Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace

Please Select Search Type:
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Using Color In Your Home

[Using Color]  [Choosing Your Fabrics]  [Period Design Motifs In Fabrics And Wallpapers]  [Wallpaper]  [Decorating And Floor Coverings]  [More Home Decorating Tips] 

( Originally Published 1955 )

Color is magic! With one color scheme, your room can be gay and exciting; planned with other colors, the same room can be restful and relaxing. And with the combination of color, texture, pattern, and line, you can make your room as quaint and informal or as formal and sophisticated as you please.

The psychology of color is a vast study, but here are the important things to keep in mind:

1. Bright, gay colors stimulate and attract attention, so use them sparingly as accents, or use them dramatically in rooms that are lived in the least. Never use bright colors on objects that are awkward in shape.

2. Warm colors give a sense of cosiness and hospitality. They attract attention less than the bright colors but are still referred to as "advancing" colors. They are good for informal interiors, dens, and libraries.

3. Cool colors are dignified and conservative, and are more suitable for sophisticated, formal rooms. They are called "retreating" colors.

4. Dark, rich colors give a sense of strength and stability, and appeal to men. They are good for men's bedrooms, libraries, and dens. Dark walls will make a room seem smaller. (To avoid a gloomy impression when using dark colors on walls, it is advisable to contrast them with lighter colors in rugs, upholstery, slip covers, and draperies.)

5. Light pastel colors give a sense of space, airiness, and distance, and usually appeal to women. Pastels are good for small rooms, bedrooms, and wherever a feminine touch is desired.


To create an attractive color scheme, plan one which leaves a definite impression of either warmth or coolness. In doing this, be sure to contrast warm colors with cool colors for interest, or vice versa; but never use warm and cool colors in equal amounts. One or the other must predominate.

Cool colors retreat and give a sense of space; if they are used in the lighter values, they tend to make a room appear larger. (Values are differences in the degree of lightness or darkness of a color.) The cool colors are those ranging from blue-violet, through the blues and blue-green, to the yellow-greens.

Remember that warm colors advance; thus they make a room appear smaller. The warm colors are those ranging from red-violet, through the reds and oranges, to yellow.

Grayed warm colors, because they are advancing colors, have the faculty of tying together the other colors and the objects placed against them. On the other hand, the cool, retreating colors will emphasize articles placed against them. There are obvious exceptions to this rule. For instance, white objects placed against a white wall naturally will not stand out as they will against either a cool blue or green background or warm colors such as pink or brown.


There are several ways to work out a color scheme, but the easiest and simplest method is to select an attractive patterned fabric, wallpaper, figured rug, a fine picture, or a rare porcelain object, and use the featured colors in furniture and accessories. In other words, you can build your whole color scheme around a chosen pattern or other favorite object you wish to feature in a room. Suppose you have selected a fabric. Your walls could be the background color that appears in it-in the same shade, or in a lighter or darker tint-or they could match one of the other colors in the pattern. In any case, decide which is to be the dominant color in the room, the secondary color, the third color; and use the brightest color or colors for accent notes in the smaller accessories.

The colors in the pattern, whether pale and delicate, rich and mellow, or bright and primitive, will determine the tonal key for your color scheme and may even suggest the proportions of each color to be used in the overall scheme. The right proportion of secondary and tertiary colors in relation to the dominant color is important.


First, decide whether the tonal key of the room is to be in a pastel or light value, a medium value, a dark value; whether it is to be grayed and quiet or brilliant and gay. Whatever your choice, plan to maintain this feeling throughout the room by first establishing the principal color, the one that will leave the strongest general impression. One color should predominate, and it may be used in varying shades (blue-green to yellow-green, for instance) and values (light to dark).

A secondary color should be used as a balance to the dominant color, but in lesser total area; its largest areas of use should be, preferably, in a tint or light value. One or more additional colors used as accent notes, probably in the accessories, will give the room life and sparkle. Example: The dominant color is green (a mixture of yellow and blue); the secondary color is dusty rose (red and blue). Accent colors should be ruby-red or raspberry. In this scheme, blue is the color that unites, since it is present in the green, dusty rose, and ruby or raspberry red.

Bear in mind that the larger the area, the more neutral, or grayed, the color should be. The smaller the area, the brighter the color permissible.

The largest areas, apart from the floors, are the walls and ceilings. Whatever color you choose for them should be slightly grayed (as in ready-mixed decorator paints), either in the darker or lighter scale of values. Pure color is rarely used in its full intensity in these areas unless the room is seldom used, as the effect, at best, is not restful. The same principle applies to floors that are to be covered or painted. Floors usually look better in a darker tone than the walls. (Natural wood floors are toned by the use of suitable wood finishes and by wear and polishing.)

