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Colour Theory: An Interior Design Guide to Understanding Colour

Tiles in warm and cold colours

Credit: Andrew Ridley

When thinking about interior design, one of the most powerful tools is an understanding of colour theory. The ability to harness the psychological and emotional impact of colours can completely transform a living space. Whether you're revamping your entire home or just working on a specific living space, a solid grasp of colour theory is essential.

Take a moment to deep dive into the world of colour theory, exploring what it is and how to effectively apply it when choosing home interiors. If you want to be equipped with the knowledge needed to create harmonious and visually appealing interiors, we recommend booking a chat with one of our Interior Designer Gurus. Their expertise will help you find the right solution for your home renovation. 

Understanding Colour Theory

Before we can apply colour theory to interior design, it's crucial to grasp the fundamental concepts behind it.

The Colour Wheel

At the heart of colour theory lies the colour wheel, a circular representation of colours in a logical order. 

  • Primary colours: Red, blue and yellow, they form the basis of the wheel. 

  • Secondary colours: Green, orange and purple are the result of primary colours mixed.

  • Tertiary colours: They are created by mixing a primary colour with an adjacent secondary colour, such as red-orange or blue-green.

Colour wheel with primary, secondary and tertiary colours

Credit: Jannet Serhan

Colour Properties

Colours can be described using several properties:

  • Hue: This refers to the basic colour name, like red, blue, or green.

  • Saturation: Saturation, also known as chroma or intensity, measures the purity of a colour. Highly saturated colours are vivid, while desaturated colours are more muted.

  • Value: Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour. Lighter colours have a higher value, while darker colours have a lower value.

Colour Harmonies

Colour harmonies are combinations of colours that are visually pleasing. Common colour harmonies include:

  • Complementary: Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as red and green or blue and orange.

  • Analogous: Colours that are adjacent to each other on the colour wheel, like blue, green, and teal.

  • Triadic: Three evenly spaced colours on the colour wheel, such as red, blue, and yellow.

Swimming pool with yellow pavement

Credit: Etienne Girardet

The Psychology of Colour

Understanding the psychological impact of colours is essential when choosing home interiors. Different colours evoke various emotions and moods, making them powerful tools for creating specific atmospheres.

Warm Colours

Warm colours like reds, oranges, and yellows tend to evoke feelings of warmth, energy, and excitement. They can be ideal for areas where you want to create a vibrant and inviting atmosphere, such as living rooms or dining areas.

Cool Colours

Cool colours such as blues, greens, and purples have a calming and soothing effect. They work well in spaces where relaxation and tranquillity are desired, such as bedrooms or home offices.

Light blue living room with lampshade and armchairs

Credit: Chastity Cortijo

Neutral Colours

Neutral colours like whites, greys, and browns provide a sense of balance and versatility. They can be used as a backdrop for more vibrant accent colours or to create a clean and minimalist look.

Cultural and Personal Influences

It's important to consider cultural and personal associations with colours. For example, in some cultures, white is associated with purity and weddings, while in others, it symbolises mourning. Additionally, individuals may have personal preferences or experiences that affect their perception of certain colours.

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Applying Colour Theory in Interior Design

Now that we have a solid foundation in colour theory and its psychological implications, let's explore how to apply these concepts in the world of interior design.

Define Your Goals

Start by defining the goals and desired atmosphere of the space. Are you aiming for a cosy and intimate feel, a bright and cheerful ambience, or a calm and serene environment? Your colour choices should align with these objectives.

Create a Colour Palette

Select a colour palette based on the colour wheel and harmonious combinations. You can use monochromatic, analogous, or complementary colour schemes, depending on the mood you want to convey. Be mindful of the proportions of each colour in the palette to maintain balance.

Living room with yellow walls, pink and green pillows and window looking at the garden


Consider the Architecture

Take into account the architectural features of the space. The colour of walls, ceilings, and floors can significantly impact the overall feel of a room. Darker colours on walls can make a room feel cosy, while lighter colours can create a sense of spaciousness.

Balance and Contrast

Achieving the right balance and contrast is key to a successful colour scheme. Consider using neutral colours as a backdrop and adding pops of more vibrant hues through furniture, accessories, or accent walls.


