color theory 101 : colors in your home

Hello all you wonderful people! I hope you’re ready, because today, we’re diving back into our color theory series!

We started the first part of our series with the basics of color psychology, and the color wheel, a-la art class, while we discussed how we make our homes what they are with the colors we choose.

Today, I thought we’d cover some of the basics, and answer some common questions we receive, when it comes to that ever elusive color scheme for a home. Choosing actual colors for our homes is sometimes, the biggest factor for designing a space, and for some, it can be the most distressing part. Wouldn’t it be great if it were as simple as picking from those classic little elementary school Crayola water color trays? …And maybe slightly boring? Probably. Maybe it’s good that colors have an endless spectrum.

First things first: I think there’s a delicate balance between the concepts of art as a guide, and letting it prohibit the creativity behind it. In other words, don’t let anything I say, limit you from doing what you really want to do. Didn’t Monet become well known because he traveled beyond the bounds of ‘acceptable standards’ in his day? He took it to another level. The father of Impressionism, he was all, “Stuff it, Leonardo. This is how I roll. Me and my homies {van Gogh} cut off our ears and send them to our hoes.” Or something like that. {Say it in a rapper voice.} My point being, that whenever I cover the concepts of art, it’s only because I’ve used them as a guide, to use what I love to do with the creative realm of my home. However, if I was always confined by ‘the rules,’ {go ahead and insert whichever applies to you, here-whether imposed by your nosey neighbor or well meaning mother with a stern belief system in builder’s beige} I’m not sure I would have attempted some of the things I personally love in my own home. In the same way, I hope you find something useful here.

Where do you actually start in a space with color? My ‘beginning’ is actually different each time…whether I’m inspired by equestrian redos, or jazzing up a tired fireplace, it’s only natural that each space has a different starting point. The part you feel the most drawn to, is the best place to begin in terms of color.

Which came first? The fabric or the color? More specific with that question on starting points, when choosing fabrics and paint colors, I find that the safest option is fabrics first. Once you’ve fallen in love with that fabric, it’s not hard to find a great color to match. If you have your heart set on a color for a room, by all means, start first with what inspires you the most.

What’s the best way to choose a paint color? I know you’ve probably been there before. In the aisle of your local paint store, wondering what in the world you should pick. Become a total paint chip hoarder. You can totally do it.

Mull + whittle: Sit in the actual space you plan to paint, and start two piles: yes and no. Once you’ve whittled it down to the ‘yeses,’ start going through, one by one. It’s a lot like going to the eye doctor. Compare one to the other. They all may start to look the same, but by studying shades of a similar color, you’ll be able to tell which has more of what, by holding them next to one another. And if anything, what you like more. One will have more grey, another more yellow, another more green… Compare them in different hours of the day in the same space. Colors change with the light in a room: morning light vs. afternoon light, and so on. Compare them next to the paint colors in the next room, for flow-value. {See below.}  From there, whittle it down, and even grab an actual paint sample, as the tie breaker between your final ‘contestants.’ When in doubt, take your time. It’s always good to take a few days to decide on your final paint color.

What are the ‘scariest’ colors to work with? I’m always careful with pinks and yellows, as a rule of thumb. When used correctly, they can be an absolute perfection. For instance, good intentions with a little girls’ nursery can go from sweet and subtle to Pepto Bismol nightmare vomit in a second. And yellow can be wonderful, but in the wrong context, school bus tinges are not always my number one pick. For example, when in doubt with pink for a nusery, go a shade lighter to avoid the garish. No need to be afraid, just study them and take your time, before you pick.

Remember, it’s only paint. You can always have a redo, if you’re not happy with your first outcome. It’s the most forgiving medium so don’t be intimidated by it.

Which room should I start with, in my home? As a general rule of thumb, I always say start in your main living area, and work your way out.

Any suggestions for how I should use it throughout my home? Unify your home’s separate rooms with color. When we first moved into our home, it was a sea of builder’s beige. We painted immediately, because I thought I might crawl out of my skin. We went with simple, nearly neutral, quiet colors, that we felt made a nice transition from one room to the next, and we were astonished and what the smallest change of a shade could do for a space. Over time, I’ve lightened it up even more. It’s amazing how changing the colors on your home can make everything brand new again.

Be aware of the transitional effect. The best homes have a smooth transition from space to space. They’re unified with color. It helps the home flow, when it transitions nicely from room to room, and can make it feel larger.  Ask yourself questions like, what other spaces can you see from where you’re standing in each part of your house? How does my overall color scheme work together?

Interchange colors in your spaces. If you use blue on the walls in one room, repeat a variation of it on a dresser, in the next. Don’t do the same exact thing over and over again, but have various colors, in the same tones. Be creative with your uses. If you go from light to dark, make sure it’s balanced well, whether it’s shots of different colors repeated in accessories to help keep it smooth, or something as simple and uniform board and batten to balance it out.

I’ve changed the colors of my walls, but I’m not feeling it in the rest of the space. What am I doing wrong? If you’re making a big leap in your home’s overall color schemes, sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s more than just the walls. Color in your home isn’t just about the paint on walls. It’s an all encompassing tool for your home. Carrying out a color, or repeating it in different ways, is an excellent way to infuse your home. Switching out the accessories, giving it a fresh punch with fabric, and changing out the things you’ve had for a while, even if it means shopping your home or painting something to give it a fresh look, can mean a world of difference in the feel of a room.

