Fool Proof Color Coordination

Many of us are afraid to try coordinating colors in a room. This fear can be acquired by simple self doubt, or the experience of walking into a friend’s room and swearing that you will never, ever make the mistake of trying to combine colors in case it should end up looking like that. Fear not, there is a simple, fool-proof method that will have you using colors like a pro!

A room is divided into five main parts - walls, trim, floors, furniture and accessories. The problem arises when you’re trying to decide what colors to use on each element. Most of us simply give up, and choose safe, boring white for a good portion of it. How do you utilize other colors, and not end up with a garish, ugly color scheme? Keep reading, and you’ll see just how simple it is.

You’ve already learned that the room has five parts, so you won’t be too surprised to find out that the color is a four-part system. These four parts are - Main Neutral, Secondary Neutral, Main Color, and Secondary Color. A color is neutral if it is a shade of white (bright white, cream, eggshell), brown (beige, sand, tan), or black (light gray, charcoal gray, dove gray).

Five parts to a room, four color options. Pretty simple so far, right? Don’t worry, it doesn’t get much tougher. In most rooms, the walls and the floor will be the two main sections, with the trim and furniture being the secondary areas. If your floors are wood, they’re completely removed from the mix, and the equation changes. Walls are still main, and either furniture or trim is elevated to main. Which one will become a main element depends on the room and your own personal taste.

Let’s take a closer look at a standard room, with the floors and walls being main, and the furniture, trim and accessories being secondary. Pick a main neutral and a main color for your walls and carpet. You could choose sand colored beige for the walls, and a deep burgundy carpet. Or perhaps a dove gray carpet and a navy blue wall. Either choice works beautifully. Now your secondary neutral and color come into play. Beige walls and burgundy carpet. How about chocolate brown trim, and some hunter green furniture? You could even use a neutral for the trim and the furniture, reserving your secondary color for accessories, like pillows and decorative items.

In some rooms, the trim is extensive and/or ornate, and deserves main status on its own. Choose a color that highlights and accentuates your trim work, with a contrasting color for the walls. Two neutrals are fine, as long as they don’t blend together. White trim and charcoal or reddish-brown walls is a stunning look. The trick is to decide which of the four room elements you want to draw attention to, and use a color that will highlight it. Using dark shades elsewhere, and a bright neutral or color in the desired area works, as does the reverse method of using light shades in areas you don’t want to stand out and deep, rich colors in the area you want people to notice. My living room has a lot of handcrafted woodwork in the moldings, mantel, and attached shelves. There are also two sets of double windows that take up most of the wall space at either end of the room, along with a swinging, multi-paned glass door leading into another room. There is no way that the trim could not be one of the major parts of the room. My woodwork is bright white, the walls are charcoal gray to accent the white, the floors are hardwood (which is insignificant for this exercise) and the furniture is beige. However, I have accent pieces in cobalt blue and ruby red to bring a much-needed splash of color to the room.

You may have noticed that I’ve talked about five room parts, and only four colors. Accessories usually don’t comprise a true main focus in a room, so you have lots of room to play around with them. If you’ve used two different neutrals and two different colors already in the room, you can use any of those colors accessorizing, or a different shade of one of them. Let’s go back to our first room, the one with beige walls, burgundy carpet, brown trim, and hunter green furniture. You could use the same burgundy in throw pillows, silk flowers, matting in paintings. Or perhaps some beige and brown striped silk pillows would do the trick. You could venture into a new shade by choosing a mint green color for some lamps or pillows, playing off the hunter green; or perhaps a rose color to tie in with the burgundy.

If you’ve chosen a fabric that is multicolored for your furniture, or wallpaper with more than one color, the dominant color is the one you consider when choosing the rest of the shades for the room. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell exactly which color is dominant. A pale yellow wallpaper with deep green vines may actually have more yellow, but the green may stand out more. A good way to find out which color is stronger is to call a friend that’s been to your house often and ask them, “would you say my walls are yellow or green?”. Most people don’t notice an actual pattern, instead they notice a predominant color that sticks in their memory.

When choosing colors for the main, I’d recommend using the same color tone for both. If you’ve selected a sapphire blue, make sure the other color is also a rich jewel tone, or keep both colors pastels. You can use a pastel and a deep color as mains, but not all colors will actually go together well, and many times it’s not apparent until you’ve done all the painting, carpet installing and furniture buying. Just because the sunshine yellow and emerald green look good together when you hold the paint chips side by side doesn’t mean it will translate well when your walls are yellow and your emerald green carpet is installed. Too much depends on the size of the area that is being covered, the layout of the room, and the style of the room. If you simply must have that one particular shade of color in your room, use it in the accessories.

Simply put, pick two neutral colors and two “real” colors. Use them on the walls, furniture, trim, and floors. Then use one of these four colors, or a different shade of one of them, for accessorizing. If you’re not that brave, use neutrals everywhere, and save your two colors for the added touches.