What's your favorite color? Kids love this one. It's a moment for self-expression, a way to form fast relationships. ("We both like blue, so let's be friends!") But between the playground and your first decorating project, color often goes from fun to confounding. And your friends can't always help.
But creating perfect palettes for your home needn't be daunting. To begin, give your inner child a nudge and figure out what colors you truly like best. Paint chips and magazines are good starting points, but look to everyday objects and nature for inspiration as well. Maybe you're drawn to the green of a patch of moss or the brown of a pair of old corduroys. Keep a folder with photographs, swatches, and other favorites. Soon, your palette preferences will emerge.
Once they do, use them to formulate design schemes. If you're decorating a room from scratch, make a list of its components. Even in a bathroom, you'll have a dozen or so elements to play with, from tiles to towels, faucets to floors. Let color be your compass as you piece together the room.
To assist you, we've created sample palettes for four spaces: a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a living room. With each, you'll find a few principles. Think of them as helpful tips rather than decorating decrees. When it comes to color, the only absolute is that you choose your favorites -- just like the kid in you would want it.
In the Kitchen: Warm and Nurturing
Mustard yellow provides just the right visual temperature for a traditional kitchen. Cooler blues and grays give the palette a fresh, updated look. Here are five basic principles on display:
Seek ideas in the every day. A yellowware bowl inspired the mustard paint color used on the cabinets and table. Its hue evokes natural wood -- a common cabinet material -- to create an effect that's original but not out of place. Walls will be painted the contrasting blue gray on the spoon.
Keep it simple. If you're worried about making a mistake, choose mellow colors with a similar value. Use slightly contrasting shades for the accessories, which will extend the palette, avoiding visual boredom and giving the eye different places to rest. Striped fabrics on the chairs and along the window treatments bring red, brown, and turquoise tones into the color scheme.
Try unusual materials. When the palette is conservative, you can be daring with surfaces. In this kitchen, a terrazzo floor and a woven-vinyl floor runner that incorporate several colors provide visual interest.
Find nuances in finishes. Don't overlook the colors inherent in wood, stone, and metal. A pinewood Windsor chair, limestone countertops, and graphite-tinted appliances accentuate and energize our muted palette.
Think about how a color feels. In a kitchen, this principle refers largely to food presentation. As a general rule, meats and vegetables will look more appetizing against warm backdrops, as opposed to cool tones.
1. Painted table
2. Cloth tape on blinds
3. Chair trim
4. Wooden blinds
5. Appliance finish
6. Chair fabric
7. Windsor chair
8. Wall color
9. Trim color
10. Table color
12. Cabinet hardware
13. Terrazzo floor
14. Woven-vinyl runner
15. Vintage cupboard
16. Cabinet color
17. Cabinet hardware
In the Bathroom: Refined and Relaxing
Pale-gray greens and blues enrich what otherwise might be a severe white palette. Here's how to put the colors together:
Identify dominant elements. In the absence of large cabinets or abundant soft fabrics, tile generally sets the tone in a bathroom. The celadon floor mosaic and sage wall tiles coordinate well without overpowering the ambient whites.
Strike contrast in small doses. In a bathroom, that means towels, shower curtains, and bath accessories. Our pale-pink bath salts make the tiles' marine tones seem more vibrant, because complementary colors tend to intensify one another. It's helpful to refer to a color wheel to identify such appropriate pairings.
Harness reflective surfaces. Materials that bounce light make a room feel larger. In this bathroom, in addition to the mirror, the chrome and nickel faucets and fixtures contribute to the effect, while enhancing the contemporary feel of the space.
Look up. Ceilings can be as important to the atmosphere of an interior as the walls and floor. Don't settle for basic white. Painting the ceiling the same soft green as the wall tile integrates the two planes.
Feature furnishings. Light palettes function as backdrops for standout pieces that have dramatic colors or sculptural lines. A cerulean chair and a metal-based console sink add architectural presence.
1. Towel monogram
2. Wall sconce
4. Console sink
6. Ceiling color
7. Wall color
8. Roller shade
9. Floor mosaic
10. Border tile
11. Wall tile
13. Bath salts
In the Bedroom: Soothing and Sophisticated
Purple can seem young and playful, but when paired with graceful grays, subdued browns, and chalky whites, the result is a grown-up palette that brings a sense of comfort and elegance to a bedroom. A few lessons:
Give a shine to dark surfaces. The finish on the furniture is ceruse; that is, its grain has been bleached to reflect light. A high-gloss white on the moldings, meanwhile, brightens the walls, which are painted deep shades of lavender and gray that have a similar intensity.
Add contrast. There's ample opportunity for texture in a bedroom, given the variety of fabrics found there. In this instance, a striped headboard, a linen-and-velvet pillow fabric, assorted trim details, and a hand-knotted area rug add textures that contrast with the smooth bedding materials. These fabrics also broaden the range of browns and lavenders. And they can be swapped in and out when a new look is desired (much like summer and winter wardrobes).
Accent with furnishings. The sleek lines of an occasional table and the ceruse finish on a dresser help reinforce the bedroom's contemporary palette.
Consider views between rooms. Color schemes don't need to be the same from one room to the next, but they should always harmonize. Master bedrooms are generally removed from common areas, so they're a good place to be more adventurous.
1. Occasional table
4. Pillow fabric
5. Furniture finish
6. Wall colors
7. Trim molding
8. Antique mirror glass
10. Chair trim
11. Pillow trim
12. Lampshade trim
13. Furniture pull
14. Headboard fabric
15. Curtain finial
16. Chair fabric (back)
17. Chair fabric (seat)
18. Slate floor
19. Fireplace tile
21. Area rug
In the Living Room: Comfortable and Bright
Reds and yellows can be challenging to work with. Grounding them with oatmeal gray results in an inviting palette that's perfect for a relaxing gathering space. Here are five principles that led us in the bright direction:
Take a cue from nature.The creamy-white petals of a poppy flower provided the inspiration for many accent pieces in this room, including the painted finish on a pair of stools and table lamps. Honey-toned poker chips inspired the golden fabric chosen for the chair upholstery and trimming.
Anchor with neutral colors. When a room contains a number of vibrant tones, it's crucial that its dominant elements remain neutral. Hence, the simple off-white cotton selected for the large-scale structured sofa and the pale pickled finish on the expansive wood floor.
Enliven with accessories. Bold pillow fabrics bring contrasting color and graphic energy to the design scheme, but because they stay within the range of warm rusts and grays, their presence is never jarring.
Make style enhancements. Floral prints on the wallpaper and pillows reiterate the cheerfulness and natural inspiration of the color scheme. The eclectic mix of furniture conveys a similarly relaxed air, despite the fact that some pieces are quite formal.
Add texture for variety. A patterned sisal carpet and the trim on the curtains and chairs provide additional tactile richness as well as subtle variations in color.
1. Floor finish
2. Pillow fabric
3. Sofa fabric
5. Sisal carpet
6. Ceiling color
7. Trim color
9. Curtain trim
10. Curtain fabric
12. Stool fabric
15. Chair fabric
16. Chair trim