You know I LOVE color. Here’s how I use colors together to make beautiful eyeball magic in my house!
About the Episode:
There are so many colors in the world, but how to make them play nicely together? Oh, just a little color theory to tame those tints, tones, and hues to create a stunning display in any space in your home!
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Why monochromatic doesn’t have to mean all white
- How to walk your way through the color wheel so you can spin that baby and mix up some gorgeous color combos
- All the wonderful ways you can combine colors for a stunning final effect
And so much more!
Follow me on Instagram @FarmhouseVernacular!
Download my free Color Cheat Sheet!
Check out the Paint Colors in my house!
Hello, and welcome to The Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that could go on in our turn-of-the-century Vernacular Farmhouse. I’m your host, Paige, as usual. And today, oh, oh, today we’re talking about one of my favorite things, and that is color.
Now, if you’ve been following along on Instagram or on YouTube or even on the blog for a while, you will have probably seen that I love color. I love it. I tried to be someone who was really into neutrals and really into beige and calm and cool, and it’s just, it’s not me. My house looks like a circus tent, and from where I’m sitting, I can see, let’s see, yellow, green, gray, coral, red, blue, and a whole bunch of other colors.
So I love color. I love using it in my house. It makes me happy. And so today I wanted to give you a little bit of a color 101 crash course, and this will go over just the basic color wheel and how to play with that color wheel and then how to build color schemes out of that color wheel. So it’s a great topic, great episode, let’s get started.
So we’re going to start with the basic color wheel. And as I’m describing this, I want you to imagine a wheel with six spots on it. Okay? Those are going to be our primary and secondary colors, and we’ll go more into detail after that. But just for now, imagine a wheel or a pie chart with six different pieces of pie in it. Okay?
First you have the primary colors. You have red, yellow, and blue. These colors are basic colors. Technically speaking, you can make them from other colors if you go the cyan, magenta, yellow direction, but that’s a rabbit hole and I’m not going to get down into. We’re just going to talk about the basic color wheel for the purposes of decorations.
So the red, yellow, and blue make up the primary color wheel. So if we imagine our round pie chart, red would be at the top, then skip a space, then yellow, then skip a space, then blue. So that’s red, yellow, blue, and these are what are called our primary colors.
Then we are going to go into the secondary colors, and the secondary colors come from, quote unquote, mixing primary colors together. So if you mix red and yellow, you get orange. If you mix yellow and blue, you get green, and if you mix blue and red, you get purple.
So we go back to our round color wheel. We’ve got our six spaces. Three of them are already taken up with our primary colors, red, yellow, blue. So imagine now in the empty space between red and yellow, you fill it with orange. And then in the empty space between yellow and blue, you fill it with green. Then in the empty space between blue and red, you fill it with purple. This is the basic color wheel.
Beyond this, you can have tertiary colors, which are where you mix colors next to each other. So if you mix red and orange, you get red-orange. If you mix yellow and green, you get yellow-green. But I like to stop at the primary and secondary colors because that is pretty functional. You can dive down into a little bit deeper, but I think those six colors by themselves really are enough to get you started in the direction with understanding color.
Now, if you’re having trouble visualizing this, go to the show notes, because I created a free cheat sheet with everything that we are discussing here, including the basic color wheel, primary, secondary tertiary colors, and all of the stuff we’re going to talk about after it. So if you want a handy download, a free cheat sheet, you can check that out.
Now the six color wheel is divided into two sections. There are warm colors, red, orange, and yellow. And for these, you think of cozy colors, colors that make you feel warm and fuzzy, colors that maybe you associate with a fire. And then you have cool colors, green, blue, and purple. And those are colors that I associate more with water, so you’ve got the fire and water thing.
There’s not really anything to that. That’s just how you classify something. So if you ever hear someone say, “That needs to be a little bit warmer, or that needs to be a little bit cooler,” it just means that you need more of one of those colors in it.
Everything that we’re going to talk about after this is just a variation on this six color wheel, literally everything. If you can understand the six color wheel and then see how the next subject layer on top of that, you’ll have a very good understanding of how the color will works.
So now we’re going to talk about hue, tint, shade, and tone. And I’m going to throw a lot of terminology at you, but please remember that this is not all crucial. This is one of those things that we covered maybe once in a high school art class and then never talked about again. You don’t have to know exactly what each one is in order to understand the concepts behind it.
So first let’s start with the idea of just color, the word color. That refers to red, yellow, blue, purple, black, white. Those are all what are considered colors, and that’s different from hue. Hue is the dominant color family that we are discussing on the color wheel. So if you think of, and these typically don’t include black, white, or gray. Whereas black, white, and gray can be considered a color, they’re not typically considered a hue.
