If it's been a while since art class, here's a quick refresher—complementary colors are the pairings that reach across the center of the color wheel. For primary colors (red, blue, yellow), that means secondary colors are their counterparts—so "complementary pairs" would be red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple.
Now that you're up to speed—you'd be forgiven for thinking those color pairings are not for the faint of heart. Even if you're a bonafide color-lover like ourselves, it can be a bit intimidating to design with two bold hues like those that make up complementary pairs. But fear not—as some of our favorite designers easily prove, these color couplets are actually a lot more versatile than you might give them credit for. The trick is in which shade you select from each color. (Blue, for instance, is a famously varied color—so you have options.)
If you're considering taking the plunge and trying out a complementary color scheme in your own home, you've come to the right place. Read on for lots of designer-vetted color combos to get you started.
Salmon + Navy + White
When in doubt, we always rely on an "inspiration piece" to start our design projects—and working with complementary hues is no different. This standout color scheme was pulled from the cool blue and salmon rug, now seen in this boys' room. Designer Ashley Clark dialed into the complementary shades, pulling the orange-y color out and using it to punch up the fun barn door detail, while also using various more muted shades of blue elsewhere in the room to round out the look.
"We wanted to keep things fun and young, but also masculine," Clark says. "I love this room—super playful, and still 'all boy'!"
Clark rounded out the high-contrast design with bright and vibrant pops of yellow, which add to the youthful atmosphere. Layering in pattern, from the wallpaper's geometric tessellated design to the stripes, helps ensure it's an atmosphere that kids can also grow into.
Red + Green + White
Red and green is probably the trickiest of the complementary color schemes—because, let's face it, many of us associate that color pairing with a certain winter holiday. But as this space shows, it can create a fun and thoroughly unexpected look when used correctly. Eddie Maestri's client had a predilection for these bright hues, and we have to admit they look quite at home in this statement-making bathroom.
The trick is to mellow out the hues with plenty of white space to let them "breathe"—and be sure to use highly saturated versions of the shades that stay far away from evoking Evergreen or red velvet ribbons. The final touch: modern matte-black fixtures to lend a grown-up, design-savvy edge to the room.
Peacock + Orange + Black
First thing's first—we're fully obsessed with this space. The complementary contrast of luxe peacock blue with citrine orange is nothing short of jaw-dropping. But if you look closer, you'll see a much more commonplace color scheme layered underneath—and that's a trick worth taking home with you.
"You can’t get more classic than a black and white color scheme, accentuated in this living room by the saturated jewel tones that are mirrored across the space to create a sense of balance in front of a book matched fireplace," explains designer Eddie Maestri.
By starting with black and white and then layering in swaths of color, you're sure to stay grounded in sophisticated, chic colors (and take some of the risk out of working with such statement-making hues). Maestri completes the look by adding in more jewel tones like glamorous burgundy, which feel like a natural fit alongside peacock and citrine.
Terracotta + Teal + White
For a completely different twist on the same essential color scheme—blue and orange—look no further than this terra cotta and teal dining room.
"This dining room really started with the light fixtures," explains designer Ashley Clark. "The homeowners were super inspired by a trip they took to Fiji, and wanted to create a similar vibe with the lights in their dining room."
Organic textures bring a tropical vibe to these already very vacay-evocative hues, while a few darker neutrals ground the space and modernize it. And by dialing down the saturation on the terra cotta hue, this design scheme opens up space for a more saturated (and statement-making) color like teal, as seen on the area rug.
"We wanted to create something really unexpected while still keeping things beachy," Clark says. We especially like how Clark reverses the way you might expect to see these colors layered, moving the sky-like teal to the ground, and using the earthen clay color to draw the eye upward with the window treatments.
Cerulean + Orange + White
"Complementary colors are so fun to design with because they really pop just like in this room," says designer Erica Bryen. Here, she uses the truest form of the orange-and-blue complementary pair, keeping the vibe fun and whimsical for a kids' room by incorporating a mix of patterns with a coastal-inspired bent. "This room is located in a hotel in Newport Beach, CA. [The homeowners] wanted you to walk in and feel so cheery, and instantly get a smile. And how could you not, with a room like this?!" she says.
Denim Blue + Warm Wood + Light Orange
Now here's a way to achieve a complementary color scheme without feeling intimidated—in fact, at first glance, you might not even notice that it's our old friends orange and blue yet again.
Designer Lauren Nelson wanted to bring her iconic, approachable style to this space, and drew colors from her home habitat to do it: "I love the effortless, laid-back feel of the California aesthetic," she says. "Light and airy with natural materials—a reflection of the surroundings."
The unique wall treatment is evocative of dusk, blending together an denim-y blues and an ombré of sunset orange—colors that are echoed again in the accessories and warm wood tones throughout the space.