Everything you need to know about decorating with color you didn't learn in kindergarten! However, the job of choosing and using colors can be fun and even easy. It's worthwhile, too, because color is the most emotional and compelling element in any setting.
To understand color basics and "what goes with what" most reliably, picture a circle cut into 12 sections like in a pie. Colors are arranged around this circle in the order of a rainbow: red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet, and red-violet.
Some of the approaches interior designers use to cook up color schemes are easy to do with a color wheel. (Find one at craft and art stores or make your own.) A complementary scheme pairs two colors opposite each other on the color wheel; for example, orange and blue or red-orange and blue-green. A split complementary uses two colors on each side of a color's complement; for example, orange plus blue-green and blue-violet.
Even easier, use an analogous scheme of three colors that are side by side on the color wheel. Blue-violet, blue, and blue-green make a wonderfully cool, restful setting, while yellow-orange, yellow, and yellow-green are energetic and cheerful.
Remember, you can extend any color with the neutrals: white, beige, brown, gray, and black. A favorite color that may seem overwhelming on its own is very manageable when surrounded by neutrals. Red, white, and black; orange, beige, and brown; and purple, white, and gray are three proven examples.
A color wheel can help you and your child choose a color scheme,
whether it’s a traditional primary grouping or something a bit
more adventurous, such as orange, blue-violet, and white or black.
Be sure to use the colors in the same proportion as you see them on the fabric or wallpaper. In general, the most livable schemes use a light or cool color in the largest amount, a medium color in the next largest amount, and the brightest, most intense or dark color in the smallest amount (as an accent). Avoid visual chaos by keeping the basic scheme to two or three colors, and add variety by using shades and tints of these colors plus neutrals. When you get all the clothes, souvenirs, toys, and other paraphernalia of the typical child (or two) in that room, things will be plenty colorful!
Winning the Primaries
Red, blue, and yellow are the three primary colors because they can't be created by mixing other colors. You can stop right here for some kids and use these three colors, or any two of them, with foolproof success. White, black, or wood-tone furniture all count as neutral colors that don't compete with your main hues. And, after all, what's more classic than red, white, and blue (great with Early American, French country, or modern furnishings) or more refreshing than blue, yellow, and white (perfect with Swedish country, contemporary, and beach cottage styles). To lighten up the primary colors to baby blue, pink, and pale lemon, just add white.
Red, blue, and yellow, the primary colors from which all other hues are made,
give a young, cheerful, straight-forward feeling that’s just right for a young
boy’s room. White plus natural wood tones make a soothing background for
these vivid flag colors. Manufacturer: Village, A Brand of FSC Wallcoverings.
In between the primary colors are the three secondary colors made from mixing two primary colors together. Orange (mix of red and yellow), green (yellow plus blue), and purple or violet (blue plus red), expand your choices. While it's possible to use true blue and Kelly green or red and orange together, you may want to start out with a less demanding combination. Here are a few popular choices you might offer for your kids' approval:
- Green and yellow -- fresh as a sunny meadow. Add orange accents for punch.
- Red, yellow, and green -- cheerful as a circus or a field of tulips. Lighten the red to pink for a fun flower garden scheme of pink, green, and yellow. Even simpler, use just pink and green.
- Orange and blue -- a favorite of boys. Add white to the orange for a soft, peachy tint that appeals to girls, too.
Green and violet, two secondary colors, look pretty with
yellow and blue, two primary colors. Together, they create
a summer garden feeling that is fun and frisky
as well as feminine. Retailer: JCPMedia L.P.
- Regal purple and cheerful golden yellow -- ideal for a knightly setting.
- Lilac (purple plus white) and spring green -- a scheme that's both chic and as charming as a garden.
- Purple and pink -- a little girl's favorite.
- Lilac, yellow, and green -- sprightly as springtime.
