Color Codes

By Diane Schlindwein

June 20, 2008 5 min read


The secret to choosing just the right scheme

By Diane Schlindwein

Copley News Service

With cooler weather bringing people indoors and the holidays just around the corner, many folks are ready to spruce up their home's interior. However, when it comes to picking a new color scheme, some homeowners just don't know where to begin.

After over 15 years in the design business, paint expert and designer Dana Pfeiffer has explaining color down to a science. She speaks of a color wheel and says color comes in a variety of schemes - for example, monochromatic, complementary, analogous and triadic.

Pfeiffer, who co-owns a design business called Pholishus, explains the monochromatic color scheme is any one color on the color wheel used on most every room surface. "This color can be different shades in a room to offer variance," she says.

Complementary color is a pair of colors that are opposite one another on the color wheel, such as blue and yellow, red and green, salmon and teal, violet and apple green. Some decorators prefer a split complementary color scheme, which is one main color and two opposite colors, such as using blue as the main color and adding yellow and orange.

Analogous colors are colors that are adjacent to each other, such as green, yellow and orange or blue, purple and red. Finally, the triadic color scheme uses three colors that are equally spaced on a color wheel, such as purple, teal and orange.

"Most paint stores have colors pre-selected in these schemes, which makes it easy to select a color," says Pfeiffer. "You would just need to have your favorite color in mind and the sample books will do the rest for you. However, a color scheme offers a guideline for your project."

Pfeiffer says the monochromatic color scheme is the easiest to work with. "A monochromatic color offers you different shades or tints of a basic color you choose, such as green - apple green, dark green and light green," she says. "It is recommended that color flow throughout your home or office as it creates a harmonious atmosphere.

"This is where you can get more technical in your color and venture into the complementary, triadic and analogous color options," she says. "All this starts with one color that could be your favorite."

Pfeiffer, who is based in Springfield, Ill, says one of the today's most popular color combinations mimics the autumnal colors of nature. "A color scheme that is popular right now consists of burnt orange, a shade of red with accents of brown and a soft yellow," she says.

"These are called earth tones and they tend to be the most popular. The scheme would be termed analogous as they are adjacent to each other on the color wheel and usually one of those colors is the dominate color like the burnt orange with red, yellow and brown as the accents."

In his book "Texturing and Painting" (New Riders Press, $55), author and decorator Owen Demers gives other examples of analogous colors. "Think of purple, blue and magenta colors in a twilight sky or the yellows, golds and oranges in an Arizona desert. A pine forest has light greens to blues and purples within it depths."

Sometimes a person's house dictates it's decorating. "Modern homes tend to have contrasting colors that are bold, such as complementary or triadic color. Simple bold colors are red, black and white," Pfeiffer says. The split complimentary colors for a modern home could be blue, orange and yellow. The triadic colors might be purple, orange and dark teal.

"Older homes tend to enjoy the earth tones as it lends to the traditional atmosphere, such as reds, burnt orange and soft yellows," she continues. "Some of the neutral colors used more frequently in older homes are off-white (cream) and brown. These colors are softer."

No matter what kind of homes they occupy, some individuals feel uncomfortable working with color. "Most people get overwhelmed with color after the monochromatic scheme," Pfeiffer says. "This is where a professional color consultant can just spend an hour and have your whole scheme available to you."

That's why homeowners who begin to feel overwhelmed with a project really should consider asking for a little assistance, Pfeiffer concludes. "If you want a more sophisticated scheme, paying a professional for an hour is well worth your time and money for that designer look."

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