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Color Help: Choosing Color Combinations

Choosing a color scheme can be a nerve-wracking business. For instance, I anguished over the colors to paint the exterior of my Victorian house, I ordered every book on old house painting that I could find, and I discovered that they all contradicted each other on the basic “rules.”

Finally, the color scheme came to me. I would paint the house with my favorite colors! I love amber and red, so, fair gold and burnt red it became, along with temple green, dark-shutter green, dark amber, white, and black outlined windows.

Temple green paint for porch ceilings, believed to keep out evil spirits, is a historic Southern superstition and tradition. Even our local historic art museum had the electrical junction boxes painted in this color. Black outlining of the muttons and mullions (the wood window dividers) highlighted antique glass and added depth to the windows. This type of paint outlining is like eyeliner -- a makeup enhancement. The flat front edge of the window trim is painted in the sash trim color.

Traditionally, Southern porches were painted gray, but I like to feel grounded, so we painted our porches a deep green. This color anchors the porch floor to the green lawn, and during hot summer days, dark green is cooling. When the grass is brown during winter, green porches offer the promise of a green spring and relieve our gray days. Dark green paint with some black pigment mixed in gives a richer appearance than common green.

Grouping Colors for Harmony

Monochromatic color schemes, using varying shades, tones, and tints of the same color, give the impression of different colors and provide variety and interest. A single color scheme gives a unified, peaceful, and harmonious response. Monochromatic colors effectively establish an overall calming presence while tying things together, but can become boring or dull because of the lack of color contrast and liveliness.

The analogous, or side-by-side, color scheme adds depth, energy, and visual appeal. Using two or three related colors next to each other on the color wheel, analogous combinations are both flexible and attention-grabbing. The relationship of the related colors brings harmony to the setting. One problem with this type of color scheme is that inadvertently adding a fourth color spoils the effect. Analogous color combinations of yellow, red, and orange, although full of life, constantly heat up the space whereas, blue, teal, and green always visually cool a space.

Complimentary, opposite, or contrasting color combinations come from opposite sides of the color spectrum. A warm color, combined with a cool color, creates an interesting combination, such as yellow and purple, red and green, or blue and orange. They are also visually pleasing to most people. Because the two colors contain all three primary colors, the color scheme is complete and well-balanced.

There is a great body of literature devoted to color schemes, but if you're like me, the more you read, the more confused you can become. In the end, it’s sometimes best just to do like I did with my beloved Victorian home, and begin your deliberations by thinking about the colors you personally like best.

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