My wall colors are pretty tame compared to my accent colors (and most people wouldn’t classify teal and dark blue as tame wall colors). What can I say, I just love a good pop of color. Whether it’s a bright-colored shirt I throw on with jeans or the quilt over the back of my sofa, I crave color! But, I don’t crave all.the.colors.
I think most people get hung up on choosing and playing with color, because they think they have to choose a lot of colors for a colorful result. Totally untrue.
Would you agree that my living room is colorful? Excluding the neutrals, like the gray couch and navy rug, how many colors do you see?
That’s right, two. Teal and lime green. It is the amount of color and the number of times it appears throughout the room that makes the room colorful, not the number of colors I used.
Okay, let’s do another one. Here is my colorful studio. Obviously, the bold blue accent wall counts. But otherwise, how many accent colors do you see which are used in 3 or more places?
Three this time. Yellow, teal, and turquoise. Again, it is the number of times the colors are used throughout a room that makes it colorful, not the number of different colors.
So, even if you are color-shy and my bright and bold color choices make you pee your pants a little bit, know that you do not have to use all.the.colors. Just a few will do. You don’t have to choose a lot of accent colors or bold accent colors to make your space colorful.
My post on 7 steps to create your whole house color palette was focused on choosing wall colors, but a complete whole house color plan also takes into account accent colors. Just like with your wall colors, a little planning and intention behind your accent colors leads to a home with better visual flow and easier decorating.
Accent colors are used throughout a room on art, decor, textiles, and sometimes furniture. A well-defined accent color palette can help your home feel cohesive.
There are 3 must-know principles about using accent colors for maximum effect, minimum effort (and minimum color decision-making angst).
3 Accent Color Principles:
- Use a small palette of accent colors throughout your home. You don’t need a lot of different colors to make a space colorful. Unifying accent colors across rooms helps your home flow. It also makes redecorating easy because you can move accessories between rooms. With this principle in mind, when considering new accents make sure they can be used in at least 3 different rooms. Choosing accents that work in more than one place gives them staying power in your home.
- The main accent color in a room should appear at least 3 times in different areas of the room to look intentional and draw the eye around the room. The accent color isn’t limited to small accessories, it can also be used on upholstery, painted furniture, and art.
- When choosing different colors that go well together, it is easiest to stick to all clean colors or all grayed out colors. Clean colors are crisp and clear (the inner circle below). Grayed out colors are muted and played down (the outer circle below). Mixing clean colors with grayed out colors is harder to pull off, so stick to one or the other.
Vintage Color Wheel via Just Something I Made
How to Choose Accent Colors
Once you have your whole house color palette planned, you can move onto choosing your accent color palette. When you choose accessories for your home, you will draw from this color palette along with your wall color palette.
Accent colors are a whole different ball game than wall color. You wall colors need to be livable and relatively neutral because they cover a large surface area and are more permanent, but your accent colors can be less rigid. You can have more fun and take more risks with small accents. But remember, you are still defining a limited palette of fun.
May I repeat, you don’t need a lot of different colors to have a colorful home. In my home, which I consider colorful, my accent color palette in it’s most basic form is yellow, green, blue, and a smidge of purple. And, I prefer my accent colors to be clean, not grayed out.
Pick Your Accent Colors in 5 Steps
1. First, let’s review your whole house color palette.
Is your wall color palette monochromatic, analogous, or complementary? What was your bold (favorite) wall color? Or if your wall colors are all neutral, what is the dominant undertone? Your bold wall color or your dominant undertone is your color starting point in Step 4.
2. What are your favorite accent pieces you already own?
Why are they your favorite? Consider the color/finish, shape, and texture of the piece. What is the trend amongst your favorite pieces?
3. How do you want your accents to show up in your home?
Do you want them to pop out and make a statement or blend in and just make the room look finished? The trends from your favorite existing accessories can help here. Do your favorites stand out or blend in? Whichever it is, since they’re your favorites, you want to do more of that.
