Colour theory made easy

Put together perfect colour schemes with our simple guide to colour basics.

Know your colour wheel

Understanding how colour works is a wonderful way to get ideas for your decorating adventures – all you need is a colour wheel.

The traditional colour wheel is a useful way of organising key colours and it can help you to put together decorating schemes for any space or project.

There are three main colour categories:

Primary colours are red, yellow and blue. These are the three key ingredients from which all other colours are made.

Secondary colours are orange, violet and green. Each of these colours is made by combining two of the primary colours. So, red and yellow create orange, blue and red create violet, and blue and yellow create green.

Tertiary colours are made by mixing a primary colour with a secondary colour, or by mixing two secondary colours together. Examples include chartreuse (yellow and green) and magenta (purple and red).

Create your colour scheme

When you have a colour wheel with these basic colours arranged on it, you can create a decorating scheme based on three colour combinations:

Monochromatic or toning colour schemes use tones of the same colour in different hues. This scheme works wonderfully in rooms where you want to create a calm, tranquil setting. Try painting your ceiling a very pale blue, your walls a medium blue and choose accessories in a rich, navy blue.

Harmonious or analogous schemes use colours that sit directly next to one another on the colour wheel. These work beautifully together in a room scheme. Mix blues with purples, or mix oranges with reds.

Complementary colour or contrasting colour schemes use hues that are directly opposite one another on the colour wheel. These colours always look good together, even though they contrast. The colours are exciting when used together. By changing the strength of the colours, the look you create can range from playful to dynamic. For example, blue looks smashing with orange and yellow works wonderfully with purple.

When you understand the colour wheel and master these basic rules, you can experiment with a wide variety of colour combinations and put together stunning colour schemes with confidence.