Colors for Interior Design: 3 colors is not enough

I remember reading up on my favorite interior designers and watching TV programs and paying close attention to their tips and advice for bringing atmospheres together in interesting and cohesive ways. And one tip that got me thinking was, in reference to British designer Sophie Robinson. her tip was to focus on 3 colors:

  1. Major Color: which will have the most presence in the room

  2. Secondary Color: which will pair with the major color but not take up the most space

  3. Accent Color: pops of color scattered throughout the space to bring the color scheme together.

While I do like the idea of focusing on 3 colors to help build a room, a great tip for beginners, I personally think that 3 colors is not enough to create an atmosphere. And when you think about all the materials and colors that interior designers use in their project, you'll see they use a whole packet of colors. They use woods, lights and lamp shades, rugs and carpets, wools, artwork, door and cabinetry handles. They each have their own color and texture.

This picture on the left, from Architectural Digest, is an example of both 3 color focus and multi-color scheme. Purple is the major color, Charcoal as the secondary color, and Yellow as the accent color. However, if you pay attention, the designer uses soft turquoise for the headboard, lighter purples for the bedsheets, soft warm ivory from the wallpaper (which also includes pink), and hints of green from the floating night tables.

What the designer did here was focus on color temperatures. Temperature is something that people often forget about, and yet tons of people have suffered through when deciding on furniture and accessories. "That black doesn't match with that black", "Why is that green different from the green paint we picked?", "Is that wood the same as the wood on the floor?". You recognize those kinds of questions?

That's because you're dealing with color temperature. Color Temperature is, of course, the way we perceive color as hot, warm, cool, and cold. Warmer colors go towards yellows and orange and can be more opaque. Cooler colors go towards blues, whites, and grays.

This may sound easy but you actually have to practice and keep looking at colors to understand how they work. Look at the color wheel here and let's use green as an example. You start at green and move towards yellow/orange, or mix a bit of those two colors, then you get a warmer color. Go the opposite way and you get cooler colors. Easy enough. Now, you mix some white in the green, the opaqueness of the color goes away and becomes softer. Same thing with mixing grays: the color becomes less opaque. Now combine those elements and you have a customizable color: mint green has white mixed in and go towards blue, so a cool color.

Now this photo, taken from Elle Decor Magazine, is a perfect example of multiple colors following similar color temperatures. You can count 6 colors here: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and black. The diptych tapestries shown serves as the color inspiration for the room. The greens edge towards a yellow, the blues have a tiny bit of orange mixed in (meaning the blue is neutralized and not as "blue"), the oranges and reds make themselves known through the lampshades and the deep woods from the floor and rug and end table. Then black from the other end table and the Middle Eastern inspired chair and coffee table ground the color scheme. The designer was conscious about the colors inspired and used in the tapestries, as well as how those colors are perceived. Thus, the room has much more unique character and charm, as well as giving the room a much more cohesive theme than 3 colors that can make the room feel empty.

Fabrics are always the best source of giving yourselves a color story and a platform to jump ideas off of. Here's this wool tartan from Hermes taken from Architectural Digest. You get a deep red (that is more towards purple on the color wheel but has orange mixed in, so "warm"), yellow, green (more towards yellow on the wheel, "warm"), and blue (further along the spectrum, towards purple). Plus you have ivory that is serving as the ground for the pattern. That would make it 5 colors. Take this color scheme and you can take yellow and green as accents, red and blue and ivory as your main colors. Or do it the other way around and have yellow or green as your main colors. Your world is your oyster. Let that reflect in your room.

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