Color Palettes in Interior Design

In Graphic Design by OCcreative2 Comments

by Erin Nolan

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of designing client office and retail spaces. It is a great process which flows from interview, to planning, to final installation. After speaking with the client, I have an idea of what direction they want to go. Have you ever had an idea of how you would like your environment decorated, but didn’t have a clue how to make that idea a finished product?

I’ll tell you a secret. There isn’t something magical about designers or artists. Yes, some work more intuitively than others, but the ground work, the structure – however hidden – is the same: a strong art composition.


Remember back in grade school when your art teacher tried to teach you the elements of good design? Just in case you need a bit of refreshing, they are: line, shape, color, texture, tone, form, space and depth.

Each of these elements play off one another and are intrinsically connected. Let’s start with color.  Color has been scientifically shown to affect our mood and emotion, so  how we decide to decorate our spaces tells others a great deal about us.

Before I am able to dive in to talking about color choices, I have to take you back to that same art teacher. She taught you that color is variable. If I say “blue” what color of blue do you think of? A stormy sea? A summer sky? There are a million blues. Those millions of blues are available because not only is there just “blue,” there are tints, hues, shades and tones. Hues are the purest and brightest colors like those on a color wheel: red, violet, blue, green, yellow, and orange. Tints are hues to which white has been added, making the original color lighter. Shades are hues which have black added to them. Tones are created by adding gray.

Color Ratio

Traditionally in interior design, there is a dominant hue. This helps to make the entire room cohesive. It is the knot that ties everything together. Sixty percent of the room should be this color. Normally the walls are this color and it becomes the neutral backdrop for the rest of the room. A secondary color is used for the trim. It will be thirty percent of the color scheme. The final ten percent will be the accent color. An accent will create focal points. Your eye will gently go from focal point to focal point and then rest. This is called the 60-30-10 rule. It is more of a suggestion than a rule in case you are a rebel.

In addition to proportion of color, there are also palettes based on the color wheel which offer further color suggestions.  But that will be in my next blog.  Until then, explore these free online color palette tools:

Relationships Between Color and Emotion: A Study of College Students.  Source: College Student Journal. Sept., 2004, Vol. 38 Issue 3, p396-405. Authors: Kaya, Naz; Epps, Helen H.