Where Color Schemes Start – a trip around the color wheel (Part 1)

If you have ever listened to an artist, designer or any one who knows their way around a color wheel, then you’ve probably heard them go on about monochromatic, analogous, complimentary, split complimentary, triad or tertiary color schemes.


Yes, those are all color schemes that are drawn from the color wheel to create color balance. They are where color schemes start. But they don’t need to sound strange or be complicated.

So, we’re going to look at each one in simple terms and examples as they apply to your interior space.
This will be a three part series.  First, Monochromatic & Analogous, then Complimentary & Split-Complementary, and finally Triad & Tertiary.



‘Mono’ – meaning singular

‘Chromatic’ – meaning color

And yes, it is just that easy. Using a singular color. For some people this means playing it safe, for others it is simplicity, and there will be those that think ‘boring’.

I’m here to tell you that a monochromatic room can be anything but boring when done right.  Yes, you start with a singular color, but you have a whole range of shades (the color darkened) tints (the color lightened) and tones (the color desaturated with grey) to use together.


Just the right use of a neutral white or ivory will break it up without taking away from the single color choice.  You can also enliven the space and create interest by using different textures and patterns.





In this bedroom, the neutral, cool, monochromatic color scheme keeps things peaceful and calm. With no sharp contrasts of colors that might activate the senses, the experience is restful and perfect for the space.  But notice the deep pile of the rug and the natural wood. They both add interest without jarring the senses.

Some people automatically think that monochromatic only applies to neutral colors (beige, grey, taupe). Which also lends to the perception of being a ‘bland’ color scheme. Well, I pulled examples that are going to blow that idea right to bits.

Blue Monochromatic Living Room

(April/ May 2011 – Interiors Magazine – “Peaceful Refuge”designed by David Collins http://www.interiorsdigital.com)

This blue color scheme is monochromatic and dramatic with:


  1. velvet Ikat patterned barrel chairs
  2. eflective surfaces that take on the blue but give it a smooth metallic feel
  3. a stripped throw
  4. pattern curtains
  5. mix of pillows in a dark shade with chairs in a light tint






(Photographer: Eric Roth)

  Even this room by Jaime Drake as seen in Elle Decor Magazine proves that a   single color can be dynamic and visually amazing.










Analogous means being similar or corresponding in some way (think about the root word: Analogy) In color schemes it is composed of colors sitting next to each other on the color wheel.


See the similarity, you’ve got three colors but they are not a big departure from each other.

There is just enough variety to add a kick to a rooms feel but still allowing the colors to play well together.  Your room will have an easily unified and cohesive look with an analogous color scheme. The middle color plays dominate while the other two are support and accents.  The scheme will work best if all the colors are warm or cool.



Try to stick to 3 colors but if your are confident in your ability to balance the amounts used, you could select 4.  (But no more because then it just looks jumbled and like the rainbow was trying to come to town.) This room found just the right point with 3 colors.

(Peregrine Design Build – http://houzz.com/photos/112489)

So, now you have a start to the first basic color schemes. From here you can build a unified room with color. But… if you are ready to get a little more color adventurous, then stay tuned for the next part in this series where we will explore Complimentary & Split-Complimentary.

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