Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How To Put Colors Together

One of the most refreshing things I see everyday are little toddlers dressed in the most outrageous color combinations. They do not stop to think about which color goes with what--when allowed to dress themselves, they usually pick out whatever strikes their fancy. When she was a toddler herself, my daughter would always declare that 'rainbow' was her favorite color. As we grow older, we somehow turn into color-phobic adults. We paint our homes beige and feel our most dressed up in black. We lose our ability and our moxie to put together fresh, colorful and (gasp!) playful palettes. We resign ourselves to a neutral environment because, "I just don't know which colors go with what."
Looks as good as a box of crayons: A row of colorful houses in Baltmore, Maryland.

Does black go with navy? Does pink go with red? Does red go with purple? Can I mix gray with brown? Yes to all.
Saturated jewel tones go together on a white sofa. Photo credit: www.housebeautiful.com
Swirl rug, www.paulsmith.co.uk

When putting colors together, there are two basic things to remember: saturation and tone. Most colors will go together nicely as long as they don't clash in terms of saturation and tone. Saturation is the intensity or value of the color. For example, a pastel peach may be a de-saturated version of a bright orange, and a rich eggplant is a saturated version of a pale lavender. Tone is the underlying color beneath a color. For example, a spring green fern frond has yellow undertones and a dark green pine tree has more of a blue undertone. Colors will go together nicely when they are more or less of the same saturation and similar undertones. Several pillows covered in different colors but in the same intensity will still look nice together. Another option would be to stay in the same color family and vary the intensity of the color, like in a monochromatic scheme. Yet another option would be to have different items of different colors but the same undertone, for example, a green with blue (emerald) undertones and a purple that leans more towards blue than red (eggplant).  The trick is to have one thing that unifies them--saturation, hue or undertone. The result? Interesting, unstudied and never boring.

One color using very slight variations in tone create a cool, soothing and quiet mood.  
Rich and deep purple and orangey gold look smashing together.
 Photo credits above: www.housebeautiful.com

Jonathan Adler is perhaps the best designer when it comes to breaking out the crayola colors. His rooms always look put together, and yet gorgeously unstudied. He achieves this in part through the use of unexpected and playful color combinations that look 'thrown together.'

Adler's design for Barbie's Malibu dream house

Adler's own condo

Another one by Adler: Several colors, similar saturation: Vibrant and interesting.
Photo credits, top to bottom:

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