Color Schemes for Interiors – Triad Complementary

by Donna on September 7, 2010

Help with Home Interior Color Schemes

If you’re a homeowner or apartment dweller looking to spruce up your interior spaces with some color, but your challenged by the whole prospect of arriving at pleasing color combinations, you can find reliable guidelines and ideas by sticking to the named color schemes that are based on the artist’s color wheel.

Or, if you’re a student of interior design, you’ve no doubt encountered mention of the color wheel color schemes, probably briefly described. Seeing examples of rooms that use versions of these schemes is especially helpful. In this post you’ll find many examples of rooms using a triad complementary color scheme.

The color schemes I’ve covered so far, showing numerous examples:

Triad Complementary Color Schemes

My depiction, shown here, includes both the split and triad schemes since they are related in that both use three colors as opposed to the direct complementary scheme, which uses two colors.

Color wheels showing split and triad complementary color schemes

The triad complementary scheme is derived by placing an equilateral triangle on the color wheel – thus any three colors comprising a triad scheme are equally spaced, and therefore equally balanced, around the wheel. If a primary color is the starting point for the combination, all three primaries will be included. At least one warm and one cool color will be present in this scheme, as with the other complementary schemes.

Interior Room Schemes Based on the Triad

My usual caveat: my computer screen and yours may show colors differently; bear that in mind with viewing these examples. Also, if you have an artist’s color at hand, you can dial up the schemes described below.

And, wouldn’t you know, my first example actually deviates from a true triad color scheme. A good time to point out that tweaking the schemes a bit can work just fine.
Dining room designed by Jackie Terrell
The colors: The peachy color of the walls is a tint of red-orange; yellow-green on the chair upholstery; the tabletop is blue (blue-violet would accomplish the true triad). The blue works and it’s fun.
The designer is Jackie Terrell. (Image from Cottage Living at MyHomeIdeas. Photo: Roger Davies.)

Another room by Jackie Terrell from the same source:
Pantry area designed by Jackie Terrell
The true triad scheme in this room: Blue-green, yellow-orange, and a touch of tinted red-violet.

Jamie Drake, the well-known New York based interior designer, is a skilled, and frequently bold, colorist. (Check out his website: Drake Design.) The colors in this room strike a balance between lively and soothing.
Living room by Jamie Drake
The colors comprising the triad: Blue-green, yellow-orange, and red-violet in a soft tint. (Photo by: Minh and Wass.)

This graceful living room is by designer Alessandra Branca, also known for her use of color:
Living room by Alessandra Branca
The colors: Pale yellow for the wall color, as well as for the sofa upholstery; pink (a tint of red); and, leaning away from a true triad scheme, I’d say to accomplish a more soothing look, blue-green is used instead of blue.

The colors used in this room by interior designer Emma Jane Pilkington are also tweaked a bit from a true triad scheme:
Daybed area by designer Emma Jane Pilkington
The colors: The wall color is violet to red-violet. The covering on the daybed and the pillows are nearly red-orange (to stay true to a triad scheme a hue closer to orange would be used). The painting is blue-green, leaning to green. The colors work terrifically together. Again showing that deviating a bit from the triad, typically arising from designers working intuitively, can get great results as well. (Photo is archival Elle Decor magazine.)

Similarly hued is this sleeping alcove by designer Jarret Hedborg. (Photo from ElleDecor; photographer: Grey Crawford.)
Sleeping alcove. Designer: Jarrett Hedborg
The nearly triad scheme: Red-violet wall color. Fabric is blue-green. Upholstery fabric has stripes in rusty and yellow-orange.

Following are two living rooms designed by Celerie Kemble.
Calm living room by Celerie Kemble
The colors combined in this softly-hued living room fall short of a complete triad scheme. Soft blue-green is combined with variations on yellow-orange. However, the triad relies on a vase with red-violet flowers; not a permanent part of the scheme.

Living room designed by Celerie Kemble
This airy room with a tropical feel employs a brilliantly red-orange hued carpet. Upholstery and pillows in muted yellow-green. Accent pillow in violet.

A living room from designer Kenneth Brown is a richly-hued, very nearly triad scheme.
Living room in a triad color scheme by Kenneth Brown
If we start with the red of the carpet, the blue of the sofa follows in triad form. The curtains, appear to be a deep yellow-orange. The two vases are also yellow-orange. The wall color appears to be a deep, deep mustard.

