Design Inspo

How to Use the Color Wheel in Interior Design

If choosing colors in interior designs feels daunting or confusing, here's our cheatsheet on how to use the color wheel and pair colors like a pro.

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Understanding the color wheel is important in any creative endeavor, especially when designing an interior space! Whether you love color or are hesitant to branch outside of neutrals, having a good grasp on how the colors or tones in your room relate to each other and impact the look and feel of your home is key no matter the scale of your project.

Psst... did you know that 60-90% of the first impression of a space is due to its colors?

Top things to know about using the color wheel in interior design:

  • Knowing your way around the color wheel is key to understanding how the tones in an interior space work together.
  • Primary, secondary, tertiary, complementary, and analogous color schemes can all be created by combining different tones on the color wheel.
  • Blending the tones of the colors you incorporate in a design is an easy way to make a room feel balanced.
  • Creating a color palette is a great first step in designing any project.
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Primary colors.

The three primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. When combined, these three colors create all other colors on the color wheel. Incorporating a primary color scheme in your design can draw the eye in and is a great way to make a statement and make a room feel playful.

Primary colors interior design
Source: Empty Easel.

Secondary colors.

Mixing any two primary colors gives you a secondary color. Green, purple (or violet), and orange are the three secondary colors! These colors live in between the primary colors that mix to make them.

Secondary colors interior design
Source: Empty Easel.

Tertiary colors.

What do you get when you mix a primary color with a secondary color? Tertiary colors (aka, the rest of the colors on the color wheel)! There are six tertiary, or intermediate colors: Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet.

Tertiary colors interior design
Source: Empty Easel.
Tertiary colors interior design
Tertiary colors and triadic example.

Complementary colors.

Complementary colors are opposites on the color wheel, and you know what they say? Opposites attract! You can use complementary colors when designing a space to create a bold and sharp contrast and bring a high-energy impact to your room. The most common complementary color pairs are primary and secondary (think: red and green, yellow and purple, and blue and orange), but you can pick any color on the color wheel and find it's complementary match like Blue-Green (Teel) and Red-Orange (Blood Orange).

Analogous colors.

Analogous colors are colors that sit right next to each other on the color wheel. Blue and purple, for example, are analogous colors. Analogous colors are naturally pleasing to the eye and create a good visual flow when paired. These schemes are often found in nature and can be comforting, but it's important to add in some contrast so things don't blend together too much.


If you look at the evenly spaced colors on the color wheel, you will find your triadic colors. All primary colors paired together is triadic, so are all secondary colors. When used together, triadic colors stand out and call attention to one another. Designing an interior using triadic colors can make a space pop and create an unexpected visual element.


Monochromatic color schemes incorporate a single color in different tones. Using a monochromatic palette in your design can be a great way to make a statement and create some drama while still allowing the eye to rest.

Check out this video on how the monochromatic color trend has evolved in interior design!

Green monochromatic design
A green monochromatic design we love by Shelby Anderson.

Warm tones.

Warm-toned colors (reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks) can make a space feel warm, inviting, and cozy. However, too many warm tones in one area can make a room feel closed off.

Cool tones.

Cool-toned colors (gray, blue, silver, and most whites) can make a room feel grounded, calming, and clean. Using too many cool tones in one room can make a space feel cold and unwelcoming.

Cool tones interior design
If you divide the color wheel in half from Red to Green, you can see Warm and Cool tones.

Color undertones.

Almost every finish you choose for your home has a warm or cool undertone, from wood species to hardware to countertop materials. Understanding the undertones of the elements you are incorporating in your design is one of the easiest ways to ensure the colors and materials in your palette work together and feel cohesive. Remember that undertones extend beyond the pigments we see on the color wheel!

Balancing colors.

Mixing warm and cool tones in your design is a great way to achieve a well-balanced look and feel and allow the eye to bounce around the room or vignette easily. There's no rule that says you have to mix your warm and cool tones in exact proportions, but if you notice that the space you're working on is feeling a little meh, it might be because you need to add in some contrasting tones!

Designing with the 60-30-10 rule.

The 60-30-10 rule is a simple way to think about creating a color palette and mixing more than a few tones in one design. This rule suggests that when designing a room, you should pick three colors and then evenly distribute them into 60, 30, and 10 percent to keep the palette feeling balanced. Although it's not exact math, in general, 60% would be your dominant, more neutral color, 30% would be your secondary color, and 10% could be your boldest color.

Create your own color palette for direction.

Making your own color palette is one of the best ways to get started on the direction of any design project, and it's easier than you might think. To get started, use a color palette creator tool to adjust the colors for your space until it feels just right. This tool allows you to create a palette from your favorite image or artwork piece! Once you have a palette, don't forget to reference it while sourcing materials, shopping for pieces, and even matching paint colors.

Photo Credit: (Left) House Beautiful

Looking to create your own color palettes and play with color choices in your space before making any big decisions? Join Spoak!

Date Posted
August 3, 2022



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