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Interior Designer in New Orleans: 13 Color Rules You Should Always Follow (And What To Skip)

interior design color rules

The Spruce asked Reed & Acanthus and other designers thoughts on colors rules to follow -and the ones we're delighted to break.

Stick to One Color and Vary the Intensity

You can go big and bold with color, if you choose one and create a monochromatic palette with every shade of that color.

"I like to stick to one color in a room and vary the intensity of it. A pop of dark navy pairs nicely with a light smokey blue-grey wall," says Amy Peltier of Peltier Interiors.

Get Inspired By Nature

By channeling colors found in nature, Jennifer Hunter of Jennifer Hunter Design creates calming palettes that feel fresh and familiar.

"When it comes to color, I don't follow any formula or rules," Hunter says. "I prefer to draw inspiration from nature or my surroundings when imagining the perfect color palette. By sticking to rules, the design often feels forced and unnatural."

Mix Warm and Cool Tones

Mixing tones together creates visual interest and dimension, according to Audrey Scheck of Audrey Scheck Design.

"Design is all about balance, and the best way to achieve a well-balanced space is through mixing warm and cool tones," she says. "Warm tones make a space feel cozy, while cool tones can create a cooler, sometimes more sterile environment."

By switching up the hues of your walls, furniture, and accessories, you can achieve a dimensional look.

"Try utilizing a cooler-toned wall paint color to offset the warmth of hardwood floors, or bring in cool tones to offset warm wood furniture," Scheck says. "Mix warm toned terracotta vessels with cool-toned florals or coffee table books in green or blue."

Any Color Can Be a Neutral

Don't be afraid to make your own neutrals.

"Any color can be used as a neutral in a room, if it is the main color," says Laura Hildebrandt of Interiors by LH.

Choose that vibrant blue that's calling to you or that electrifying orange. If it's the main color or the only color in the room, it'll read as a neutral foundation.

Pick a More Muted Version of the Color You Want

Peltier InteriorsIf you've fallen in love with a bold, vibrant color, try to exercise just a little bit of restraint to get a color that will age well in your space.

"Pick a more muted version on the paint handle of what you're trying to achieve," Peltier says. "Colors brighten and intensify when they are applied to large spaces."

Always Incorporate Neutrals

"I always use neutrals into my spaces," Asha Maxey of Asha Maía Design says. "Neutral colors help create color balance in a space and offers areas for the eye to rest." These neutrals help ground the space while giving a solid foundation for more fun with accent colors.

"If you're going bold on the walls, balance it with a neutral-toned sofa or upholstered bed, or if you're opting for moody colors to create an intimate space, select a richer neutral tone for the drapery or rugs," Maxey says.

Don't Be Afraid to Paint a Small Room Dark

You'll often hear that lighter colors make spaces look bigger, but sometimes leaning into a dark color in a small room can give it a moody, jewel box effect.

"Paint a small room dark, mix patterns, just have fun," Carly Blumberg of Carly Home says. "The space will convey the energy that you put into it so if you are too rigid, the environment will be too."

Never Choose Paint Colors Remotely

Don't be tempted to buy paint online without seeing the color in person first. "Color choice is tricky, even for designers," says Katharine Rhudy of Reed & Acanthus. "My number one rule is never choose paint colors remotely." Paint colors need to be seen on the wall and in different areas of the room, Rhudy says. You need to look at them at different times of day and night to fully understand whether a color is right for a space. "We spent days trying to select one color that would work in adjoining rooms with different light patterns," Rhudy says.

Consult the Color Wheel

This rule may take you back to art class, but Kristen Fiore of Kristen Elizabeth Design recommends consulting the color wheel.

"Whether it's surfaces to textiles, we consult our tried and true color wheel," Fiore says. "It harkens back to design 101, color theory."

Color theory blends art and science, and it should tell you which colors achieve the most harmony together.

Fiore recommends a monochromatic color palette (in which three colors have the same tone but different shades) for a calming aesthetic. For a brighter, bolder style, try complementary or triadic colors. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel and can also make a big statement.

Color Is Relative to the Color Next to It

Sabra Ballon of ballonSTUDIO also turns to the color wheel.

"I rely on Joseph Albers' key principles about color," Ballon says. "His leading theory was the color you perceive is relative to what color is next to it."

Ballon's favorite color combinations are made up of complementary colors like yellow and purple, blue and orange, and red and green.

"Which specific hues of these color combinations are where the magic is," Ballon says. "A combination of complementary colors provides a context to help each color shine in relation to the other one."

Follow the 60-30-10 Rule

There's one rule that's followed by many designers, and Monika Nessbach of Designbar is one of them.

"The 60-30-10 rule is a must," Nessbach says. "60% of your main hue lays the foundation, like the canvas for your masterpiece. Then, 30% splashes in a complementary color, which gives life to furniture and drapes. And then finally, 10% for that unexpected pop." That pop can be accent pillows, quirky art, or a patterned lamp.

"This rule's like a foolproof recipe for your visual cocktail — balanced, bold, and always leaving you thirsty for just a bit more," Nessbach says.

Break the 60-30-10 Rule

Markus Wilborn On the flip side, not everyone believes in the 60-30-10 rule. "Don't take any color rule too seriously, and don't be afraid to adjust the ratios on the 60-30-10 rule," Maxey says. "Color is truly personal, and in my book, it's tough to go wrong with it."

If you want a monochromatic neutral space, do it. If you want it to be all blue or all orange, remember it's your space. No one says you have to follow strict ratios to achieve color perfection.

Choose the Area Rug First

Debbe Daley DesignsWhen you're trying to narrow down a palette, it can be helpful to start with the largest item and narrow it down from there.

"Choose the area rug first, and use that for color inspiration," Debbe Daley of Debbe Daley Designs says. "From the area rug, colors can be pulled for the wall color, furniture fabrics, window treatments and accessories. It’s your own personal color palette."

Use the Colors That Inspire You

LaJoy Photography"For any space, use a color that brings you joy, evokes emotion, and will inspire you," says Amber Guyton of Blessed Little Bungalow If you follow this one rule, you don't need to follow anything else.


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