The colors in this traditionally styled bedroom, by designer Michael S. Smith, comprise a true triad — one based on the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.
Bedroom designed by Michael S. Smith in a triad color scheme
The walls are a light tint of yellow. The blue of the carpet and the red of the bed throw are both subdued versions of the hues, the blue more so. The balance and variation in value and saturation result in a very pleasing interior space. (Image source: Elle Decor. Photographer: Henry Bourne.)

Interior designer Jeffrey Bilhuber uses doses of bright color in this otherwise neutral living room:
Living room in a triad color scheme by designer Jeffrey Bilhuber
The triad color scheme: The sofa, appropriately described as kumquat, is in the yellow-orange slot on the color wheel. The chair and throw are red-violet in hue. The third color of the triad, blue-green, shows up subtly in some of the stones in the fireplace wall, as well as in the painting. The bright, saturated colors, play off of the subdued, neutrals tones adding an effective degree of liveliness to the room. (As seen at House Beautiful. Photo by Julian Wass.)

Using very saturated colors in her room design, designer Valerie Pasquiou has created a vibrantly-hued living room:
Living room in triad color scheme by Valerie Pasquiou
The triad scheme: The wall color falls between orange and red-orange; the sofa if yellow-green. The carpet pattern has a background of violet to blue-violet. The added accents of yellow and yellow-orange create an interplay of an analogous scheme with the triad. (From Elle Decor. Photographer: Antoine Bootz.)

Also brightly hued is this dining area by designer Muriel Brandolini:
Blue dining area by Muriel Brandolini
The walls are covered in embroidered felt in a saturated blue to blue-green. Red is the second color, with pink variations. A pop of yellow-orange adds the balancing third color. (From Elle Decor. Photo by Eric Boman.)

In this bedroom by interior designer Victoria Hagan the rich coloring of the wood of the headboard become part of the triad color scheme:
Bedroom in a triad color scheme by designer Victoria Hagan
The colors: Wallpaper in green; orange undertones in the wood; violets in the bed covering. (

Soft, feminine, with a trés francais ambiance, this living room in a New Orlean’s home is by interior designer Hal Williamson:
Romantic New Orleans living room by Hal Williamson
The room uses this triad scheme: A tint of red-violet for the wall color; a subdued tine of blue-green in the carpet and upholstery; just a dab of yellow-orange in the chandelier and also the gold tones of coffee table base. The result is a room with distinct charm. (Image source: House Beautiful. Photographer: John Kemick.)

Designer Monelle Totah has created a cool and soothing bedroom using soft hues from triad complementary colors:
A bedroom in a soft triad color scheme by Monelle Totah
Totah uses a pale blue for the wall color. The yellow of the triad comes from the yellowish tones of the natural fiber rug. Just a touch of pink adds the red of the triad. (The source is Elle Decor. The photographer: Simon Upton.)

In this master bedroom we again see a triad scheme of the primary colors, blue, red, and yellow:
A master bedroom in triad color scheme by Todd Merrill
The eclectically designed room is by Todd Merrill. (The photographer is Roger Davies; image from Elle Decor.)

Again, in this next bedroom we see the triad of primary colors: red, yellow, and blue:
Peter Dunham - guest bedroom in red, yellow, and blue
Designer: Peter Dunham. (Source: House Beautiful. Photographer: Victoria Pearson.)

Lastly, that triad of primary colors is a fun scheme in a child’s room:
Molly Luetkemeyer designs a baby room in primary colors
Designer: Molly Luetkemeyer.

Endless Possibilities

A triad complementary color scheme might work for you if you want at least three colors in your interior scheme. These schemes offer many possibilities, as you’ve seen.

Pick your main color. Dial your color wheel (available at most art supplies stores, or online, for instance at Dick Blick). Find your triad complementary colors.

Use subdued versions of the hues for a soothing, harmonious effect. Pump up the intensity for a vivid outcome. Or, mix values and saturation levels of the colors selected.

Play with moving outside of an exact triad scheme. You’re still within a safe range of colors that work together in balance.

Complementary color schemes offer a wide variety of outcomes for combining colors in an interior space. The examples shown above may help you in making choices and creating a color scheme for your interior spaces.
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