4. Apply a Little Color Theory
Using some simple color theory you can choose accent colors for your whole house color plan.
Use your bold (favorite) wall color as your starting point. For simplicity’s sake, let’s use teal (aka blue-green) as the bold color for all the examples below. And, I will use simple color wheels and charts (found here) to illustrate the examples.
If you want to make your accent colors blend in, try one of these methods:
Stick with a monochromatic scheme. Choose a tint or shade that is only one or two steps off of your bold wall color. For blue-green, that would look like this:
Choose one of the analogous colors to your wall color, that is one of the colors right next to your wall color on the color wheel. Analogous colors have less contrast and are more restful. Because they are so close to each other on the color wheel, the accent color will be a subtle difference. For blue-green, an analogous option would be blue or green.
Or, skip accent colors altogether and go for neutrals, metallic, and wood accents.
If you want to make you accent colors pop, here are the proven options you can try based on color theory:
For a single accent color that pops, try one of these methods:
- Choose a complementary color to your bold wall color. For blue-green, the complement is red-orange.
- Choose a monochromatic color that contrasts with your bold wall color. Choose a tint or shade several steps lighter or darker that stands out against your wall color. For blue-green, that would look like this:
For two accent colors that pop, try one of these methods:
- Choose split complementary colors to your bold wall color. For blue-green, the complement is red-orange. The split complementary colors are red and orange.
- Try creating a color triad starting with your bold wall color. Here you are choosing colors at the corners of an equilateral triangle on the color wheel. For blue-green, the two colors that complete the triad are red-violet and yellow-orange.
- Choose an analogous palette of the 2 colors in a row next to one of your wall colors on color wheel. For blue-green, here’s what the options look like:
For three accent colors, try one of these methods:
- Choose a tetradic color combo. Imagine you are choosing 4 corners of a rectangle on the color wheel. Notice a tetradic combo includes the complement of your starting color. And, the two colors forming the rest of the rectangle are complements to each other. For blue-green, the tetradic combo includes red-violet, red-orange, and yellow-green.
- Choose an analogous palette of 3 colors in a row next to your bold wall color on color wheel. For blue-green, here is why a few of the options look like:
5. Apply Your Accent Colors to Each Room
With the steps above your accent colors are all designed to go together and to work well with your wall color palette. But, you don’t have to use all of your accent colors in every single room, especially if you chose 3 or more accent colors.
Instead, plan where you want each accent color to be the dominant accent for a given room. Use your wall color information for that room to determine which accent would be best.
Technically, my entire decorating accent color palette it this:
But, there isn’t a single room in my home where all of those colors appear together. I use them in different combinations throughout my house.
For example, in my living room with a dark gray wall color, teal is my dominant accent color. Lime green is my secondary accent color.
In the nearby dining room, which has teal walls, I don’t use teal as an accent color. For my tastes it wouldn’t stand out. Instead, lime green is the dominant accent color in the dining room. Turquoise is a secondary accent color.
I use the most different colors together in the basement family room…yellow, turquoise, teal, and blue. I use so many colors because the space has white walls, but I still wanted it to be lively and fun. I do not use yellow-green, green, or purple at all in this space.
Do you see how, although each room has a different dominant accent color, they flow together. It is because I mix the same accent color palette across my house. What is a dominant accent in one room becomes a secondary accent in another room.
This is what my 3 principles of accent colors are all about.
- Even though my accent color palette is limited, I apply the colors differently in each room. The limited palette keeps my color plan cohesive. Using the colors differently in each room keeps the palette interesting.
- My dominant accent color in each room is used at least three times (and usually more) in different areas of the room. My secondary accent color might only be used once or twice.
- My accent colors are mostly clean colors. I can appreciate muted or grayed out colors, but they just don’t do it for me.
Your wall colors are the foundation, or backdrop, for your accent colors. Make sure you’re starting with the right palette. Take my Create a Cohesive Home with Color class to learn how to confidently choose colors for your home.