The hue identifies the undertones of color, so imagine it like a family. You have individual colors that have their own name, like lime green, but the family that lime green belongs to is green. The family that peach belongs to is orange. Hue just serves to identify that family. So if you imagine you have peach and coral, they’re different colors, but they both belong in the orange family. You have navy blue, robin’s egg blue and cobalt blue. They’re all very different colors, but they all fall under the umbrella of hue.
So when I’m designing rooms … I say that like I’ve designed all these rooms. I’ve done my house. But when I’m picking a color for the room, the first thing I try to land on is what sort of hue do I want? Do I want this to be a red room or a yellow room or a green room or a purple room? And from there, I can narrow down exactly what color I want under that umbrella.
The difference between hue and color is that it doesn’t usually include white and black. It’s just the pure color. Additionally, if you ever hear someone talking about undertones, that is generally trying to get at the hue of the color. So if someone says, “That white is really blue toned, or that white is really red toned,” that means that the undertone or the hue of that neutral pulls in the direction of blue or red.
Now, hue is kind of the family situation, like we said. A tint is what happens when you add white to a color. So imagine having really dark navy paint and you dump a whole bunch of white into it, that’s going to become a very light blue paint, and that is a tint. So if you’re looking at something and you’re trying to figure out whether or not you like it or if it’s too intense, possibly a tint of the color you’re looking at might be the color that you actually want. It just happens when you get a little bit of light, a little bit of lightness and white added to a color.
If you think about those paint chips from the paint store or the home improvement store, a lot of times, it depends on which ones you’re doing, but sometimes there’s a dark paint chip and a light paint chip of all the same color. The light palette kind of starts with a bold color on the bottom, and then it gets lighter. All of those ones where gets lighter are tints of that color.
Now the opposite spectrum is a shade, and you can remember shade is dark because shade usually is dark. Shade is what happens when you add black to a color. So imagine taking a royal blue color and dumping a whole bunch of black paint into it. That’s going to make a very dark, intense blue navy color.
So again, with the paint chips, for the other half of the paint chips, you have the ones that are lighter and light and not my favorite. I have nothing against them. I’m just usually like, “Okay, we’re not going to look at any of the light colors. Give me the bold colors.” But when you look at those dark colors, they’re going to start lighter and get progressively darker because those are all shades, meaning that they have a base color, and then there is black added to them.
Now, what happens if you were to add white and black into a color? And you might think, “Well, it’s just going to stay the same because if tins make it lighter and shades make it darker. If you add white and black, it’s just going to cancel out.” No, you get something called a tone, and a tone is what happens when you add gray to a color, and what that does is make the color less saturated.
Now, if you want to do bold paint colors in your house, if you want to do bright things and exciting things, then saturation is going to be your best friend. Because in my opinion, the way to do bold paint colors on your walls is to make them less saturated than the colors that you’re actually going for.
What is saturation? Saturation is a measure of technically how much gray is in the color. But more functionally, it’s a measure of how intense that color is. So think of a blue can of Pepsi. Okay? You’ve got this nice, rich, bright cobalt blue. Okay? Now think of light wash denim jeans. They are going to be lighter, so that’s going to be a little bit of a tint, but they’re also going to be just less blue. Denim jeans and sky blue are not the same color.
Saturation is kind of a muddying of the color. The color gets a little bit more dull, a little bit less vibrant, a little bit less, like it just came out of a Crayola crayon box. And those desaturated colors, those muted colors, you can get away with a bolder color on the wall if you’re not trying to go straight out of a marker. If you’re trying to go a little bit more muted, a little bit muddier.
I think a pretty good example of this is our book nook that we finished recently. So I wanted a red room, but I didn’t want it to look like I just dropped a whole bunch of red, delicious apples on the walls. I wanted something a little bit more subtle, a little bit more rich, a little bit more velvety, and so I went with a very desaturated red.
It’s kind of a burnt red color, and I think it works really well. That’s just me, I’m biased. It’s my house. But I think it looks a lot more adult and dramatic to have that kind of deep, rich desaturated orangey-red, as opposed to just a full saturation bright color, looking like you just dropped it out of Microsoft Paint.
So you can have a color wheel. We have our six color color wheel. You can have a color wheel of all of these different variations. So if you add white, you get the tint, you add black, you get the shade, you add gray, you get a tone, but the color wheel still applies. So that arrangement of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, that still applies no matter how light or dark or saturated or desaturated your color is.
