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How to Create a Color Scheme

Fun fact: the most commonly asked question designers get, is the part I choose last … paint color. The truth is, in most spaces paint is what ties it all together, not the jumping off point. Color is completely reliant on light, and the same paint color can look totally different in a room depending on the quality of light. It’s no wonder that people spend all their energy on selecting that perfect shade, and then have no idea what to do next. To create a proper color scheme, you need to understand the 60-30-10 rule …

60-30-10 Rule

This is a classic decorating rule meant to help you balance the colors in your space, and it is incredibly easy to achieve:

  • 60% of your space is the primary color

  • 30% is your secondary color

  • 10% is your accent color.

I’ve mentioned before that the eye is drawn to odd numbers, so by working in three-color schemes, you can easily achieve this look. I have included a few examples with the proportions used below to help you understand how this is achieved ...

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Now that we understand how to use our three-color scheme, the next obvious question is: How do we select the colors? There are three places that I draw my color scheme from: a rug, a wallpaper, or a fabric. Most of the time, I start with the rug …

The Rug

Think of the rug as the pocket square of the room. It is typically the largest piece of “art” you will have in any room. It anchors your space as well as sets the tone. I always start each design with a moodboard. Look through your Pinterest folders and decide on the overall feel or style you want to achieve in the room. Once you’ve done that, start rug hunting. It’s fairly easy to sort by size first, then style, and just choose what you’re drawn to! Unless you’re going to splurge on a custom rug, it is SO MUCH EASIER to begin with a rug, than try and jam one in at the 11th hour. Looking for a specific colored rug in a specific size that may or may not exist on the internet will make your head explode. The bonus of choosing a rug first is that someone has already done the color work for you! Once you have picked out your rug, you can pull your favorite three colors (or two plus a neutral) and get to work …

In this example, they selected a rug made up of blue/grey and peachy/copper, and added white. The color breakdown: 60% white, 30% grey, 10% peach. How they made this work in their room was using white as their primary color and covering the walls, ceiling and floors. For their secondary color, they used the blue/grey tones on their sofa and pouf, dining chairs, curtains and even on an accent wall in the dining space. They used the peach color as their accent color and incorporated it on the pillows, the wood tones they used in their dining room, and even the terracotta and copper wall accents. There are also hints of green in the rug that are echoed in the plants throughout the space. One thing to point out is that although the colors all come from the rug, they used them in different proportions than the rug itself. This is a perfect example of how a rug pulls the room together and it does that successfully because it was chosen first, and not as an afterthought.


The Wallpaper

Wallpaper is also a great place to pull your color palette from. If you’re using wallpaper, then that is most likely going to be the hero in your space, and most everything else will play a supporting role. Sometimes, you can reach out to a wallpaper manufacturer and get the exact colors used. If that’s not possible, you can take a sample to a paint store and do a color match.

  • Designer tip: I color match all sorts of things to paint chips that I can then carry around in my purse when looking for other furnishings and accessories. It’s much easier to match your wood flooring to a 2x2 paint chip than carrying a sample around!

I will typically pull what is called the field color, or the background color, of a wallpaper and use that on any trim or walls that need to be painted to help unify the woodwork with the wallpaper. In this example,

they chose to use mint green instead of the dark blue field color, keeping the space light, fresh and more in tune with the overall vibe of the home. The color breakdown: 60% mint green, 30% brown, 10% blue. They used the mint color on the paneling as well as on the ceiling in a high-gloss sheen. The dark wood tones come from the brown within the leaves on the wallpaper, and you can see how the bookcase is accented with the other blues from the wallpaper, creating a cohesive look. Wallpaper is great because you could have pulled a variety of colors schemes from this paper and each would have it’s own personality ... Swap the mint for a blush pink or dusty rose and the room is suddenly romantic and girly, or use the cobalt blue color on the paneling and you have a very moody, opinionated space. The choice is yours, but the hard work has already been done because you know any combination of those colors will work together.


The Fabric

Using a fabric as the starting point for a color scheme is the trickiest of the three, but still very impactful ... you just need to know where to use it. Rule #1: a throw pillow is not going to cut it. A generously-sized sofa upholstered in an interesting fabric, however, has the weight and command of the room needed to make the color scheme effective. The easiest way to use fabric as a jumping-off point is as a window treatment. I LOVE this example for two reasons: 1) they used one of my favorite Schumacher prints (Indian Arbre Hyacinth) and 2) they solve an issue many homeowners have when it comes to open-concept spaces: How do you define them as separate spaces, yet still tie them together in a cohesive way?

Enter: the window treatment. The three colors they pulled from the fabric are white, lilac and navy blue. They used the same curtains in both rooms to unify the spaces, but they used the 60-30-10 rule in different proportions for each room. The living room is 60% white, 30% lilac and just hints at the navy blue, basically just in the curtains and a little bit in the darker detail in the rug. In the dining room, however, they used 60% navy blue, 30% white on the paneling and the chairs, and 10% lilac in the rug. They are two very distinct rooms, but by using different proportions of the same colors, they look great together. The small built-in pony wall and column helps to create a clear separation between the two rooms, allowing them to each have their own identity.


I will leave you with one final trick you can use to create a color scheme, which is pulling from a piece of art. This will only work if the art you’re using has a major attitude in your room. You need to approach your artwork in this way if you’re going to use it for your color scheme:

Opinionated Art = YES. Background Music Art = NO.

Now that I’ve broken down the art of cultivating your color scheme, I hope you will feel more confident when tackling your own DIY projects. When in doubt, reach out to Tiger Oak Designs. Color Palette selection is a service I offer on its own, or as part of a more robust Home Styling Package. Visit the website for more information on how to get started turning your space into something uniquely your own.

xx – Natalie

“When your home shows up well for you, you can show up well for others.”

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