Color Theory for Interior Design & Visually Pleasing Decor

The secret ingredient to an aesthetic arrangement is the color theory for interior design. Here’s how to unleash its full potential.


Color theory is like a cheat code for tapping into one’s ideal room aesthetic. With the balance and funk of the color arrangements, or color wheels, you can perfectly put together a color palette appropriate for your space.

One thing that I have realized in my personal journey is that color theory is something that can, without tedious efforts, make something unique and visually pleasing at the very same time. Here’s my insight on how a small theoretical expression such as color theory for interior design can upgrade your house to the next XP level. 

Instead of the knick-knacks of technicality, let simplicity inspire you to create what you, as a viewer, find beautiful. Inspirations from nature, from movies, from still shots, anything, literally anything can inspire interior design. Color theory for interior design has its roots way deeper than any of us can imagine.

The Color Theory

The color theory is the study of how colors work together, and how their inter-relationship makes us feel. With the help of color theory, one can choose colors to complement each other in the simplest way possible, whether it is for fashion, architecture, interior design, cinema, graphic design, or art.

Almost like your favorite pop beat or symphonies which work well together and define the quality of the music like for harmonies, it is an acapella and for a mood boost, it’s an EDM track. Just like the genres and moods of music, colors decide the mood of a room, whether it’s poetic or gamified or anything else.

In the end, it’s all about how you apply the theory.

So let me share some of my takes on color theory and its magic. Let’s check out what warm and cool colors are, along with some basics on hue and tone. And then, I’ll also go over an example of how you can build your very own color palette for your beautiful room. So, let’s begin!

First, let’s deal with the elephant in the room and see what exactly the color wheel means.

Color Wheel

The color wheel is the initial foundation of the color theory. It can be defined as a circular arrangement of colors on the basis of their origins. The color wheel shows the relationship of colors to each other because they are organized in a way that the closely related colors are closer while the opposite ones are farther from each other.

The type of color wheel that we’ll be dealing with, as enthusiasts in the field of interior designing, is termed the RYB wheel, which is an acronym for red, yellow, and blue.

Color Theory in a Nutshell ft. Home Baked Theories

There are three primary colors – red, blue, and yellow – which cannot be created by mixing any other colors.

Red Color

From these primary colors, we get secondary colors – green, orange, and purple – which are created by mixing two primary colors together. Then, we get tertiary colors, which are created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

Primary colors are the origin point of the vast color array. This hue variation when aided by the colors black and white forms the entire spectrum of the visible color range.

Yellow color

Let’s bring back the music analogy. These can very well mimic bass, sound, and beat in a production. Perfect combinations lead to a better track.

Blue Color

If a similar beat is carried throughout the major part of an album, the songs tend to align themselves together. None different than a color palette.

Okay, But How is Interior Designing Concerned with This Theory?

The simplest answer that I can give is that the inter-relationships of colors play a vital role in making a room a unique one. But at the end of it all, a dish comes down to the presentation for initial impressions. A human brain, prior to defining any sort of structures and details, is inclined to observe the color palette involved, knowingly or unknowingly.

Ever realized that a spacious room looks empty with lighter hues, but looks fuller with darker ones? Who’s to blame? The color theory of course!

Color Theory for Interior Design

Color theory for interior design is by far one of the most easily applicable and impactful ways to create aesthetic appeal. And by the end of this discussion, you might agree as well.

In interior design, color is a powerful tool that can influence the mood of a space, and affect how we feel and behave in that space. It can even affect the physical and mental well-being of occupants. Given that we can exploit this fact to our benefit is something that interests me a lot.

So let’s proceed toward the tail of the beast to switch on a creative engine and construct a new alignment.

Warm n’ Cool Colors & Mood Manipulation

Warm colors, as the name suggests, radiate warmth, power and energy at their core. Red, orange, and in fact, all the hues in between yellow and purple are considered to be warm in nature.

The cool tones which are said to be calmer almost resemble the nature of water or the Yin of this division. The division can clearly be seen if you scroll up to the color wheel. Think of water, the blue, and the greens are the most natural associations we can make.

These colors directly impact the mood, invoking specific emotions. While cool colors can be used in interiors for keeping the occupants relaxed, warm colors can be used in work areas, like the kitchen, to evoke energy and enthusiasm. Similarly, red and orange are often used in dining rooms because they stimulate appetite and conversation.

Personally, I have my bedroom inspired by IU’s album Lilac in varied hues of purples to give a poetic essence and a view catering to escapism.

Tints, Tones & Shades

Tints, tones, and shades are terms used to describe variations of a color.

  • A tint is a lighter version of a color that is created by adding white to it.
  • A tone is a color that has been mixed with gray, which can result in a slightly darker or more muted version of the original color.
  • A shade is a darker version of a color that is created by adding black to it.

