A complete guide to colour

Choosing the right colours for your home isn’t always easy.
A lot of the questions I get about colour are around neutrals, like whites, beiges and greys, and how to choose them.
Another question that often comes up is what sheens to use for different areas.

So in this complete colour guide for your home I want to get into all those details and help you understand how to see, choose and use colour to create your dream home.

What you’ll find here

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The ultimate colour guide for your home

Hi, I’m Nadine

Interior design expert, globetrotter and the creative mind behind this blog and NH.DESIGN.

I’m originally from Germany but have been living abroad for over 10 years, from Canada and the UK to Sweden.

So I ask myself the question what “home” means every day.
I have made it my mission to help as many people as possible to find their own answer to this.

Join my creative world on Instagram @nhdotdesign or find out more about me

Colour theory

To create a harmonious colour scheme you should be familiar with colour theory. It’s a combination of art and science that’s used to determine which colours look good together. It’s also about understanding the basic colours and how to mix them. The most common colour theory is based on primary colours, or base colours, RYB: red, yellow and blue. With these colours you can mix all others.
With today’s technology, these colours have been expanded and today there are also the colour models RGB (red, green and blue) and CMY (cyan, magenta and yellow), which are designed for online and printing use.

The colour wheel

In order to visualise colour theory, there is the so-called colour wheel.

It was invented in 1666 by Isaac Newton and helps visualise the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colours.

If we start from the usual RYB model, these 3 basic or primary colours can be arranged in a triangle within a circle, the colour wheel.

If you mix 2 of these colours, for example red and blue, you get the secondary colour purple.
The same goes for red and yellow, which creates orange, and yellow and blue, which creates green.
If you now mix the primary colours again with the secondary ones, you will get the tertiary colours that complete the colour wheel.

Great colour combinations for your home

We all want a harmonious colour scheme for our home, but what does that actually mean?
Colours that look good together are called colour harmony. Artists and designers use these to create a particular look and feel. You can use the colour wheel to find colour harmonies by using the rules of colour combinations. They determine the relative positions of different colours in order to find colours that create an aesthetically pleasing effect.

Complementary colour combinations

Two colours that are on opposite sides of the colour wheel create a high contrast and high impact. Together, these colours will appear brighter and more prominent.

Monochromatic colour combinations

Three shades, tones and tints of one base colour provide a subtle colour combination. This is a versatile colour combination that is easy to apply to design projects for a harmonious look.

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Pro Tip

Monochromatic colour schemes are a very good base for interiors.

Analogous colour combinations

Three colours that are side by side on the colour wheel create a versatile scheme but can be overwhelming. 

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Pro Tip

To balance an analogous colour scheme choose one dominant colour, and use the others as accents.

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    A guide to warm and cool colours

    To understand what warm and cool colours are you can easily split the colour wheel in half.
    The warmth or coolness of a colour is also known as colour temperature. According to colour psychology, different colour temperatures create different feelings. For example, warm colours bring to mind cosiness and energy, while cool colours are associated with serenity and isolation.
    Warm colours are the colours from red to yellow and cool colours from blue to green and purple.

    Shades, tints and tones

    You can create shades, tints and tones of a colour by adding black, grey and white to a base.

    The White Guide by NH.DESIGN is a helpful resource to choose the right white paint colour.

    The White Guide

    Not every white is the same, and choosing the right one isn’t easy.

    Learn everything about undertones and how to pick the perfect white paint colour for any room in your home with my White Guide.

    How to choose the right colours for your walls

    Based on colour theory, combinations and temperatures you can choose the right colours for walls and other areas in your home. When trying to decide on a wall colour make sure to look at a sample in the actual space but also in the direction the paint will go in, meaning that you should look at the sample in a vertical orientation, not laying it flat on a surface because it changes the light falling onto the colour.

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    Pro Tip

    Always choose a colour based on a sample in the actual space it’s going to be in.

    Colour undertones and how to work with them

    Undertones are a thing people often hear about but not many know how to deal with them.
    They sound like something mysterious and intimidating but they’re actually not.
    Undertones are simply other colours mixed into a base colour, and as you now know there are many ways to mix colours.

    The trick to “seeing” undertones, especially in neutrals like white, is simple: place or paint your colour sample onto a white piece of paper.
    Compared to the actual white of the paper you can easily see the undertones in the paint colours.

    Another important thing to know about undertones is that they can change depending on the lighting, both natural and artificial. So make sure to take a look at your colour samples in different lighting conditions throughout the day.

    And always, always, always look at your colour samples in the room that you actually want to paint!

    The right paint sheens for around the home

    Paint colours come in many different sheens and a question that I get asked a lot is which sheen to choose for which surface.

    So here’s the deal.

    Flat or Matte

    • Medium-low durability
    • Adult bedrooms or interiors that won’t be roughed up by kids

    Eggshell

    • Medium durability
    • Living rooms, dining rooms

    Satin

    • High durability
    • family rooms, foyers, hallways, kids’ bedrooms

    Semi-gloss

    • High durability
    • kitchens, bathrooms, trim, chair rails

    High gloss

    • Very high durability
    • kitchens, door and window trim
    The ultimate colour guide for your home, explaining the right paint sheen for every space.

    The perfect white and how to find it

    One of the most difficult paint colours to choose is white.
    With tons of undertones it becomes complicated and just because a white paint looks good in one area doesn’t mean it works for another.

    I always find it funny reading people’s questions about white paint colour recommendations and then wondering why they don’t look the same in their home.

    Choosing the right white paint colour depends on a lot of different factors: the room’s orientation, lighting conditions, what other materials are used in the room that reflect off the white walls…

    If you’re trying to choose the perfect white make sure to read my other blog post where I explain in detail how to do just that.

    The White Guide by NH.DESIGN is a helpful resource to choose the right white paint colour.

    The White Guide

    Not every white is the same, and choosing the right one isn’t easy.

    Learn everything about undertones and how to pick the perfect white paint colour for any room in your home with my White Guide.

    The 60:30:10 rule

    To create a harmonious colour scheme in your home you should know the 60:30:10 rule.
    It refers to the relationship of the 3 colours that create a balanced and harmonious colour palette.

    Those can be any 3 colours but they should be used in amounts of 60% for your main colour, 30% for a secondary colour and 10% for an accent colour.
    Within those 3 colours you can work with different shades, tones and tints (like I explained above) to create more depth.

    With these design tips it’s easy to create a beautiful, harmonious colour scheme.

    Thanks for reading!
    If you enjoyed this post, follow along for more interior design tips and inspiration on my Instagram @nhdotdesign and sign up for my Welcome Home Letter.

    Take care, Nadine

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