how to choose a colour scheme

How to Choose & Apply Colour

I recently wrote a post about how to select a colour scheme on my blog The Design Basics. And another post on how to apply your colour scheme in your space. I thought it would be unfair not to share that information with this community too.

One of the very first things I do when I begin working with clients is to understand their interior style goal and colour preferences. Essentially this become a design strategy for the project.  By, making these two decisions at the beginning of the project helps set the direction and decide on specifications. It also helps move efficiently through the design process.

So what are some effective ways of choosing a colour scheme or colour palette for a space or your home?

Different ways to choose a colour scheme

My favourite colour scheme is black, white, grey.  I love the colour black.  My bed is black. Ninety per cent of my wardrobe is black and even my dog is black.  Your favourite colour/s is a good place to start when choosing a colour scheme for your home.

It doesn’t matter, for example that your favourite colours may not be traditional to a particular style.  That is, you can still have a Coastal style such as Hamptons, if you like black or purple.  Any style has many defining elements that characterise it and colour is just one.

Another way to select a colour scheme is to define your style.  As mentioned above interior styles lend themselves to particular colours.  Scandinavian interior style suits, neutral colours such grey and white. Industrial interior styles lend themselves to black and brown colour schemes. 

So, if you know what style you like you can easily Google ‘colour scheme for Scandinavian living room’ and see what comes up? 

If you have existing pieces that you want to keep you can also use these to establish a colour scheme.  For example, I’m currently working on a kitchen renovation project in Northcote and the existing colours are beige, brown, pink, gold, red and lots of timber. 

My client has a chrome floor lamp and brass pendants, their colour scheme is lacking cohesion but beige/brown is the predominant colour. My client had expressed interested in grey, but they understood that with their existing pieces, that a neutral colour scheme of beige and white with a gold accent, made more sense for their kitchen renovation.

To summarise there are three key ways to select a colour scheme; by using your favourite colours, by using the colours that lend themselves well to your chosen interior style goal and finally by being directed by your existing pieces.

Once you’ve selected your colour scheme you need to be able to apply it.  Colour balance is important with interior design.  Primarily because colour is so powerful and impacts our mood.  So, you need to get the colour balance right to ensure your space is harmonious.

I’ll share a real example of how I applied colour from a residential project I completed last year.   The design strategy for this project was an interior style goal of minimal Scandinavian with a colour scheme of grey, black, white, mustard.

Client’s colour scheme

Basic Colour Rule

There is a basic colour rule which goes like this – a colour scheme starts with three colours.  In the example above the three colours would be black, white and grey.  You can build on that with an accent, in the case of my client, the mustard colour was the accent.  You can further build on this by adding a metallic accent such as gold, copper, chrome.

With your basic three colours they are applied in a space with the following ratio.  Sixty per cent of the volume of the space are the walls, so that would be white (or possibly grey). Thirty per cent of the volume might be the sofa.  Whatever the focal piece of the space is, will take up thirty per cent of a colour from your colour scheme, in this instance you might have a grey sofa.  Finally, ten per cent of the volume of the space would be décor such as cushion and throw, which take up the accent colour.

Key to remember is to start with three colours and apply them in a 60-30-10 ratio.

How I Applied My Client’s Colour Scheme

For my client’s living room, the white from his colour scheme had to be the walls (60%).  As he was renting, and he couldn’t change that surface.  So, I specified a grey sofa (30%), a grey and white cushion and added mustard through the throw and print 10%.

Black was also part of the colour scheme, so I introduced this colour through a black bench seat / TV unit, the print had a black frame and the console table had a black steel base.

Once you decide on how to apply the three base colours of your colour scheme you can slowly build on this, remembering that balance and repetition are key.

interior designer melbourne
Apartment, St.Kilda East

A lot of my work is colour consultations and for good reason.  Colour is confusing and everyone sees colour differently.  Even if you opt for the safest or easy option and want an all white colour scheme you can get it wrong without texture and pattern to add some warmth.

To add to the complexity of colour, is that everyone sees colour differently.  There are so many options and the key aspect to colour is light.  So understanding light, both artificial and natural light is also really important.

I’m a firm believer of seeking help in the areas you’re most stuck in, whether that’s defining your style or choosing a colour scheme, there are many resources available but, if you’re really stuck then working with an interior designer to establish a design strategy comprising of your preferred style goal and colour scheme can be really invaluable.