These terms are commonly used in color theory to help artists and designers better understand how to create and use colors effectively.

It’s almost like dealing with sketches and a canvas. One stroke can have different effects with different brushes, or with varied strokes. Similarly, colors can elevate different feelings and create unique aesthetics when the same color is used in different tones.

Visual Appeal

Visual appeal refers to the arrangement of an aesthetic. This is where a set of closely related or different contrast colors are placed together to make the view pleasing to the eye.

Just like light, color theory for interior design plays a vital role in deciding the view of the room. Whether it’d be closed and warm or open and bright. Here’s how to create visual appeal using colors.

Hue Variance & Size Manipulation

Making the colors darker or lighter can change the appearance of size in interiors, at least as the eye perceives it. Dark colors make the room appear smaller in area. They are a great choice for larger halls or dining rooms with ample amount of space. Lighter hues work marvelously in smaller or petite rooms as they reflect back light, making the room appear comparatively larger than its original size.

However, lighter hues require an extra amount of maintenance, because, of course, they get stained and show dust easily. So it makes sense to use darker hues in the bottom halves of a room, while lighter tint of the same color is carried in the upper half. This can be seen in many households or typically old buildings.

Color Theory and Interior designing

You can also cover one wall with a darker tint and the remaining three walls of the room with lighter tints, complementing the view. You can also add art on the wall with a darker color, also known as the accent wall.

So for example at a café, designers usually use lighter tints near and on the ceiling, predominantly, in order to invite customers and to make the establishment appear larger from the outside. On the inside, darker shades are used to make it seem cozy, that’s why tints of brown are used on the floor or in furniture.

Color Schemes

A color scheme is a selection of colors that are chosen carefully to create a visually pleasing look. It can consist of shades of the same color, or more than one color that work well together to create a “mood”.

When it comes to interior design, there are 4 major color schemes that designers commonly use:

  • Monochromatic
  • Complementary
  •  Analogous
  •  Triadic

The most popular scheme is the monochromatic scheme, where we use different shades and tones of a single color. This can create a very soothing and harmonious effect in a room.

Another common scheme is the complementary scheme, which uses colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. This contrast creates a vibrant and energetic effect, but it can also be a bit overwhelming if not done carefully.

Analogous schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, which can create a sense of continuity and flow throughout a space. Triadic schemes use three colors that are equidistant from each other on the color wheel, which can create a very balanced and harmonious effect.

There are also a few other color schemes, which you can read about (with diagrams) here: Types of Color Schemes.

The Secret Spice

A major point to be noted is that, the more the colors, the more the complexity. This mostly leads to a confused idea.

So pro tip – make things look easy for the eye to digest. Quite literally.

Color Selection

That’s why designers often use monochromatic color schemes, like using shades of blue together for walls, flooring and furniture. Or use a complementary color just a highlight or “accent”. For example, orange would be the accent in this case, which we can use for a throw pillow or artwork, as it’s opposite to blue on the color wheel.

It all comes down to what comforts the eye. As an interior designer, one must not stray away from simplicity. Moreover, elements like chairs, plants or lamps, and paintings also add to the beauty and dimension of a room. The quality of view improves if these elements are well aligned with a palette.

Queuing a Palette for Your Room

The first step is to be aware of the area and the amount of elements that will necessarily be placed while selecting a palette for your room, for example, the size, furniture, finishes, and other items. Now, looking at that picture, the remaining area is our canvas of work this evening.

First, imagine if you wish for the room to look spacious or cozy and personal.

Going back to the basics, if the room is smaller go for lighter tints of a color of your preference. If it’s larger choose tones of a darker shade, or use darker shades for highlights.

Select one dominant color to work and play around with. This can be the color of at least three walls and the ceiling. Proceed with taking one other color of association – this can be complementary to the dominant color, or the same color but in a different shade.

Question yourself whether you wish for things to pop out or compliment each other. Should you select hues, tints, or tones of the color? The second color can be used for the accent wall, flooring, or for furniture.

The third in the palette might as well be like a filler for smaller edges, a small element like a chair, cushion or for an artwork. This will help reduce its prominence.

From this point on, things are in the hands of the artist, not the rulebook. It is you who’ll decide how you’ll use color theory for interior design. Design it as you please, either by using the above tools like color schemes, tones and tints, hue variance, or taking inspiration from various Pinterest pins or Instagram niches. You might as well sculpt one that is unique to you.

The sole purpose of color theory is to liberate an appearance rather than confining it. It is like those beginning grammar lessons that become a reflex once mastered and are then defied in the most spectacular ways possible. It’s like poetry.

Also read:

Neutral Colors and How to Wear Them

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