And I just have to point out right now, because this is a hill that I will die on. Lots of people say that indigo is in the rainbow. You have ROYGBIV, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, I guess. I don’t consider it, so I don’t usually think about indigo very much. But if you look at the pattern, indigo would technically be a tertiary color, and it’s the only tertiary color that’s mentioned in the, quote unquote, rainbow. So I don’t include indigo in the rainbow. It is a color, but I don’t put it at the same level as the primary and secondary colors.
So once you have your color wheel and you can understand how to make it lighter, how to make it darker, how to make it more desaturated, you can start working with color schemes. And I love color schemes, and I have to say that it took me a while to figure out how to put this into words, because I think some people intuitively understand color, like some people intuitively understand fashion.
They understand how much they can break the rules in order to make it still look good.
I’m sitting here in a Walmart tank top and shirt and jeans that I got from the grocery store. So I don’t know if that one falls on me. But I do feel like I have a pretty good understanding of color and things that can go together.
So color schemes is one way to do that and to start training yourself to have a little bit more fun with color. Color schemes tell you how to put colors together to cohesively tell a story. They’re kind of like rules. If you want your room to look good or your graphic design piece to look good or your outfit to look good, follow one of these color schemes and you’ll probably end up with something that looks okay. And I kind of hinted at it, but it doesn’t just work for rooms. It works for outfits, houses, graphic design. Literally anywhere that there is a combination of colors, this can work.
The first one is monochromatic, and this is pretty self-explanatory. You have all one color. So think maybe red, but you have varying tints, shades and tones of that color. So if you imagine a room with red walls and a burgundy couch and a pink rug, those are all different colors, but the color scheme is monochromatic. We’re all in the hue of red.
I think these can be extremely striking. I’m a little bit too much of a chaos monkey to ever have really delved very far into it, other than my red on red book nook that I mentioned earlier. But I do love this, especially in some of those old houses that have really, really aggressive trim and you have these walls out of the same color and then the ceiling is maybe a little bit different, but similar and just monochromatic when done well can be stunning.
Now, monochromatic also creates a feeling of calm, I think, because there’s nothing really jumping out at you. It can be overwhelming because it’s all one color, especially if it’s a bold color, but there’s no surprises. There’s nothing really jumping out at you. There’s no pop of orange in a blue room or something like that.
The next calmest color scheme that I think that we have is analogous, and that is a color scheme of colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. So yellow, orange, and green, or red, purple and blue. And it doesn’t have to just be the primary and secondary colors either. You could go all the way down into the tertiary colors and have a whole analogous color scheme running from blue to purple, if that’s what you want. But it’s just keeping colors that are kind of in the same vein and maybe the same warmness or coolness on the color wheel, keeping those together.
Now, this is a little bit more interesting than monochromatic because you have more colors and more hues coming into play, but we’re still relying on that sense of unity in the colors. We’re not really trying to create any contrast. We’re trying to keep things nice and harmonious and all in the same vein, but mix it up a little bit more than monochromatic.
Now, this next one’s my favorite color scheme. I can’t, can’t get enough of it, especially in this house, and that is the complimentary color scheme. Now this color scheme to me, I feel like is the beginning of a little bit of chaos. This is the beginning of going crazy. Complimentary color schemes are colors that are directly opposite on the color wheel. So blue and orange, purple and yellow, red and green. And what’s so interesting about complimentary color schemes is that they make the colors pop. And this is a really good way if you want to emphasize a color in your room, put a complimentary color next to it.
I think a pretty decent example is the floors in this house, are the floors in this house. They are Douglas fir, and they are very, very orange. We polyurethane them. They are a very orange wood to begin with, and then the polyurethane adds even more warmth to them. So they are like, we got pumpkin orange floors, right?
If I want to downplay the orange floors, I could put a yellow on the wall. I could put a peach, maybe a coral, maybe a very warm yellowy, neutral color, like a white. But I love my floors and I love bringing attention to them. So I use a lot of blue toned colors in this house. I have a bluey-green dining room. We have the deep blue master bedroom. We have a blue-gray hall color. And if you want to see the colors in the house, I do have a post.
It is farmhousevernacular.com/paintcolors, where you can see all of the colors in the house and I have links to what the colors are. So if you don’t know what any of these rooms look like, you can go to that blog post.
But I love playing up the floors, and so I choose a lot of blue toned colors to go with them because of that complimentary color scheme. It means that the floors are going to really pop against those wall colors.
Now there’s something else that I learned about recently that’s in the same vein, which is split-complementary. So split-complementary color schemes are very similar to complimentary, except they involve the tertiary colors. So instead of pairing colors that go directly across from each other on the color wheel, like blue and orange, you have three colors, where you will have orange and then blue-green and blue-violet. So you have colors that are in the same hue with that blue undertone, which gives you that complimentary color scheme, but then you’re pairing that with the orange. So it’s another way to add more drama, more dynamics, more interest into the color scheme.
