Colour match: how to pick complementary colours

Written by Caitlin Costello in Renovating on May 24, 2017

Colour match: how to pick complementary colours

A touch of colour instantly brightens a room – transforming it from dark and dreary to light and refreshing. But adding the right complementary colours is easier said than done! With so many options to choose from, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Does blue go with green and is it really a crime for pink and orange to be seen together? We’re here to help you out with the best colour pairs that will make your home shine.

The basics

For those who never studied art, the colour spectrum originates from three primary colours: red, blue and yellow. It is from these three colours that the secondary colours are made (red + yellow = orange, red + blue = purple, blue + yellow = green), and in between are the tertiary colours (think teal and maroon).

Shades come from darkening colours with black, tints from adding white and tones are created with the addition of grey.

To make things simpler, colours can be arranged into a colour wheel:




Image source: Will Kemp Art School

Warm and cool colours       

Weird as it may sound, colours have temperatures. Warm colours tend to be dominant in a space and will attract the eye. Red, orange and yellow hues all fall into the warm colour category. They are typically known for being more vibrant and their addition to a space will bring it to life.

Cooler colours on the spectrum – green, purple and blue hues – are instead colours that tend to recede in a space. They are more calming and promote relaxation.

So what goes with what?

The colour wheel above is your best friend when it comes to picking out complementary colours for a room (or even an outfit!). The colours directly opposite from one another on the wheel are known as complementary colours. It’s a foolproof way to pick out colours that will bring out the best in each other. Because cool colours recede, they enable the warm colours to stand out and become a feature. The cool and the warm together makes the perfect power team.

In practical use, if you’ve chosen navy for your couches, team it with an orange or red cushion for best results. A green vase will really highlight your red flowers and your creamy bed linen will be stylishly offset with a rich purple throw.

Remember; when in doubt, check the wheel.

White is a colour!

White paint isn’t usually white. If you’ve ever painted a house before, you will know that there are almost as many different kinds of whites as there are other colours put together! This is because white paint usually comes with an undertone. When adding feature colours to rooms, it is important to know what this undertone is, so you can work to match or else complement it. Using the colour wheel above, if you have a white paint with a blue undertone, you would be looking to pair it with blues for a cohesive look, and accent with oranges for something that really pops. A green undertone works best with reds.

Side by side

The colours that sit side by side on the colour wheel create a harmonious team that will work perfectly in your colour scheme. If a single colour palette seems over the top, simply introduce hues from one of the neighbouring colours to add more variety. And don’t forget your shades, tones and tints!