The Language of Color

Color has the ability to affect your mood. When used in interior decorating, it's one of the first things you notice when you enter a room. For this reason color is one of the most crucial decisions you need to make when deciding to decorate a room. Not only will it show your personality and style, but it can also make a room appear larger or smaller or warmer or cooler. Properly chosen colors can enhance big areas of negative space, unite accent pieces, and compliment architectural features.

Choosing a paint color is so much more than simply grabbing a few paint patches at your local paint shop and taking a guess as to what you think might work well in your room. You can, of course, choose this paint selection method, but there are better ways.

The first step to making the best paint selection for your room and décor choices is to know the language of color. The language of color, also known as color theory, refers to the general terms used to describe color. Here's a look at some of the most common terms.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel is designed to be a visual help in understanding color. It's a great tool to use when trying to create flattering color schemes when painting or completing any type of interior decorating. It shows what's been called an "orderly progression of color" to help even the design challenged understand color harmony and balance.

Basically, complementary colors are those that show up on opposite sides of the wheel. These create interesting contrasts that can be very visually striking. For those looking for not quite as much contrast, choose colors next to each other on the color wheel. These are called analogous colors.

The creation of a color wheel begins with three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Then secondary colors are added and these colors absorb more waves of white light in a process of color mixing referred to as the subtractive process. Tertiary colors are then created by mixing one secondary color with a primary color. The completed color wheel helps create color combinations.


The traditional color wheel, as explained above, has 12 color families. They are violet-blue-violet, red, red-orange, blue-green, blue-red-violet, orange, yellow-orange, violet and blue-violet, green, yellow and yellow-green.

In painting theory, hue refers to the original or pure color. This means one that has no tint (added white pigment) or shade (added black pigment). When determining color hue, one means the general family of color like blue, green, red or yellow.


Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. Most paint color strips will show the lighter values at the top with the darker values at the bottom. Mid-tone values are in the middle. This makes it easier to select paint colors for a room if you are looking to create an attractive monochromatic color scheme. These types of color schemes tend to make a room look more spacious.

Warm or Cool

Colors with yellow undertones affect the brain differently by encouraging play and conversation. These are considered warm colors. Cool colors tend to have red or blue undertones that encourage thought and relaxation. Usually it's better to use both cool and warm colors in a room to balance it out and create visual variety.