The second largest areas are the draperies, large chairs, and sofas. The colors in these can be slightly more brilliant or lighter in value than the background or dominant colors.

The remaining areas are the accent areas, consisting of the smaller chairs, pillows, lamps, paintings, flowers, curtain trim, picture mats, etc.; in this area you can go to town with bright colors. These smaller objects can be the most brilliant and eyecatching in the whole room. White always lends sparkle to a dark room, while black gives smart contrast in a light or brilliant room. On the whole, accent colors are best when they are complementary to the dominant color, but a brilliant hue of either the dominant or the secondary color is also lovely.

Distribution of Color

Good decorators seldom match colors. They repeat a color with variations of its values, from light to dark, or of its brilliance. Example: The room's dominant color is on the walls. Repeat or continue it in a darker or lighter shade on the floor coverings and in the upholstery or slip-cover fabrics. If your rug is the secondary color, don't let it be isolated. Instead, introduce that color in a lighter or brighter shade in the slip-cover or drapery fabrics, on picture mats or pillows, or in other accessories. Thus you attain color balance.

By placing related color spots at different eye levels, from draperies down to a sofa or chair and then up again, for example, to a picture or a bowl of flowers of the same color, you achieve rhythm as well as color balance.

Use the color of your draperies on another side of the room, on a sofa, a large chair, or pillows. It is a good idea to use your accent color more than once on small articles, but never cluster these accents in one end of the room alone. Use the color two or three times on different objects, irregularly spaced. For instance, the red of a collection of ruby glass on shelves in front of a window might be picked up again in pillows on the sofa, in the seat of a small chair or two, in a picture, or in a bowl or red roses somewhere across the room.

It is good practice to unify two strong colors in a room by introducing a third related color that will bring them together. Red and yellow (two primary colors) can be associated by using orange; yellow and blue, by using green; blue and red, by using violet. In other words, two primary colors can appear well together if the color resulting from their mixing is placed somewhere between them, so as to lead the eye from one to the other by a pleasant transition. To bring a blue and a yellow together, for example, use green leaves, a green vase, or a green pillow or green fabric on a small chair.

Color in Connecting Rooms

It is disturbing to have two rooms, leading directly into one another, decorated in entirely unrelated color schemes. No matter how harmonious and beautiful each room might be in itself, one is bound to overpower the other, resulting in a lack of harmony. A fine effect can be achieved if you think in terms of a harmonious color scheme for an entire floor or, better yet, for your entire house. This becomes even more important in small homes where we think of living areas rather than rooms.

Plan to use the same color in adjoining rooms in varying shades, tones, or values, depending on what you think suitable in each case. One room, or hall, might be wallpapered, and the halls of the adjoining room painted in one of the colors featured in this paper. For instance, if you use an ivy or holly pattern wallpaper (green on white) in a hall you might have plain green walls in the neighboring room, with shades of white as secondary colors and orange red in accessories for accent.

Your wall color could be the same in connecting rooms, but in a lighter or darker value in one of the rooms. The color used in the draperies and sofa in one room could be used in a smaller quantity in the adjoining room, as on small chairs or sofa pillows. And the colors used in smaller quantities in the first room could be used in larger quantity in the next room. In other words, you reverse the scheme. Since the floor unifies the two rooms, it is advisable to have the same carpeting or floor finish throughout.

It should be emphasized that, in small apartments and cottages, a greater feeling of space will be achieved if the walls in connecting rooms are of the same color, or closely related in value. Contrast separates objects; what you want in limited space is unity and, usually, a feeling of greater space, which in turn will dictate the choice of light colors for walls and ceilings. Consider an all-white house or apartment-it can be anything but dull, especially if your furnishings are colorful or interesting in form. There are warm shades of white as well as cool shades from which to choose or to build subtle contrasts.

Creating Color Harmony

It isn't necessary to be an expert or to study all the complicated color systems used by professional color experts in order to create lovely color schemes with confidence.

In spite of all the frightening long words you may have heard color experts bandy about, there are really only three basic types of color schemes: those that are built on one color; those that are built on neighboring colors with one main color as the common ancestor; and those that are contrasting colors, directly opposite each other on the color wheel.

Here are the simplified explanations:

A monotone or monochromatic harmony is a harmony created by the use of one color used in various values and strengths of that color.

Example. Light, medium, and dark blues, all grayed a bit for harmony, are accented with small areas of a pure and unadulterated clear blue. In such a scheme, however, the complimentary color red, which is directly opposite blue on the color wheel, is introduced in small and brilliant accents for interest.

