One of the most defining aspects of any space is the color scheme. When you enter a room, the palette immediately sets the tone—telling you whether to feel calm and cozy, awake and energetic or something in between. Put simply, getting your color scheme right counts for a lot. And the truth is, there’s not just one way to nail it.
There are a handful of ways to construct a color scheme. You can use different shades of the same color. You can decorate using complements on the color wheel. Or you can use colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel to craft an analogous color scheme—which is perhaps the most underrated palette around.
What Are Analogous Colors
Analogous colors are the three colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel.
Analogous colors are colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel. But remember, the color wheel isn’t just made up of the six colors we associate with the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet).
It’s made up of those six colors—plus, the tertiary colors that sit in between them (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet).
So red and orange aren’t analogous colors. But red and red-orange are. And orange and red-orange are, too.
What Is an Analogous Color Scheme?
Analogous color schemes are usually made up of three analogous colors. You can start with a standard color (like orange) and pair it with the tertiary colors that appear next to it (like red-orange and yellow-orange). Or you can start with a tertiary color (like yellow-green) and pair it with the standard colors that appear next to it (like yellow and green).
Usually, the color at the center of your analogous palette will be your dominant color. And the colors next to it will be your supporting colors. So if your starting point is orange, orange would be the most prominent color in your space. And red-orange and yellow-orange would work to support it. The same goes if you start with a tertiary color: Yellow-green could be your base, and yellow and green could be your accent colors.
How to Decorate With Analogous Colors
There’s no right or wrong way to decide what your color scheme should be. You can walk into a room knowing what you want your palette to look like. You can build a color scheme around a standout piece of furniture. Or you can start by creating a mood board and paying attention to which colors seem to pervade it.
“With every project, we create a design direction Pinterest board with our clients to create a clear design vision for their homes that feels cohesive and tells a story,” Cathie Hong, lead designer at Cathie Hong Interiors says. “It's typically during this stage of the process that the color scheme starts to emerge.”
Would you prefer a less formal way of selecting your palette? You can always do what Tracey Hairston, the interior design blogger behind Mocha Girl Place, does, and decorate with the same tried-and-true palette you can’t get enough of. “I favor a particular color palette,” she says. “[So] any color within that is what I go for.”
Once you’ve come up with a color—or a couple of colors—you’d like to decorate with, round out your palette by throwing supporting colors into the mix. If you’ve settled on one color, pick the two colors that appear next to it on the color wheel. And if you’re in love with two colors, use the color in between them to bridge the gap and form your analogous palette.
How to Keep Your Analogous Color Scheme Feeling Balanced
Since analogous color schemes are made up of such similar colors, they tend to feel pretty harmonious. But if you use too much of your dominant color, your space could end up feeling off-balanced. “I think the biggest mistake [people make] is [using] too much of the same color,” Hairston says.
Thankfully, this problem has a pretty easy fix: Just play up the other colors in your palette. Many decorators abide by the 60:30:10 rule. They fill 60% of the space with their dominant color, 30% of the space with one of their supporting colors, and 10% of the space with their other supporting color.
Of course, this is just a rule of thumb—and you don’t have to follow it exactly. But it can help you quickly identify which colors in your palette could use a little more love.
How to Create Contrast in an Analogous Color Scheme
Since analogous colors are so similar, it may seem hard to incorporate contrast into your space. But there are actually several different ways you can do it. For starters, you can play with the tone of the colors in your palette. No one said all three of your analogous colors had to be equally light, dark, or vibrant. You could combine a dark blue-violet with a muted blue—and use a lighter blue-green as an accent color.
“I think people should always pay attention to the undertones of the colors they're using,” Hong says. “Just as a white can lean more yellow or blue or green, a blue can also lean more gray or green or purple.” So pay attention to the subtleties of the colors you’re decorating with. By playing with undertones, lightness, darkness, and saturation, you can create contrast without disrupting your palette.
You can also venture slightly outside your analogous color scheme. “Don’t make such a big deal about making sure the colors in your palette match perfectly,” Hairston says, adding that she loves to throw a pop of complementary color into the mix. If you’re working with blues and greens, consider using a few sparse burgundy accents. These complimentary touches can add a dose of welcome contrast—without completely upending the analogous palette you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.
Yet another way to add contrast? Play with print and texture. Hairston says she loves to use prints to add dimension and balance to her interiors. The right print—ideally, something that pairs one of your palette’s colors with a more complementary one—can add contrast and cohesion to your space in equal measure.
When to Decorate With an Analogous Color Scheme
Thanks to their inherent congruence, analogous color schemes tend to be pretty easy on the eyes. “I love how calming and serene [analogous colors] can make a space,” Hairston says. So you can get away with using them in just about any room.
To create a calmer interior, opt for cooler shades—like blues, greens, and violets. And use warmer shades—like reds, oranges, and yellows—when you’re craving something bolder and more vibrant. And remember, you can always scale up the lightness, darkness, and saturation of your colors as you see fit.
What Other Color Schemes Are There?
Analogous color schemes offer one very fun way to decorate your space. But there are plenty of other palettes for you to choose from.
- Monochromatic Color Scheme: Choose one base color, and use shades of that color to add dimension to your space. (Example: shades of blue)
- Complementary Color Scheme: Decorate using two colors—a base color and its complement on the color wheel. (Example: blue and orange)
- Split-Complementary Color Scheme: Decorate using three colors—a base color, and the two colors next to its complement on the color wheel. (Example: blue, red-orange, and yellow-orange)
- Triadic Color Scheme: Decorate using three colors, which are equidistant on the color wheel. When done right, your colors should have three steps between them on the color wheel. (Example: blue, red, and yellow)
- Tetradic Color Scheme: Decorate using four colors—a base color, a color two steps away from it on the color wheel, the base color’s complement, and the other color’s complement. When done right, you should have two pairs of complementary colors. And your base colors should have one step between them on the color wheel (your complementary colors should, too). (Example: blue, violet, orange, and yellow)
- Square Color Scheme: Decorate using four colors, which are equidistant on the color wheel. When done right, you should have two pairs of complementary colors. And your colors should have two steps between them on the color wheel. (Example: blue, orange, yellow-green, and red-violet)
Remember, all of these palettes invite you to play with lightness, darkness, and saturation to add dimension to your space. They just give you a starting point to work from, and you can get experimental from there.