I am sure we all remember this from grade school, but there are three primary colors. They are called primary since all other colors are derived from combinations of these three. Red, yellow, and blue are the "original" colors.
When you combine any two of these, you get secondary colors: orange (from red and yellow), green (from blue and yellow) and purple (from red and blue).
And then if you combine these secondary colors you get--yes, you guessed it--tertiary colors! When we continually combine, the colors are more subtle, richer, and more complicated, like Red Orange or Blue Green.
Now I'd like to introduce you to an invaluable tool: the Color Wheel. You can buy one at any art supply store. It is literally a wheel that allows you to turn colors and see what combinations produce what colors. Look at the wheel below and you can see, for example, that the front side shows, at the twelve o'clock position, what happens when you mix blue with orange. At the two o'clock position, you can see what happens when you mix black with yellow: you get a sort of olive green color.
This leads us to a very handy trick when dealing with color, which is technically called a "hue." If you add white to any hue, you get a "tint," if you add grey to any hue, you get a "tone," and finally if you add black to any hue you get a "shade."
So here is where the fun comes in. Once you know the basics of color, you can apply it to interior spaces in the form of color schemes or palettes. There are four major color schemes I want to cover, and the first and simplest is the Monotone color scheme.
When we hear the word "monotone" applied to color, we tend to think of a room that has a white or neutral color palette. But a Monotone color scheme needn't mean a lack of color. In fact, it simply means a single hue, whether that hue is white, red, or even green.
Above bedroom by Anne Coyle. Photo used by kind permission.
From there we graduate to a Monochromatic color scheme which means tints, tones, or shades of a single hue. This can be used to great effect, especially when used with traditionally "calming" hues like blues or greens.
Now we can add more hues to our color schemes. An Analogous color scheme is one that uses several colors next to each other on the color wheel. You could stay calm and relaxing with a combination of yellow-green, green, blue-green, and blue. Or you could do something bold like yellow-orange, yellow, and yellow-green. Take a look at these rooms that feature exactly such schemes.
Above living room by Amy Lau.
Next up is what is known as a Complementary color scheme. Complementary refers to the fact that two hues are opposite each other on the color wheel. Look back at the color wheel above and see for yourself some classic combinations like red and green, and blue and orange. It is possible to create a very pleasing and engaging color scheme from complementary colors. In the first two examples below, you can plainly see that red and green do not automatically mean "Christmas." We have cultural and societal conditioning toward certain colors and combinations, but when red is tempered with a bit of orange, and the green is toned down, the result is actually quite sophisticated.
There are advanced color schemes like a Split-Complementary or a Tetrad, but for now I hope this tutorial about color will get you started. When you use a color wheel, it is so easy to establish a color palette using one of these four major color schemes. And here is my Design Mantra #3: there are no bad colors... color schemes can be inspired by nearly anything under the sun: a pillow, a piece of art, a garden, a favorite outfit, a place, or even a time period. But that's a post in itself...
Until then, thanks for reading and happy designing!