What interior paint colors go together?

Updated April 17, 2017

Choosing interior paint colours can be a bit intimidating. Some homeowners are so afraid of making a mistake that they stick with white or off-white rather than go out on a limb with colour. Knowing just a little bit about colour theory can help you decide which paint colours go together and which combinations to stay away from. Even if you do make a bad choice, painting mistakes are never fatal. Just get out your roller and try again.

Colour wheel

The colour wheel can be an invaluable help in choosing paint colours. It contains the colours of the rainbow--red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple--and most wheels also show in-between colours. One of the first things to decide is which colour will be the prominent one in your room. Red, orange and yellow are warm, energetic, cheery colours. Green, blue and purple are cool, soothing colours. Once you decide the feeling you want and the main colour that will help you achieve it, you can use a colour wheel to choose other colours in the room.

Analogous colours

Analogous colours are next to each other on the colour wheel, such as blue and green or red and orange. These colours match and will go well together in a room. For instance, if you decide on a soothing blue palette, you could choose to paint an accent wall green for a more interesting room.

Complementary colours

Complementary colours are across from each other on the colour wheel, like blue and orange or yellow and purple. Rather than matching, these colours make each other stand out. Complementary tones should be used for colour pops in a room, because too much of a complementary tone can be jarring and overwhelming. In the previous example of a soothing blue room, orange could be an accent colour, in the pillows or artwork.

Paint sample cards

Wherever you buy paint, you will find many colour cards on display. Each card shows a range of colours, from light to dark, with a common tint. Because these colours all come from the same palette, you can choose two colours from the same card and be sure that they will work well together.

Try before you buy

Still unsure? Most paint and home improvement stores sell sample sizes. Get samples for the colours you're considering using and paint a large swath in the intended room. If you're planning to use the colours next to each other, paint your samples next to each other. Observe the colours at different times of day to see how light affects the way they look. If, after living with them for a few days, you're satisfied with the colours, go ahead and purchase all the paint you'll need for the job. If you're not happy, try some more samples.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Nickelaid is an editor and writer with more than 20 years' experience in the newspaper industry. She has won state and national awards for headline writing and has collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Wake Forest University.