Using Colour in Interior Design

By Annie Webb

We all perceive colours differently, so using colour in interior design doesn’t guarantee everyone sees and feels exactly the same.  Certain colours can evoke memories or feelings but it will be different for each of us. 

Colour affects our mood, our self-esteem, confidence and perception.  Brands use colour to arouse emotions and to connect with us emotionally.   For example:

  • Blue is commonly used by banks to represent trust and strength. 
  • Companies like Virgin and Coke use red to evoke excitement and boldness. 
  • In our homes, we like to use traditional colour,  blue in bedrooms to promote calmness and serenity. 
  • Yellow for optimism and brightness.

The Colour Wheel

The colour wheel is an organisation of colours around a circle showing the relationships between primary colours, secondary and tertiary colours. Its a really complex subject, don’t worry I am not about to make you glaze over talking about the science. 

To be honest, until I studied the technical aspects of colour during my Diploma I never had a problem with it. I was happy (and still am) using my intuitive knowledge. I rarely consult it when doing interior design, preferring instead to take a look at the available space and light to understand how a colour will work.   But to give you a potted version the wheel defines the three pure primary colours, blue, red and yellow. 

Secondary colours are created by mixing two primaries together, e.g. red and blue = purple. 

The tertiary colours are adjacent to the primary and secondary colours. 

Complementary colours are opposite on wheel, so for example using warm and cool colours together. Think about it – warm and cool has psychological elements. But the science of colour is not about emotion or meaning, its where the colour sits on the wheel.

The Colour Wheel

Using Colours in Interior Design

Blue is calming, but can be negative, looking cold and isolating with an emotional unavailability.  It can create a cool, clear look, good for an atmosphere of work and meditation. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate.  Red gives a resonant and stimulating aspect, but the colour often indicates threat, it can increase heart rate and we tend to be a bit afraid of it in interiors, but a warmer shade used in an interior can feel very good.   Yellow is perceived as being a bright and optimistic, but the effects vary with nuances, too much is a turn off. 


The neutrals are composed of black, yellow, grey, green, red or orange and even purple.  Brown is also a neutral, found in nature, it can give us a sense of security and stability. think of chocolate, coffee and cake!  White has the psychological effect of being refreshing, invigorating and clean as well creating an airy, pure look and a beautiful shade of grey, in combination with a muted  bright white, can create a clean and refreshing appearance.  Grey is a wonderful neutral and is now almost more versatile than black and white. Layered grey tones produce a very sophisticated look.

For a soft muted look, use understated “dirty” pinks, eau de nil. Luxurious cashmere comes to mind, as well as linen, velvets and silk to create an opulent, expensive look. 

Tinting, Toning and Shading

Every colour on the wheel can be altered by tinting, toning and shading.  Tones are softer than the original colour, making appealing colour combinations.  Created by adding both black and white, being “greyed” out is considered a tone.  Tones are more complex, subtle and sophisticated.  Shades are created by adding black.   Considered deep, powerful and mysterious, but can be overpowering and best used as accents. 

Complementary Colours

Opposite on the colour wheel, a mix of warm and cool colours together. Orange warms up a chilly blue scheme or a fresh green cuts through an intense red scheme.  Knowing which colours complement one another can help make good colour decisions and can create dynamic colour schemes, when two complementary colours are placed next to each other, both colours appear brighter.

Monochromatic Schemes

Not just black and white, but created by using a single hue which forms the base of the scheme.  The next step is to pick lighter and darker variations. Variations may be used on accent walls,or accessories.  Paint systems usually supply useful colour variations built around different base colours .  Various shades, tints, and tones of the same hue provide the other colours.   

Beautiful Blue

We don’t think of blue as neutral, but it is being used now in the same way as grey.  Striking in décor or with luxurious textures like velvet. These tones harmonise well with metallics, tan leather, coppery tones or rose golds.  The Scandinavian colour palette we know and love is comprised of cool, neutral colours. But blue is now used as a neutral, either as a warm blue, light acqua or blue/grey on walls as a backdrop for accent colours, with interesting décor arrangements. But there is plenty of evidence, that the Scandinavian colour palette is moving from muted neutrals to darker, more dramatic tones. Underlining the concept that colour schemes don’t have to be cool or warm, but can be an interesting eclectic mix of both. So we don’t have to get hung up on the rules of the colour wheel or worrying whether we have the psychology right in our theme!

What’s New in Interior Design?  Retro, Sludgy Colours

The current trend in interior design is a dark dramatic look, evolving into deep teal or rich chocolate tones, which look great with soft pinks, olive green or black.  Ochre or mustard is a natural progression from all the yellow we have been seeing.  Tan, especially leather is still very popular in furniture as well as soft, natural fabrics in open weave textures with large monochrome graphic prints.  Metals, copper, brass and gold are great partners for these colours.  Don’t deny yourself a great texture or colour because it “doesn’t go with my scheme”.  Experiment with both neutral and bolds don’t tie yourself into one or two colours! 

Annie Webb

Find out more about Annie 3D visualisations, visit Annie Webb Interiors website and on her Facebook Page

For another article about a fantastic Frome women, read Limit Breaker