We use various colors are in general, repeated. But the basic idea: overall repetition of varying colors help keep the home open and airy. And I’m not just talking about light colors, though obviously, I personally am drawn to them. Dark can do the same thing, if used in the right ways. It helps carry the look through to the rest of the home.

The same color in our dining room is used for Emerson’s, and also repeated with Robin’s Nest on the back porch. That same blue is also seen in our playroom. Which has the same yellow seen on the buffet where we keep our toys, that you see on Emerson’s mirror. Emerson’s dresser, which is right below her yellow mirror, has the same colors you can find in our hallway bathroom. Our hallway bathroom has a frame with the same colors you can find on a dresser in our laundry room. Our laundry room houses both Chantilly Lace for the board and batten, and Wedgewood grey. Which you can also find in touches of on the kitchen island, cabinets, living room accessories, and {the white} on the living room walls…I think you’re starting to get the picture. I could go on forever.

Be intentional about your color placement and your homes, whether it’s transitional, an all encompassing look, or carrying it through to add interest and cohesiveness with various materials…It’s all in what the color, and what the space is saying. I always say this, but the possibilities really are endless. 

So there you have it on the basics for finding those perfect colors for your homes. Whether you’re switching over to something totally different, want to try a few new combos, or are getting rid of that builder’s beige for the first time, what are the different ways in your homes that you use color? How can we use the basic concepts of art, and how can we all channel a little ‘Monet’ {sans chopped off van Gogh ear flinging} with what we choose to do?

Have an inspired day, everyone!

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Responses to color theory 101 : colors in your home

  1. Pamelotta says:

    This is so much fun! I’m starting to feel not so lost in the color arena. My husband is a commercial illustrator and can tell me the science behind color, but unless we combined our brains into one head, there’s no way that his science and my decorating dreams would ever blend to create what I want. I just need to learn it myself. Thanks for the lesson!

  2. Rebekah Tice says:

    Another great lesson…thank you, teacher:) Still thinking over your great suggestions about layering color in my boys’ room (this was a couple weeks ago)…have had visions of great ways to incorporate color while avoiding themeiness. Hoping it comes out in reality as good as the picture in my head! Hope you have a happy hump day!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Who won the Home Depot giveaway? Thanks!

  4. Heather says:

    Great post! I’m an interior designer by training – i could select colors for other peoples homes all day long. but when it comes to my own home, i can never decide. thanks for the tips!

  5. I found you on Pinterest and I am so glad that I did. I love everything about your blog. And, your house if gorgeous. I am now your newest follower! Can’t wait to read all of your daily posts. : )


  6. ina says:

    hello 😀

    your blog is really great.
    i hope it is okay to use one of your pictures for my “things i love today”.
    I linked your blog there too!

    Please let me know if you dont want this, then i will remove it.

    Kisses from germany

  7. Sandra says:

    Thank you for this post…we are currently updating our home and we didn’t know where to start. I’m taking your suggestion to start with the fabric…:) I look forward to the rest of the series

  8. Shauna says:


    I love your blog and I actually came to it today hoping for some info on color! We just moved into our first house and it is 2200 square feet of builder’s beige. I really want to paint our main living area white because I see it in so many of the pinterest homes I love! But I have been discouraged because everyone I talk to (aka my friends and family – not prfessionals) acts like I’m crazy! What are the keys to doing white well?

  9. jen h says:

    what is the color you used on your master bedroom wall? love it!

  10. Britney says:

    I have searched your website to find the names of your paint colors used through out your beautiful home..with no luck. Do you have them listed somewhere? Thank you!!!

    • Hey Britney! You can find the majority of them here – I hope that helps! If you have any specifics that aren’t in that one (this post is kinda old and it’s probably time for me to have a redo because we actually get that question a lot) just let me know! ;}

  11. Tiffany P says:

    Ashley, ever since I discovered your website I have referenced its plethora of information everyday as I begin my journey as a homeowner. You’re fantastic! I wish we could be friends 😛
    I have a couple paint/color questions:
    1. Is there a particular reason you use Benjamin Moore’s paint most often? Just curious if they have more colors, better paint, you like their name…etc.
    2. Do you have any rules/guidelines when deciding to paint accent walls? Do you even paint accent walls?
    3. I am deciding on what colors to paint my little home. (My color scheme is similar to the colors of your website). I was planning on adding accent walls for punches of colors (teal in the living room, pale green in the stair-way, and a sunny yellow in the kitchen specifically), however my boyfriend keeps kindly reminding me(ahem–nagging perhaps) that we’ll be able to see the different colors as we walk through the spaces. (I believe what he is getting at, is that spaces flows and he doesn’t want our home to look like a pre-school). In my mind, these colors compliment each other, and are repeated elsewhere in our decor, however I also don’t want our place to look like a preschool. How/where do you draw the line between over-the-top-in-your-face and the cheerful/fresh/put together room I want?
    4. What sheen do you use for your walls?
    Thanks so much!

    • Hey Tiffany! Thanks for inspiring me today, because I’ve gotten a lot of questions about colors recently, and I’ll be answering all of yours and more in a post tomorrow for colors in the home. I hope you can find some useful stuff there! Thanks so much!