the accents with the season.

beige couch with black accent wall and red Christmas accents

Our neutral living room with red Holiday accents.

farmhouse living room with black shiplap wall and burnt orange fall accents

Our living room with burnt orange accents for fall.

Our living room with green accents for summer.

More About Color in Your Home

Now that you know how to use a color wheel for decorating, make sure to also read our other posts about choosing colors for your home:

a decorator's color wheel on a wood table with text overlay that says how to use a color wheel for decorating and choosing colors for your home

Do you have a color wheel for decorating your home? How has it helped you to decorate with more flow and beauty?

I'd love it if you'd share:

I'd love to chat with you in the comments!

Student love

I found my style and was able to bring our small space together by creating a cozy and inviting home...

Danae C.

I loved the lesson on color theory, and also THAT YOU TOLD US EXACTLY WHAT ORDER TO DECORATE IN!

Erica L.

My ah-ha moment was when I realized how much time and money we have spent in the past couple of...

Cheryl P.

I love your easy process to determine my style. I've also learned that my style has changed over the years and seasons...

Sheryl R.

Your explanation of paint colors was the light bulb moment for me! Your explanation would have saved us from painting...

Pat Jensen