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What is a Colour Wheel?


A colour wheel is a visual illustration showing the relationships between colours. The most commonly used is known as the RYB colour wheel. A 12-part colour system, it is made up of the 3 primaries, red, yellow and blue, from which all the other colours are formed. They then form secondary colours when 2 primaries are mixed in equal parts: red and yellow produce orange; yellow and blue produce green; blue and red forms violet. Finally, when equal parts of a primary colour and a secondary colour are mixed, 6 tertiary colours are formed. These are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green. From these, an infinite number of combinations can be formed by varying the proportions of other added colours, besides adding black, white or grey. Colour wheels help us to come up with a colour palette that works well in a room. They are a full-proof way of choosing an interesting colour scheme, as opposed to picking out a “safe” scheme for fear of getting it wrong.

A monochromatic scheme is often the simplest to pull off. Here, elements in the room comprise shades and tints of one base colour. When choosing your base colour, it is important to decide on the mood you want your space to portray. Where warm colours are used, the room becomes bold and dramatic while cool colours make it seem calm and understated. Variations in texture and pattern will also prevent a monochromatic scheme from falling flat. The next easiest look is the analogous scheme which uses any 3 colours next to each other on the colour wheel. Though it offers more variety than monochromatic, it's important to choose a dominant colour. This colour, once chosen, allows you to choose 2 other colours on either side. The dominant colour then acts as the main colour in the room while you use the other 2 as accents throughout the space. To avoid these kissing cousins from visually blending into one another, create a distinction between the colours by using patterns. A popular example of the analogous scheme is green, blue-green and blue, often favoured in refreshing coastal styles.

The main contrasting schemes used in interior decorating are complementary and triadic. Complementary schemes use 2 colours directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, for example, red and green. When placed next to each other, they appear more intense due to the contrast they offer. To lessen this harshness, hues should be toned down or varied in intensity. Using neutrals as a backdrop is also a great way to achieve the same effect. Not for the fainthearted, triadic colour schemes are bold and dramatic. They use any 3 colours that are equally spaced on the colour wheel, for example, red, yellow, and blue. When using this scheme, following the 60-30-10 rule helps prevent the room from becoming too busy: 60% dominant colour, 30% secondary colour, and 10% accent colour. Another way of making your space more cohesive when using triads is by using more muted tones for the secondary and accent colour.

If using the colour wheel to pick out a palette still feels daunting, you can change your lounge with just cushions and throw rugs. This inexpensive way of updating your lounge also brings out the subtle design features of the space. If you have a matching furniture set, using pillows of a similar hue with rich textures and playful patterns removes the monotony and keeps your seating vibrant. Alternatively, tie together your unique mismatched seats by adorning them with similar cushions. Watercolour effect cushion covers are also a great way to subtly add colour, especially in an analogous scheme. For a more contrasting scheme, an easy trick often used by designers is to pick hues from a colourful rug and mimic the same onto the cushions and other accents. This is especially easy to do if your room is mainly neutral. For a lounge that already has bold colours, pick out a rug that has a lighter hue of the dominant colour in the room to ground the space.

Regardless of the colour scheme you settle on, know these are simply rules, and that just like timeless art, the best-designed spaces are those that break every rule in the book!