You know the feeling when you walk into a space and something isn’t quite right? The furniture is great and the layout works, but it feels chaotic or piecemeal? Nine times out of 10, that feeling is due to the (lack of) color scheme: homes are often designed over time, and without a color plan to work from, can wind up feeling haphazard. It’s one of the reasons restaurants and hotels can look so inviting: designers know there is nothing quite like color for creating a mood and a sense of flow.
This isn’t to say color palettes should be overly prescriptive. I think the days of matchy-matchy rooms in just a few strict shades are long gone, thankfully. Just that having a color palette to refer to, even a flexible one, will help any space evolve cohesively.
So, where to start? To choose a color palette for a particular room (or an entire home), you’ll first need some inspiration. As a jumping-off point, why not consider one of the following:
This is the oldest trick in the book, and the easiest way to settle on a color scheme you love. Find a pattern containing multiple hues that you love: it can be an upholstered floral chair you’ve had for ages, a rug (like the one above from an Emily Henderson-designed room) or a wallpaper you only dream of affording. Chances are, if the color combination thrills you in a single piece, it’ll thrill you even more once it’s been extrapolated to your home at large.
This is a slightly controversial choice, and I’ll admit, I never recommend buying art because it suits the color palette of a particular room. I think art should be an emotional decision, and that if you really love a piece, it can go just about anywhere. But if you already have a painting or print with colors you love, then by all means, design a room around it. (Yes, I realize the end result may look the same, but it’s not about that to me: I’m a confusing creature.) (Image via T Magazine)
Maybe there’s nothing in your home that you want to create a color palette from, but what about outside? A beautiful view is like a painting come to life, after all; just think about all those lush Mediterranean homes full of sea blue, sandy taupe and white, like the Greek oasis above from Architectural Digest.
Once you’ve got a basic palette, tweaking it in order to use it in a room takes just a few extra considerations:
Ground it with neutrals
Including at least a few neutral shades in your palette makes everything easier—both on the eyes, and when it comes to actually pulling the space together. When I create a scheme for a client, I make sure at least 50% of the colors are neutral. (Image via The New Darlings)
By this I mean, be inclusive when it comes to hues, and include a shade’s close family members. It’s much easier, not to mention more interesting, to build a room around “grays, greens and blues, with the odd bit of orange” than it is to create a space of “dove grey, teal, and rust” specifically. Keep in mind that size does matter here: the larger the space, the more opportunities for color, and the more flexible a scheme can become. (Image via Dimore Studio)
Be judicious about “pop” colors
An exception to the inclusive color thinking from above is the good old fashioned “pop” color. If a color is only going to appear two or three times in a space, make sure it’s a close match across the board, as you want it to feel purposeful. Case in point: the golden yellow accents above (featured on West Elm’s blog) via the lighting fixture, rug and artwork.