Color Schemes for Interiors – Monotone and Monochromatic

by Donna on April 1, 2010

Using a One Basic Hue for a Color Scheme

As we saw in “Achromatic Color Schemes for Interiors“, the basic color scheme categories are:

  • Achromatic (which I talked about in that last post)
  • Monotone
  • Monochromatic
  • Analogous
  • Complementary

We also saw that each color scheme may have accents, as in art, plants, floral arrangement, even the wood of furniture, that fall outside of the basic scheme.

This post will cover the monotone and monochromatic color schemes. I know they sound alike, and there are similarities, but we’ll look at what the differences are.

Monotone Color Scheme

This scheme, sometimes called monotonal, uses one color, and one color only, with little variation in value or saturation. That is, lighter and darker variations on the color are not part of the overall scheme, nor are duller or brighter variations of that color.

The basic color of the scheme does not have to be the color at its full chroma. For instance the color chosen could be a celery green. But, everything will be that celery green. Imagine trying to find wall color and fabrics, etc., all in the very same exact color. And, imagine the monotony if everything where that color. One would definitely be thankful for any accent colors that could be added.

While using one color will avoid disharmonious color combinations,  how often are you going to see a room done all in one color, with little or no variation, except for a few accent pieces? Well, this is not a commonly used approach, at least in that strict and exact sense. Below are some examples that use a somewhat monotone scheme.

The first example comes the closest to being fully monotonal. This room designed in rich golden-tan tones has accents of deep brown and lighter golden tones.
Monotonal room by designer Barry Dixon

Designer: Barry Dixon

The nearly monotonal blues in the dining area below are relieved by areas of white. The accent color of greenish-blue in the decorative trays adds color interest.
Blue and white dining area designed by John Stefanidis

Designer: John Stefanidis

The reds in this room are pretty consistently the same red in hue, value, and saturation. While red is about the farthest from being a calm color, this uniformity has, if not a relaxing effect, at least a settling effect.
Living room in monotone red by Miles Redd

Designer: Miles Redd. Photographer: Miguel Flores-Vianna.
As shown in Elle Decor Magazine

With the exception of the large, lighter green area of the bed cover, all of the greens in this room are very monotonal, creating a soothing space.
Bedroom in monotonal green by Anne Coyle

Designer: Anne Coyle. Photographer: François Dischinger

So, you can see, designing a room using a monotone color scheme can create a uniformity that can have a calming effect. This type of scheme typically works best if the monotony is relieved by an accent color or two.

Monochrome Color Scheme

This color scheme is similar to the monotone color scheme in that it uses one color. However, in the monochrome scheme that one basic hue can vary in value and saturation. Even the hue can vary a bit.

So, that one color can range from white with a tinge of the color, to a vary deep shade of the color. Or, the color can be desaturated with the addition of gray or a bit of the complement. The layering of these variations can result in very pleasing contrasts. However, there is still the risk of monotony, which can be alleviated with some accent color.

A first example of a monochromatic color scheme is a room in variations on a tan color. The few accents of green add interest and provide relief from monotony.
Monochromatic tan room by Wendy Blount

Designer: Wendy Blount. Photographer: Colleen Duffley.
As shown in Metropolitan Home Magazine

The variations in value of a basic hue, in this case turquoise, are very evident in this light and airy bedroom:
Monochromatic turquoise bedroom by Jamie Drake

Designer: Jamie Drake. Photographer: Eric Roth.
As shown in Elle Decor Magazine

(For more turquoise ideas visit designer Kenneth Brown’s blog post of March 9, 2010. Turquoise was selected as the color-of-the-year for 2010 by the executive director of Pantone.)

Taupe is the color that is varied in value in the bedroom shown below. Accents of white and orange add punch and relief in this basically monochromatic scheme.
Taupe monocrhomatic bedroom by Jeff Andrews

Designer: Jeff Andrews. Photographer: Grey Crawford

The teals and muted teals of this room are a great example of using variations of saturation of one color. A color can be desaturated with gray to the point that it is basically gray with a cast of the color.
Monochromatic teal room by Kenneth Brown

Designer: Kenneth Brown

And, finally, a charming dinning area in variations on tangerine also designed by Kenneth Brown. The entry wall is a bright (saturated) tangerine; the wall in front is desaturated; the ceiling even paler. The overall “oranginess” is moderated by the brown of the furniture. The graphic black and white accents add just the right interest.
Monochromatic tangerine room by Kenneth Brown

Designer: Kenneth Brown

What’s Next?

Coming up next week I’ll go into analogous color schemes. These schemes get into a lot more variation of color.

See you then.
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