A monotone scheme gives unity and is excellent when you want to make a small room appear larger. It is very restful and will tend to emphasize formality when this is desired. A scheme of similar colors (family relationship), also known as analogous, is composed of adjoining colors in the color wheel, with one pr imary color to link them.

Examples: (1) Take yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green. Here yellow is the primary and dominant color that unites. (2) Red-orange, red, red-violet, violet. In this scheme, red is the dominant color that unites. (3) If, in the cooler range of color, we take green, green-blue, blue, and blue-violet, we will find that blue is the dominant color.

When creating such a color scheme, let the dominant color, slightly grayed, be the most important. As in all schemes, these colors should have light and dark contrasts to give movement and interest. For accent, introduce the complement of the dominant color. If yo ur dominant color is blue, the complement would be yellow orange.

A complementary scheme is built by contrasting one color with its complement (directly opposite it on the color wheel). These colors are used in unequal amounts, so that one definitely dominates. For harmony, use a grayed tone of one or both colors. Remember the rule: the larger the area, the more grayed, or toned down, the color should be. (Note: In mixing paint colors, the best way to gray a color is to add a touch of its complement. For instance, a bit of red added to green will give a lovely gray-green, which can be lightened by adding white. This rnethod gives a much more pleasing grayed tone than that achieved by using black to gray the color.)

Work out some of these color schemes on your color wheel for yourself. You will find it not only a lot of fun, but very easy. Make tracings of the various arrowed indicators or pointers, place their center circle over the center circles of the color wheel, insert a pin through the exact centers and swing the indicators around.

The complementary colors are found at the ends of the straight arrow shaft. Let either of the colors it points to be your dominant color, and use the opposite color in a lesser degree and in different values. Use color swatches of fabrics, decorator paint samples, or other color cutouts if you need help in visualizing actual colors when using the wheel.

With an understanding of these principles, you are ready for other color adventures. A split complementary color scheme is achieved by deciding on the dominant color and using the adjoining colors on either side of its complement. Trace the Y-shaped pointer and apply it to the wheel. Its three ends will point to the colors that go together.

Example: The opposite or complement of purple is yellow, but by using the split complementary system, you have something much more interesting-yellow-orange, and yellowgreen. A double split complementary color scheme is achieved by deciding on the dominant color and instead of using it alone, you use the adjoining colors, or the ones next to them, and the adjoining or next adjoining colors to its complement. This is made clear by using the X-shaped pointer on the wheel.

Example: With red-violet and blue-violet, the complements would be red-orange and yellow-green.

In such a scheme, as always, let one of these colors be dominant, and introduce the others in smaller and lighter or darker degrees, with one in its pure intensity for accent in a very small degree.

A triadic color scheme can be one of the loveliest and most dramatic of all. It is based on the use of a triangle having all three sides of equal length. Place the one point of the triangle on one color in the color wheel, and the other two points will indicate the other two colors to use.

Example: A primary color scheme using yellow, red, and blue is triadic. With orange, you would have green and violet making up the triadic combination.


An important word of caution-never introduce many different patterns in a room, as this always creates confusion. Pattern is ornament, and ornament needs the relief of plain surfaces; just as plain surfaces require the relief of some ornament to avoid monotony.

Stripes and tone-on-tone designs, such as those used in damask, fall in the plain and unobtrusive pattern group and can be combined successfully with a fabric or wallpaper having a predominant pattern. Chosen in harmonious colors, they need not set up any conflict of interests.

If a patterned fabric is used for draperies, plan to introduce it again on the sofa or one or two large chairs.

With a patterned wallpaper-which, of course, covers the largest area-choose plain draperies and plain, striped, or toneon-tone fabric for upholstered or slip-covered pieces, with perhaps a similar pattern in a smaller scale on the covering of one or two chairs. Some wallpaper and fabric houses are now putting out such coordinated designs.

A patterned rug affects all the other things in a room. Consequently all other fabrics and patterns and colors used must complement it. Obviously, a figured rug should have plain walls to offset it. A fabric that is delicate in design and color could be used for the draperies and on one or two small chairs; but the larger upholstered pieces will look best in plain or selfpatterned fabrics; and interest may be added through the clever use of textures in other fabrics used in the room.

A word of caution: Select patterned fabrics, wall papers, or rugs first and develop the other room colors from them. Before buying fabrics or paper, get some samples and try them out in the room in which they are to be used. Try them together, first in daylight and then in artificial light. The yellow light of the ordinary lamp bulb changes the appearance of some colors. Even small swatches will be better than none at all, but try to persuade your dealer to give you as large samples as possible.

Bookmark and Share