Can’t all colors just get along? In the hands of savvy designers, they can, but ordinary home decorators sometimes wind up concocting color combinations that clash. While color theory is a subject so vast that "color expert" is a job title, home decorators can achieve hue harmony by adhering to basic color scheme guidelines.
Above and Below
All colors on a paint sample card may have different names, but they are all variations of the same base shade. Since all these hues are different tints of the same color, they are naturally complementary. When used together in one design plan, it's called a monochromatic color scheme. So what makes these colors different when they’re made from the same hue? In paint terms, a base color is lightened with white or darkened with black by a process called "tinting." For a monochromatic room design, simply select home decor items that match the hues on a single paint sample card, such as a range of reds to paler pinks.
Side by Side
Break out the color wheel once again to select three shades next to one another, and you’ve got yourself an analogous color scheme. These colors complement one another because they share a primary color in their base. For example, if you select blue as your main color, in an analogous scheme, the complementary colors are blue-green and blue violet. Because the hues share a core color, they often fall within the same color temperature -- blues, greens and purples are cool, while reds, yellows and oranges are warm. An orange chair accented with a yellow-orange pillow and a red-orange blanket is an analogous arrangement.
Officially, a complementary color refers to two hues directly opposite one another on the color wheel. These hues don’t share a primary color in their base, and they’re of opposite color temperature, so it seems as if they would be incompatible. However, it's these contrasts in color that make them complementary. For example, moments of yellow add warmth to a cool purple room -- such as a yellow lamp against a violet wall -- the contrast between them allows the yellow to visually pop against the purple.
Color Love Triangles
Just like love, a complementary color scheme can become complicated when you add a third hue. While three analogous shades get along famously, three contrasting colors can become a color clash. To find three contrasting hues that get along, use a triad or split complementary color scheme. A triad pulls together three colors that are equidistant from each other on the color wheel. On a basic 12-color wheel, for example, your triad colors will be three colors removed from one another -- such as a red sofa accented with yellow pillows in a blue room. A split complementary color scheme also incorporates three hues, but instead combines one color with the two colors on either side of its complementary color. For example, a blue bedspread topped with red-orange and yellow-orange pillows is an example of a split complementary color scheme.