And then you can also have a double split-complementary, which is where you have colors opposite the color wheel, and then go one color on either side of them. But that’s getting into four colors and that’s a little bit … I mean, I love color, but that’s a little bit more than I can handle.
Now, the last color scheme is one that I don’t see terribly often, but when it’s done well, it’s very beautiful, and that’s triadic. A triadic color scheme are colors that are equal distant around the color wheel. So you think red, yellow, blue. Even though those are primary colors, as a color scheme, that is also a triadic color scheme.
And I think what’s really interesting that happens with the triadic color schemes is when you start messing with saturation and tint and shade and tone. Because you might have a really bright red room and then fill it with things that are very pale yellow and pale blue, and you will have a triadic color scheme. So you get the harmony that comes from having a nice cohesive color scheme, but it’s not like you’re sticking primary colors all over your house, unless that’s something that you want.
I don’t know that I have a triadic color scheme anywhere in this house. I’m trying to think. No, I think it’s mostly just complementary and split-complementary. Because in the bedroom, the rug is red, the floors are orange, and then the walls are deep blue. So that’s in that split-complementary direction. In the dining room, the walls are blue-green, the rug is reddish-purple, and then the floors are orange. So yeah, I think we’re not really into a true triadic color scheme anywhere in this house.
But you probably can pick up from just how I was talking that this is kind of an art more than it is a science and once you understand how things go together, you can break the rules pretty much however you want. If you think it looks good, go ahead and break the rules. But these color schemes are really good if you’re stuck and if you want to try to make things look more cohesive or a little bit more put together, you can try changing things out in your room to match these color schemes.
So how do you actually use these color schemes in your home? The first thing is to familiarize yourself with the hues and the undertones of any fixed elements in your room. So this would be the flooring, the trim color, maybe any large furniture, any rugs that you’re not replacing. If you can figure out what are the undertones of what you’re using and what isn’t going to be changed as you work on your room, then you can start to build color schemes around it. Wood is really a big one.
In this house, obviously, as I said before, the floors act like another wall. They’re so bright orange. They’re so deep, they’re so saturated that I have to consider them when I’m thinking about what to put in my house.
Now, I do think because I have so much color in this house and every single room is a different color that the floor has become an afterthought because there’s so much else to look at. There’s so many other colors to look at that nobody really notices if your floors are pumpkin orange when your kitchen is yellow and your study is green and your dining room is teal. But if I were trying to minimize their color and make them recede and go away, I would have to consider what color they are, what hue they are, and before I could start to do that. So pay attention to anything in your house that is fixed and see if you can figure out the hue that it belongs to.
Once you’ve figured that out, once you’ve identified that, then you can use those static colors to start building color schemes. As I mentioned earlier, I really like complimentary color schemes. And because my floors are so saturated, I match that intense saturation in my wall colors, and also try to have things lean a little bit more blue to compliment those orange floors.
One of the biggest areas that you can do this though is that if your room feels boring, figure out what the overall color is in the room. Is this generally a blue room or a red room or a purple room? And then try adding in something from the complimentary color. So I’m thinking bedrooms is pretty easy to make them blue. You have blue walls, you have a nice blue bedspread and you have maybe beige carpet and everything’s feeling a little bit meh.
Well, see if you can get some orange throw pillows and put them on the bed, maybe you can get an orange lamp or a big orange piece of art, and it will start to just make things feel a little bit more exciting and a little bit more interesting. And if nothing else, understand the color wheel, figure out how the color wheel works, how all of these tints and shades and tones work.
Remember, you can go to the show notes and download the color cheat sheet that I created. It has examples of all of this stuff, of all of the different colors, of all of the different tints and shades and hues and everything. So you can look at it and understand what they are, and then you can start practicing seeing colors in objects.
So I’m sitting here and I have a book next to me and it just looks like a green book, but no, it’s not a green book. It’s actually a very desaturated yellow-green book. And once you can start training yourself to see colors in items, then you will be able to use the color wheel for the absolutely wonderful, powerful tool that it is.
So I love color. I will never, ever stop using it. I will never stop having bold rooms because they just make me happy and they cheer me up if I’m having a bad day. So I hope if you’ve ever been mystified by the color wheel and how it works, that this may be cleared it up a little bit for you, and hopefully that cheat sheet will definitely clear it up even more.
Thank you so much for listening. I’ve loved having you, as always, and I will see you next time. Bye.