The quality and type of lighting in a space can affect how colours appear. Natural light can bring out the true colours of a room, while artificial lighting may alter them. Test your colour choices under different lighting conditions to ensure they work well in all scenarios.

Bright dining room veranda with dark wood table


Apply Colour Theory to Living Spaces 

The key to successful colour application in each room lies in considering the room's purpose, the occupants' preferences, and the desired mood. Be open to experimenting with different hues and shades to find the perfect balance that suits your home's unique personality and style. Let's explore how colour theory can be harnessed for each room:

  • Kitchen: Consider using warm and inviting colours like shades of red or orange to stimulate appetite and create an energetic cooking environment. Incorporate neutral tones for a balanced look, and don't forget to balance with plenty of natural light to enhance the vibrancy of the space.

  • Living Room: In the heart of your home, where relaxation and socialisation occur, opt for calming cool colours like various shades of blue or green. These hues promote a serene ambience, making it an ideal place to unwind and entertain. Add complimentary warm accents through cushions, artwork, or furnishings to create visual interest.

  • Dining Room: Enhance the dining experience by choosing colours that evoke a sense of elegance and togetherness. Rich, deep shades such as burgundy or deep purple can foster a sophisticated atmosphere, while warm neutrals like beige or taupe can create a welcoming ambience for gatherings.

  • Bedroom: Create a peaceful retreat in the bedroom with cool, soothing colours like soft blues, pale greens, or lavender. These colours promote relaxation and can aid in a good night's sleep — layer in cosy textiles and accent colours for a harmonious and restful space.

Bedroom with green wall and window

Credit: Sidekix Media

  • Bathroom: For a refreshing and clean feel in the bathroom, stick to light, airy colours such as soft whites, pale blues, or subtle greens. These shades can make the room feel more spacious and spa-like. Incorporate mirrors and adequate lighting to amplify the sense of brightness and cleanliness.

  • Guest Room: A guest room should be inviting and comfortable. Choose soft, neutral colours like light greys or muted pastels, creating a versatile backdrop for various guest preferences. Add a touch of warmth with wooden furnishings or subtle pops of colour in decor.

  • Children's Room: Encourage creativity and playfulness in children's rooms by embracing vibrant and playful colours like primary shades of red, blue, and yellow. Incorporate their favourite colours to make the space feel personalised and engaging.

  • Home Office: In a workspace, it's essential to strike a balance between focus and creativity. Consider neutral tones like grey or beige as a base, and then introduce energising accents of colour, such as a stimulating shade of yellow or orange, to inspire productivity.

White home office space with plants and yellow clock

Credit: Slava Keyzman

Practical Tips for Applying Colour Theory

To wrap up our exploration of colour theory in interior design, let's look at some practical tips and tricks to make the process smoother. 

Start Small

If you're new to using colour theory in interior design, consider starting with small spaces or accent walls. This allows you to experiment and gain confidence before tackling larger projects.

Use Colour Swatches

Always test paint colours on small swatches before committing to a full application. Colours can look different on a wall than they do on a paint chip or in a catalogue.

Catalogue of colour wwatches

Credit: Christina Rumpf

Explore Colour Trends

Stay informed about current colour trends in interior design. Trends can provide inspiration and guidance, but don't be afraid to adapt them to your personal style and preferences.

Be Mindful of Flow

When designing multiple rooms, consider the flow between them. Using a consistent colour palette or introducing elements that tie the spaces together can create a cohesive and harmonious feel.

Seek Professional Guidance

If you're unsure about your colour choices or need help with a more complex project, don't hesitate to consult with a professional interior designer. They can provide expert guidance and ensure your vision becomes a reality.

Our Final Thoughts

Colour theory is a powerful tool for interior designers, allowing them to create spaces that not only look aesthetically pleasing but also evoke the desired emotions and moods. By understanding the colour wheel, the psychology of colour, and practical applications, you can transform your home interiors into inviting, harmonious, and visually stunning spaces. So, whether you're designing your own home or helping others, let colour theory be your guiding principle to achieve interior design excellence.

Want to learn more about colour theory? Book one of our Interior Design Gurus for a 30-minute video call. Transforming your home into a space you love shouldn't be a daunting task. With HiiGuru you can save time, avoid costly mistakes and bring your goals to life with experts by your side.


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