Choosing a Color Scheme for an Interior Design

Posted By Tim on Oct 1, 2018 |


How Do I Choose a Color Scheme for an Interior Design?

I was recently asked how I choose a color scheme for an interior design.  There are many factors to take into considerations, which I will list below. However, there are two questions I always ask a new client right at the outset: 1. “What colors do you love?” and 2. “what colors do you really not like?” That being said, just because someone’s favorite color is, for example, fuchsia, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want a fuchsia sofa, fuchsia walls, and fuchsia tile. Also, color selection isn’t only for walls and trim – it’s also about fabric, furniture, and outdoor elements. The following points illustrate the process:

Consider the Lighting


Light and color are inseparable.  How much light a space gets dramatically affects how colors will look and therefore what colors to select. Areas with limited lighting often (but not always) work better with lighter colors, while brightly lit spaces often (but not always) handle bolder and darker shades.  Also, look at how the light changes throughout the day and the whole year for that matter.

Consider Location

Geography has an impact on color choices.  Spaces near oceans evoke color schemes that fit in with the surroundings; greens and blues may predominate. Areas in the Southwest will often evoke reds and yellows, while city dwellings may often call for blacks and grays.  Similar to how I look at lighting, the environment where the space exists will influence color choices, and it should feel at home in that context.  Black leather, glass, and chrome in a beach bungalow on Maui may not be someone’s first choice.

Consider Room Function

Every room has a function and therefore a mood that suits that function.  Color choices for a bedroom will be different than for a dining room. Color evokes a mood and a feeling, and the colors should match the mood of the room. For example, high-intensity colors like yellow don’t work well for bedrooms, because the mood of a bedroom should be relaxing and quiet, whereas yellow is a high energy color.  Yellow, on the other hand, could work quite well in a kitchen or a rec room.

Limit Your Palette

Too many colors in a space are visually confusing.  Limit your palette to around three colors.  The predominant color is generally a neutral hue to pull things together, and the remaining colors set the mood for the space.  Choosing colors near each other on the color wheel (analogous) can help color choices seem harmonious.  Also, keeping the colors the same temperature, that is warm or cool, is essential as well.   People often confuse wanting a colorful space to mean that it should have a lot of different colors.  On the contrary, judiciously placing bolder hues can make a room pop with color.  The point is using a limited palette of coordinated colors will give a cohesive feel to the space.

Personal Preference

As I said in the beginning, I start by asking a client what colors they love – and which they dislike – to get started.  Sometimes people really aren’t sure what they like. One way I explore people’s preferences is to find objects or art that the client loves or feels connected to, like a rug or a piece of art to see what colors resonate with them.  If I note they are drawn to it and have an emotional connection, then that often guides me in making color choices. As a bonus, a well-designed piece of art or object will likely already have a well-chosen color scheme.

A special word about art

I have been buying, selling, and collecting art my whole adult life. Art has an emotional connection with the purchaser.  I try not to buy art because “it has the right colors” for a color scheme.  Rather, I use a client’s art choices as a guide as to what colors appeal to them.  As a friend of mine likes to say, “I don’t buy art to math the color of my walls.  I paint my walls to go with my art.”

You might also want to know how to hang art.

Putting It All Together with the Client

When putting together a color scheme for a client, it is them I am designing for, not me.  All of the choices are ultimately theirs, and I must make sure they are happy along the way. Before committing to any of the color choices testing them out in context as best as possible with the client is mandatory.  I will use color swatches or paint samples to test the colors out where they will be used.  I will test to be sure that the colors flow harmoniously from one room to the next. I will walk the client (often quite literally) through my thought process and test with them that I am on the mark.  Color is an integral part of interior design, and an interior design is a very personal statement of the person who lives there, so my goal is always to create a space that the client will love.

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