Tickle Them with Tertiary Colors
Tertiary (third-level) colors are made from mixing two secondary colors or a primary and a secondary color. The six tertiary colors -- red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet -- give you the full range of color-scheming options. Lighten them with white for watercolor effects, or use them with black or gray for drama that will captivate a hard-to-please teen. Here are a few combinations to consider:
- Yellow-green (also known as lime), purple (or lilac), and black
- Blue-green (aqua, turquoise, teal), red-orange (coral), and yellow-orange plus white or black
- Red, blue-violet, and gray
- Blue-violet, red-violet, and yellow-green
- Orange, blue-violet (or periwinkle), and white or black
Working with Kids' Color Preferences
This split complementary color scheme blends yellow and
yellow-green, two analogous colors, then contrasts them with
violet, yellow’s complement. Backed up by lots of pristine white,
the result is fresh, cool, and springlike. Manufacturer: Waverly.
You want to indulge your child's color preferences, but you cringe at the thought of midnight black or construction orange all over the walls. You don't have to go to those extremes to create a room your child will love. The secret is diluting the over-the-top color, either literally with white paint or visually by surrounding it with more temperate tones.
Young children often adore bright red and orange; girls in particular may crave hot pink and bright orchid purple. Let them enjoy these happy hues in a way that doesn't overwhelm the room by using one or more cooling strategies.
Try adding white or beige to orange to make this lively hue more versatile. Boys and girls alike will feel at home with warm terra-cotta and melon hues; for more interest, add a bit of yellow or red to create sunflower or coral. These sunset tones work well with Wild West motifs and many other decorating themes. Easily coordinating colors include blues, greens, yellows, rust red, and warm neutral colors such as cream, tan, and brown. Peach plus lilac or periwinkle makes a pretty, chic look.
To keep classic red from being too much of a good thing, use it as an accent throughout the room, and find a predominantly red bed ensemble to make the bed the center of attention. Popular color schemes are red, white, and royal blue; red, pale gray, and violet; red, yellow, and turquoise; red, white, and green (lime is fresh, hunter is classic); or red, white, and pink. Let white and cool colors (blue, green, violet) dominate, and keep the hot colors (red, yellow, pink) as accents since they'll just naturally grab more attention.
Bright pink and purple are so popular with young girls that it's easy to find ensembles and accents that pair these two. To keep them from overwhelming the room, choose a pale pink, lilac, or periwinkle tint for walls, and cool the look further with lots of white and light green. (Lime is fresh; mint is timeless.) If your girl likes a vintage look, it's easy to find elements in old rose, lavender, ivory, and celadon or sage green.
A glacial scheme of gray and white would look too cold, but not when you add
strategic hits of warm orange and natural green. Repeat a color in at least three
places around the room for visual balance. Retailer: Gautier USA, Inc.
The same principle applies to deep tones of purple or any other dark or intensely vivid color that might be overwhelming to live with. A young man who likes the drama of purple might find light gray walls and gunmetal gray furniture a cool background for the regal color, while a young lady might enjoy a scheme using lilac or lime plus white, accented by full-strength purple accessories.
Try to keep the backgrounds and large furniture pieces simple and classic for long-term comfort. Accessories, from accent pillows to bulletin boards and picture frames, can be changed as often as youngster's tastes do. If your daughter's taste has changed from pastel pink to fire engine red, do both of you a favor and drop doting family members a hint before her birthday or the holidays. Accessory items make perfect gifts and will let her change more often or make more of a statement, economically.
By the time your children have a more-than-sporadic interest in decorating their rooms, they're ready to start grasping the idea of buying what furthers the look not just what catches their eye. Impulsive shoppers as well as those who vacillate endlessly (you may have both in one household) will find it easier and more fun to purchase things that "go with" a turquoise ocean-inspired theme or a green-and-brown Wild West theme. Vacation trips, birthdays, and other special events all offer opportunities to help kids create environments that reflect their interests and dreams.
Sometimes a pattern, such as stripes, plaid, or florals, dominates a child's room. Learn how to work with patterns on the next page.
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