How to use a colour wheel in interior design

Moretti Blog   •   February, 2022

Luxury garden with waterfall, lights and wooden stairs

By now we should all understand the key role colour plays in our lives. In simple terms, on some level, it influences almost everything we think, feel and do. Colour affects our perceptions, our behaviour, our mindset, our mood, our emotions and, interestingly – especially from a commercial viewpoint – our buying behaviours. Certain colours are often associated with specific values, for example red with anger, or black with sadness. However, colour psychology maintains that there are no intrinsically “good” or “bad” shades, that we should or shouldn’t avoid. And of course, different people respond to the same colours in different ways. There are no absolutes.

Say goodbye to greige

Obviously, where interior design is concerned, it’s crucial to get our colour schemes right. We need to choose shades that genuinely appeal and resonate. And those colours also need to complement each other, in order to create a harmonious home. Pale, neutral colours have been the default option within interiors for so long that the burden of choice has seldom been an issue. But times are changing. And as more and more clients seek to swap 50 shades of greige for a brighter, bolder palette, it’s never been more important to know how to choose the right shades for your home. Step forward the colour wheel, an invaluable tool for finding all sorts of suitable combinations.

Carrara House waterfall showcasing water features by designer unknown
This Victorian kitchen diner renovation features yellow as an accent colour, to introduce a pop of brightness and plenty of energy

What is the colour wheel?

Very simply, the colour wheel is a visual representation of colours. In one easy image, it shows the relationship between different ones in a graphical way. It makes it much easier for anyone keen to assemble a selection of colours to know ones which go well together.

The colour wheel is based around three primary colours: red, yellow and blue. Mixing two of these primaries together creates a secondary. For example, red and blue make purple, and yellow and blue make green. Similarly, mixing secondaries will create tertiary colours. The basic colour wheel that we are most familiar with today has 12 sections, and includes primary, secondary and tertiary shades.

Carrara House waterfall showcasing water features by designer unknown
This living room colour scheme features a combination of soft blue tones, to create an atmosphere of calm and relaxation

How does the colour wheel work?

The colour wheel shows instantly how each colour relates to each other. This makes it easier to identify the shades that work well together – and those that don’t. The terminology can vary a little, but the colour wheel clearly showcases different colour categories. These are usually referred to as monochromatic, complementary, split complementary, analogous, triadic, and tetradic.

How to use the colour wheel for interior design

The colour categories mentioned all provide useful inspiration for choosing shades for your home. A monochromatic colour scheme uses variations of a single colour: for example, deep purple, mauve and lilac. This is useful to demonstrate how best to use different tones and tints. Monochromatic schemes are usually considered to be relaxing and serene. As you might expect, choosing lighter tones can help a room to feel more open and airy, whereas darker ones create a moodier, more dramatic effect. A mixture of both is a great way to introduce energy and interest.

Carrara House waterfall showcasing water features by designer unknown
Soothing neutrals were chosen for this master bedroom’s colour scheme, in line with its dual-use as a meditation space

Complementary colours

Complementary colours can be found directly opposite each other on the colour wheel: think blue and orange, or red and green. They are called complementary, but contrasting would probably be more accurate! Used together, these appear brighter, and are ideal for clients who are keen to make a statement with their interiors. The overall effect is striking, dynamic and primal. Offset with neutrals for balance, or do explore a split complementary colour scheme instead. In addition to the base colour, this variation uses the two colours either side of the opposite colour. This results in a softer contrast, which still has character without being too overbearing.

Carrara House waterfall showcasing water features by designer unknown
The colour palette for this Kensington apartment renovation is mostly monochromatic, combining tones of grey, white and blue

Analogous colours

Analogous colours sit side-by-side on the colour wheel. They are sometimes referred to as harmonious. I like to think of these as “friendly” combinations that get on well together, but because the contrasts can be subtle, this sort of room scheme can end up bland and lacking in vitality. One solution is to use a combination of deep and light analogous shades instead.

Triadic colours

Generally considered to be the most complex of all the colour wheel colour schemes, the tetradic approach introduces a fourth colour. These schemes are created by combining two complementary pairs, and offer lots of versatility. However, four colours in one room can be a lot, so think hard about the specific colours you choose. Pastels work well, and seldom overwhelm. Make sure to always balance warm and cool.


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