Depending upon the clients' needs there may be furnishings and accessories already in place. In these cases, rather than deciding on a color scheme, the job actually may be organizing the color scheme. In such circumstances a dominant, secondary and accent color should be determined and any new furnishings and accessories to be added to the room should be selected in the proper proportions to reinforce the colors already chosen.
Remember, the dominant color encompasses 60 percent of the space, the secondary color approximately 30 percent of the space and the accent color a mere 10 percent of the space. Not all rooms will have accent colors so that 10 percent can be added to or shared with the dominant or secondary color amounts.
But what if there is nothing from which to start making these decisions? What if it is necessary to start from scratch? The following options may help.
Starting from Scratch
Ask the clients if they want or plan to use a special possession in the room being designed. This item could be a piece of furniture such as a sofa, a beautiful art piece, an area rug, the draperies or a small, cherished object such as a vase. The colors in this object can be reviewed and two or three chosen to create the color scheme. This way the clients' favorite object is perfectly integrated into the newly designed room and may even become part of the focal point.
When a favorite object is not available, the challenge becomes a little more difficult. And the designer must be a little more creative.
Consider showing the clients a large variety of patterned fabrics. Explain that they should not be looking at the patterns, only the color combinations. Regardless of the pattern style, the clients still can see several different colors and the proportions of colors mixed in the fabrics. Eventually one combination should click. Even though the fabric will not be used in the room, the dominant, secondary and accent colors can be selected from it. The fabric swatch also can be used to mix and match paint and to select other fabrics.
A second option is an art catalog. Whether it is a large series of unframed prints from a major publisher or a smaller selection of framed-as-shown images, art can trigger the moods and imagination of just about anyone. Ideally the clients will find a piece they truly love and use it not only to decide on the color scheme, but also as an accessory later on.
However, like the fabric sample process previously discussed, it is not necessary to pick an actual piece of art in which the clients will invest. It is used only to specify the color scheme. Once the colors have been chosen the rest of the design process can continue.
Many of the items used to choose a color scheme have more than two or three colors in them. Before having the clients commit to particular colors review for them the different types of color schemes and their effects on the perception of the space.
To explain color effects to the clients easily, consider using a color wheel. This tool can be found in an art supply store and requires an investment of only $5. It shows the three basic color levels: primary (red, blue and yellow), secondary (green, orange and violet) and tertiary (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet). These colors are arranged around the wheel.
Color scheme types are based on the location of one color in relation to another and are rendered in pure colors, not tints, tones or shades.
• Complementary -- This is a two-color scheme in which the colors are exactly opposite on the color wheel. Examples are: blue and orange, red and green.
Typically one color is cool, the other warm. This color scheme has high contrast and generates a lot of visual energy in the room. The deeper hues create greater drama and work well in areas of high activity. Lighter tints can work in any space. They still create a lot of energy, but without so much of the drama.
• Analogous -- Also called harmonious or adjacent, this scheme uses three to five colors all right next to each other on the wheel. Examples are: red, red-orange, orange; or blue-green, blue, blue-violet.
Because these selections create color families, this scheme tends to be more relaxing. It can be used in any space where a more sedate environment is preferred. The use of texture will be important here to maintain interest.
• Triadic -- The colors in this scheme are equidistant on the wheel. Examples are: red, blue and yellow; or yellow-orange, blue-green and red-violet.
This is an exciting scheme and care must be taken to proportion the colors appropriately so that the room is not overpowering. Make sure to pick a dominant, secondary and accent color and follow through with the choice. As with a complementary scheme the darker colors will be more dramatic, the lighter colors more soft. Consider this effect along with the particular room and its function.
• Split-complementary -- This scheme takes one color from one side of the wheel and the two colors on each side of its complement. Examples are: blue, red-orange and yellow-orange; or yellow, blue-violet and red-violet.
Though still high in contrast, this scheme adds more interest to the room because there are more color options. Again, color amounts will be the key. Use them wisely.
• Monochromatic -- This scheme takes one color and uses some of its tints, tones and shades to create the look. It is very serene and care must be taken so that it does not get boring. Usually a diversity of textures are used to create interest in the space. It definitely is best used in areas of relaxation such as bedrooms or formal living rooms where functions are less action-oriented.
• Achromatic -- When only neutrals such as whites, grays and blacks are used we have this type of color scheme, which actually is no color at all. As above, something is needed to give this room some energy. Usually textures or an accent color will be enlisted.
Straight white and black color schemes are very high in contrast. If the proportions are not just right one's eye could be bouncing from object to object within the room. Make sure that whichever hues are chosen as dominant and secondary, they are proportioned as such. Equal amounts will not be acceptable.
There are many other types of color schemes, and of course you can create your own. These are the most frequently used schemes and easiest to work with. By giving the clients a logical process through which they can select and distribute colors in a room, a successful design plan is a given.
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.