Style Guide to Complimentary Colors and Patterns for the Perfect Room

Beautiful living room


Using complementary colors in home design and decorating is a popular choice because the colors brighten one another and bring a lively energy into the room.  The color combinations create this effect because they are the most contrasting colors on the color wheel.  In fact, many individuals prefer the term contrasting colors to complimentary colors.  Still, the colors complement each other by making a strong and bold statement.  Because these color combinations make such a strong statement, it is important to be conscientious of how you use them.

A standard color wheel includes 12 basic colors: three primary, three secondary, and six primary and secondary combinations.

Color Wheel

Primary colors

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue

Secondary colors

  • Orange
  • Violet
  • Green

Primary and secondary colors

  • Red-Orange
  • Red-Violet
  • Yellow-Orange
  • Yellow-Green
  • Blue-Violet
  • Blue-Green

Complementary colors are the colors directly across from one another on the wheel. Therefore there are six pairs of complementary colors.

Complementary colors

  • Red and Green
  • Yellow and Violet
  • Blue and Orange
  • Red-Orange and Blue-Green
  • Yellow-Green and Red-Violet
  • Blue-Violet and Yellow-Orange

Living room with complementary colors


When painting walls in complimentary colors, for example, you might consider limiting the use of those complimentary colors in the decorations of the room.  The walls will make enough of a striking statement that adding additional strong color contrasts may make the atmosphere of the room a little overwhelming and bring a sense of unease.

If you have more neutral colored walls or use a single color for the walls, then you are safe to experiment with more contrasting colors in the room’s décor.  The more neutrals that are incorporated into the décor, the more sophisticated and elegant the overall effect.


Pattern living room set


The type of pattern, as well as the color and scale of the pattern that you choose to incorporate into your room design can greatly affect the overall mood of the room.  Below are some popular pattern choices that are used to achieve different chic and trendy looks.


Floral living room set


Floral prints have become very popular for wallpaper, as well as for statement chairs.  Unlike many floral prints of the past, newer florals are trending toward large-scale patterns in bright and bold colors.  Many times, these larger flowers are also widely spaced, so that one wall of a room may have only six or seven blooms.  The larger the scale of the pattern, the brighter the colors can be without overpowering a room.


 Foliage design living room


Plant-based designs in warm neutral colors are coming back into popularity in home design.  The simplicity of the leaves and ferns, combined with the rich color pallet, make it a sophisticated design choice.  This motif can look good in every room and is a great canvas from which to add small accent colors that brightly stand out against their neutral background.

Wood Grain

Wood grain style living room


Decorative items with a wood grain design are simple and beautiful.  Wood grains provide more relaxed lines than a geometric pattern, but without forming any specific shape like a flower or leaf.  This design is usually seen in neutral colors, but can be used effectively in any color.  The different shades and tones of the same color used to create the wood grain effects add texture and depth to the room.

Everywhere Animal

Animal print living room


A giraffe-spotted wallpaper or a zebra-striped couch is a big statement.  However, when used properly, going bold with your animal prints can make a room appear fun and whimsical, as well as strong and impressive.  Animal prints in natural animal colors (e.g. a tiger-striped chair in golds and browns) are easier to incorporate into formal rooms than are animal prints in unnatural colors (e.g. leopard print pillows in aqua and pink).

Animal Accents

Animal accents living room


Not prepared to take the plunge into an all-out animal décor?  Test the waters first by adding subtle animal accents to your room.  A throw or decorative pillow is a good way to start your animal print exploration.  Find a pattern design and color pallet that works for the room and expand from there.


Plaid living room set


Plaid can be a difficult design with which to work, especially if it is used for a large design element such as a couch or chair.  The trick to making plaid look its best is to pair it with solid colors pulled from the plaid design.  A pair of solid-colored decorative pillows on a plaid couch will help to ground the couch in the room and create a more cohesive design aesthetic.


Hounds tooth living room


The houndstooth design has long been a classic in professional clothing, and it is now becoming popular as a home decorating design.  In the home, the classic black and white can be ditched for a more exciting color combination.  However, to keep the look sophisticated, you should always maintain either black or white as one of the colors (e.g. white and blue houndstooth or black and purple houndstooth).

So whether you are looking for prints or solids, brights or neutrals, be mindful of other colors and patterns within the room. Having room harmony is essential for feeling at home and for your guests to feel comfortable. Don’t be afraid to make some bold statements, but be sure to make them tastefully.

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