Interior Design & Color Schemes

Instructor: Morgan Donohue

Morgan has taught interior design, LEED certification, and Literature. She has a Bachelors degree in Interior Design and a Master's degree in English and Creative Writing.

Color schemes in interior design are used to create cohesion in a single space or building. Learn more about what factors are used to build a strong palette in design.

Interior Design and Color Schemes

Imagine a home with an open floor plan. When you first think of creating a color scheme for the space, what comes to mind? Color schemes in interior design are simply the organization and choices of colors placed throughout a space. These colors and their combinations can influence how a person experiences a room. The color scheme can create a mood, enhance a particular style, and bring cohesion to disparate things in a single area. Often a color scheme is used to create a visual relationship between two or more adjacent areas or rooms.

Cohesion in Design

One of the most popular design choices over the last few decades is utilizing an open floor plan for the public spaces in a home. Rooms that were once walled off from one another are now sharing the same space, even if the functions of each area are different. This is an excellent example of when a color scheme for a room can create cohesion across multi-functional spaces. Through color, you can create a design that has a visual relationship between a dining room, living room, and kitchen in a single area. You can also use this idea to create a visual relationship throughout an entire house or in a stand-alone room.

Using Color Theory

Creating a color scheme can be boiled down to color theory. There are many ways to look at color through the lens of various theories, but it is simply about how color and different combinations of color can impact the mood, feel, and symbolism in a particular space.

Imagine the colors in a cold or stark space, one that has little warmth to it. You might picture colors that are shades of white, green, purple, or blue (as if you were in the icy Arctic).

Cool Colors in an Arctic Landscape

Now imagine the opposite, a warm and inviting space, such as in red, orange, and yellow hues (maybe a villa under the Tuscan sun?).

Warm Colors of a Vineyard

This is because people interpret the mood of certain colors to be either warm or cool. Many people find that warm colors can bring comfort and an invigorating brightness to a room, where cool colors create a relaxing and restful space.

This color theory can be expanded into using specific color combinations to create a palette or scheme. One large aspect of color theory is using a color wheel and the location of colors to create those combinations.

Color Wheel
Color Wheel

Analogous, monochromatic, triadic, and complementary are all color combinations created from the color wheel. Analogous color combinations use three colors adjacent to one another on the color wheel, while monochromatic ones use shades or tints of a single color. Triadic is using three colors across from one another on the color wheel, essentially creating a triangle shape on the wheel. Primary colors are triadic, including red, yellow, and blue. Complementary colors sit directly across from one another on a color wheel.

Creating a Palette

Paint Swatches for a Color Scheme

By combining cohesion and color theory, you can begin to create an informed color palette for an interior space.

Main Color

This color will be the foundation of a color scheme. Consider the hue that you imagine will be the primary wall color or used on large pieces of furniture. This color will feed the feel of the whole space and inform the overall mood and style.

Accent Color

This color will work as the second in command to the main color. It will help to balance out the palette and allow for visual interest in a room.

Bold Color

When people talk about bringing in a 'pop of color' this is the color that you want to incorporate. This color will lead the eye around a room and can be used to create a focal point in a space.

Secondary Accent Color

A secondary accent color is used sparingly and often has a close relationship to the bold color. This is a great option to bring into adjacent spaces in an open floor plan, especially if you want a subdued tint or shade (tint = white added to a color, shade = black added to a color).


Neutrals are often classified as beige, gray, greige (a grayish beige), or cream colors. Often finding a neutral for a room is not taken into consideration when it comes to developing a palette. It is important to define a neutral color for your scheme because it can blend seamlessly into your design and be used for visual rest in a room.


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