Continued Discussion of Color Schemes for Interiors
In previous posts about the color schemes that can be used to create harmonious interiors, the schemes discussed were:
Harmony Is Not Always the Goal
In design, as in art, harmony is not always, or necessarily, the objective for the final result. Designers (as with artists) may be seeking stimulating and exciting effects. In the field of interior designer, designers work with their clients to understand the clients likes and dislikes, and how the client wants to feel in the space, to determine a goal for the outcome.
I mention this since, even though complementary colors – colors opposite on the color wheel – are considered to be inherently harmonious, when used at their most intense the combination of the two can be vibrant, lively, and stimulating, rather than calm and seemingly “harmonious”.
It is the goal, then, in terms of a resulting look and feel, that needs to be the main idea to keep in mind.
The color of large areas, such as walls, can have a great effect on the outcome in an interior space . The juxtaposition of intense complementary colors can be jarring or over stimulating to the senses. So wall paint colors need to be considered carefully.
If the goal is a harmonious effect, with complementary color schemes this will best be achieved when the colors used are muted or subdued.
Harmony with Complementary Colors
There are a number of named complementary scheme arrangements aimed at creating harmony within the parameters of “complementary”. These were first proposed by Johannes Itten, a color theorist and teacher at the famous Bauhaus. The three most basic schemes, or “chords” as Itten referred to them, are: direct complement, split complement, and triad complement, shown here in my depiction:
The indicators are, of course, dialed around the color wheel to come up with the various combinations. The artist’s color wheel, which is available at most art supply stores and online, will have a dial feature for ease of dialing up the schemes at points along the wheel.
With complementary schemes, there will always be at least one warm color and one cool color. As a result, with these schemes their is greater color contrast than with the previously discussed colors schemes. You’ll notice, too, that with direct, split, and triad schemes there will be either two colors involved, or three colors.
The variety of possibilities, for either a calm effect or a stimulating effect, is expanded with the use of complementary color schemes.
The Basic Pairs
The colors in complementary pairs enhance each other. This is especially true with the pairing of the basic direct complementary pairs, which are:
- Red and green
- Yellow and violet
- Blue and orange
Here are a few examples:
In the room below the complementary pair is red and green. Both colors have been muted, calming the colors down and creating a very soothing ambiance.
Designer: Amy Lau
Designer Peter Dunham has used the red and green scheme in the sofa area of the room below. In this case the green is muted, but the red is vary saturated, creating a more lively look.
Photographer: Gray Crawford. Image source: Elle Decor.
I’ve included this room, in a monochromatic scheme of greens, to show how the scheme has been enlivened with the addition of bright red accents, the complementary color, in the pillows.
Designer: Thad Hayes.
Red and green are again used in this charmingly feminine bedroom. In this case the red has been tinted to pink and the green is a tint as well, thus softening and muting the colors.
Designer: Jamie Drake. Photographer: Lucas Allen.
Turning to the complementary combination of blue and orange, take a look at this colorful, yet still soothing room. The fireplace accent wall, as well as other accents, are a fairly bright orange. Larger areas of muted blues as well as muted orange, serve as calming counterpoints.
Designer: Frank Roop.
Blue and orange are again used in the dining area below. Here the color locations are reversed from the above room: pale blue on the walls, rusty orange in the furniture.
Designer: Patrick Moran. Photographer: Mark Lohman. As shown in Elle Decor.
To segue to intermediate pairs, in this crisp and spacious modern living room the blue, particularly in the drapes, appears to have a hint of green and the orange moves toward red-orange.
Designers: Geoffrey Goldberg and Lynne Remington. Photographer: Nathan Kirkman. As shown in Elle Decor.
Intermediate Complementary Pairs
The intermediate pairs are:
- Red-orange and blue-green
- Yellow-orange and blue-violet
- Yellow-green and red-violet
Here are a couple of examples:
In this home in Marrakech the scheme is a softened blue-green with slightly tinted red-orange.
Photographer: Henry Bourne. Image source: Elle Decor.
While the wood of furniture and flooring is typically not included in determining the color scheme of a room, in the room below the wood is such a dominant feature of the room that it really does contribute to the color scheme. The color scheme: blue-violet and yellow orange (with red-violet as an accent).
Designer: Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz.
Some Concluding Points
- In complementary schemes there will always be both a warm color and a cool color.
- Complementary pairs used in high saturation will result in a lively outcome. Juxtaposed the colors intensify each other, so the result can be particularly stimulating.
- Lower saturation levels of the two colors will result in a calmer look.
- The pair can be combined using a muted version of one color on the walls as background, and a more intense version of the other color in furnishings, etc.
Using complementary color schemes in interior spaces is a different approach to using color than the previously discussed schemes. The interplay of complementary colors offers both expanded opportunities with color, as well as possible challenges.
You may start to notice that complementary colors are sometimes used in monotonal, monochromatic, and analogous schemes as accent colors. This can add an effective balance in those schemes.
I’ve focused on examples of direct complementary schemes in this post. I’ll talk a bit more about split and triad complementary schemes, and show examples, in a post coming up soon.