The Color Wheel: Important Tool for Interior Design

In 1660, Sir Isaac Newtown directed a beam of light through a prism which created a rainbow effect – the light was split into a spectrum of colors which was linear with red tones at one end and violets at the other. By joining the two ends of the spectrum Newton formed the idea of the color wheel.

Color Schemes, primary, analgous, secondary, complimentary, intermediate, split complementary, hue, tint, shade
The Color Wheel and Types of Color Harmonies

M. E. Chevreul (1786-1889) was a French chemist and head of dyestuffs at the Gobelin Tapestry Works.  In 1825 he published The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors, which expanded on the color wheel theory.

In 1876, Louis Prang (1824 -1909) advanced color wheel theory and developed a color wheel which is commonly known as the Artist’s or Prang color wheel.  This may have been the color wheel that you were introduced to in elementary school.  According to Wikipedia, Prang was a printer and developed a four-color printing process known as chromolithography.  Prang’s system was the first workable system to reproduce color in print.   He is sometimes referred to as the father of the American Christmas Card.

The color wheel consists of three primary colors: red, yellow and blue, between the primary colors there are three secondary colors: orange, purple and green. These secondary colors are created by mixing the two neighboring primary colors.

Tertiary or intermediate colors are created by mixing a primary and a secondary color.  The tertiary colors are: yellow-orange, yellow–green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-orange, and red- violet.

Working with the color wheel as a guide there are several types of color harmonies or schemes that can be created:

  • Monochromatic color schemes use only one color from the wheel.  Interest is generated by using different values of the color ranging from light to dark.
  • Analogous schemes are also referred to as Harmonious schemes; the colors used are adjacent to each other on the color wheel.  Three to six colors are used with one predominating.  Success with this type of scheme relies upon using a variety of values and intensities and varying proportions of each color.
  • Complimentary schemes use colors that are opposite on the color wheel, opposites intensify each other.  There are several variations of complimentary schemes:
  • Direct compliment –uses pairs exactly opposite such as red and green.
  • Split compliment – the base hue and the two colors on each side of the compliment such as green, red-orange and red-violet.
  • Triadic compliment – uses three colors equidistant on the wheel such as green, orange and violet.
  • Double compliments – would be two pairs exactly opposite such as red and green with blue and orange.

Chevreul believed that complimentary schemes more beautiful than analogous schemes.  All schemes are more aesthetically pleasing when used in unequal proportions with one color dominating.  View our previous post on color temperature here. Look for our next post on Munsell’s color theory.

Hearth & Hedgerow Ltd. offers a consultation service where they bring the color box to you and assist with the color selection. Take the stress out of finding the perfect shade of paint for your space. Schedule an appointment today!

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