Warm colors cool colors

The Color Wheel

A color circle, based on red, yellow and blue, is traditional in the field of art. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then scientists and artists have studied and designed numerous variations of this concept.

Primary colors – are the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.

red, yellow, blue

Secondary Colors – These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

green, orange and purple

Tertiary Colors – These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That’s why the hue is a two word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-greencolor wheel labeled with types of colors in their proper locations

Warm & Cool Colors

  • Warm colors — such as red, yellow, and orange; evoke warmth because they remind us of things like the sun or fire.
  • Cool colors — such as blue, green, and purple (violet); evoke a cool feeling because they remind us of things like water or grass.

Warm colors advance and cool colors recede, affecting the perception of depth. This theory is based upon that fact that the eye adjusts when focusing on colors of different wavelengths. Red light waves have a longer wavelength than blue ones. An image containing both cool and warm colors would demonstrate contrast of temperature or warm/cool contrast creating more complex relationships between the color (warm colors can read cooler against a higher intensity warm colors and cool colors sometimes can advance against predominately warm palette).

warm color schemecool color scheme cool with warm contrast color scheme (the yellow text seem to be much closer to the viewer in comparison to blue text) warm with cool contrast color scheme (notice how yellow reads much cooler against hot pink)

Neutral Colors – Gray, Brown. These aren’t on most color wheels, but they’re considered neutral because they don’t contrast with much of anything. They’re dull and uneventful. However, drop a little color in a headline and it will sing.

cool against warm neutral color cheme contrast

Tints, Shades and Tones

Tint – adding white to pure color

Shade – adding black to pure color

Tone – adding gray to pure color

Color Schemes/Harmonies


Red and Green, Blue and Orange, Purple and Yellow — located directly across from each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors hey rarely look good when used together because, when used together, they become extremely vibrant and have heavy contrast, especially if they are of the same value. Complementary colors are useful when you want to make something stand out. However, complementary colors are really bad for text.

green and red are complementary colors of same value. used together not only do they create contrast, but also vibrating boundaries – when color vibration occurs along the boundary separating contrasting hues of equal value. complementary color scheme; because of high contrast is often used to suggest action and energy blue-orange complementary color scheme


Red and Orange, Blue and Green, etc. – located right next to each other on the color wheel. They usually match extremely well, but they also create almost no contrast. They’re good for very serene, peaceful designs and artwork where you want viewers to feel comfortable.

blue and green are analogous colors. when used together they produce much more calming effect than complementary colors. (also, notice how the green in this example reads much lighter than green in previous example due to simultaneous contrast – where appearance of the same color is affected by the appearance of other colors surrounding it). analogous color scheme is a much calmer experience warm analogous color scheme

Explore more color combinations HERE and HERE.

Triad – uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Triadic color harmonies tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues. To use a triadic harmony successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced – let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.

this triad color scheme is comprised of primary colors

Split-Complementary – is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement. This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less tension. The split-complimentary color scheme is often a good choice for beginners, because it is difficult to mess up.

split complementary theme here is using orange and blue and green as it’s split-opposite

Rectangle (tetradic) – uses four colors arranged into two complementary pairs. This color scheme is very rich and offers a lot of possibilities. However, it works best if there is one dominant color.

tetradic color scheme using blue, green opposite of yellow-green and orange with blue being a dominant color

Color meanings

Color is a part of our visual field. Color can be used as a tool to organize space. We assign color codes to file folders, traffic signs, and holidays. Consider the power of color symbolism. In different contexts and different cultures a specific hue may carry a different meaning.

Color is closely associated with mood. Reflect on the connections between a particular hue and its respective value and saturation and the viewer’s interpretation of its symbolic role in the image. Colors can have positive or negative attributes.

Warm colors: fire, sunlight, blood, greater luminosity

Cool colors: ice, cold, darkness

RED: excitement, emotion, ardent love, valor, passion, fever, cruelty, wrath, sin, (scarlet letter, red heart)

YELLOW: light, gold, church, sickness, treason, cowardliness, (however, in China yellow is an imperial color)

ORANGE: radiance, festivities, warmth, intimacy, caution

VIOLET: mystery, oppression, menace, terror, seduction, darkness, pietry, supersition, death, royalty

BLUE: truth, divinity, eternity, loyalty, constancy, calm, shyness, death, coldness

Learn more about color symbolism HERE.

Types of Color in Web and Print Design

In Web and Print Design there are different types of color from what is on your regular color wheel.

RGB Color: This is color based upon light. Your computer monitor and television use RGB. The name “RGB” stands for Red, Green, Blue, which are the 3 primaries (with green replacing yellow). By combining these 3 colors, any other color can be produced. Remember, this color method is only used with light sources; it does not apply to printing.

CMYK Color: This is the color method based upon pigments. “CMYK” stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (its what the K stands for). Using these 4 colors, most other colors can be achieved. Unfortunately, CMYK cannot reproduce the same amount of colors as RGB can, which is why yellow-greens sometimes look a bit muddy when printed. This is the method used by printers.

(InDesign note: It’s important to know that documents prepared for color separation (for printing on an offset press) cannot use an RGB color space. These files must use CMYK. But every image acquired from a digital camera or scanner and many images acquired from clip art sources come as RGB. These RGB graphics can be placed in InDesign documents, but before they can be output for separation, they must be converted to CMYK (preferably with an application like Adobe Photoshop). )

Pantone (PMS) Spot Color: This is yet another printing color method. PMS stands for “Pantone Matching System,” and is a large list of specially mixed colors made by the Pantone Corporation. Instead of using CMYK to create colors, the pigments are created individually for purity. For example, PMS 233M is a specific blue-violet color. If chosen for a project, the color would be made exclusively for that project and would always print exactly the same. Spot colors are expensive and useful when your design has minimum of color (one or two-color jobs).

(InDesign note: Pantone has a number of color libraries which get updated yearly and include process colors as well. They are included in InDesign color swatches menu.)

Additional Resources:

  • Color Picker
  • ColorLovers
  • More tools for creating/choosing color schemes

Color Basics

A color wheel is an illustrative model of color hues around a circle. It shows the relationships between the primary, secondary, and intermediate/ tertiary colors and helps demonstrate color temperature. Digital teams communicate exact colors through the use of hex codes.

Understanding the Color Wheel

Many color wheels are shown using 12 colors. Using this color wheel as an example, it can be read as follows:

It’s important to note that some people add more intermediates, for 24 total named colors, and some color wheels show interior points and circles, which represent color mixtures.

Color Temperature

The colors on the red side of the wheel are warm; the green side of the wheel has the cooler colors. These color temperature designations are absolute. More subtle color temperature relationships are relative, meaning that each color on the warm side of the wheel can be known as cool, and colors on the cools side of the wheel can be known as warm depending on the relationship to their neighboring color. Colors from the same hue, for instance red, can also be warmer or cooler than one another.

Color temperatures affect us both psychologically and perceptually by helping us determine how objects appear positioned.

Warm Colors Cool Colors

  • Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colors.
  • Red and yellow are both primary colors, with orange falling in the middle.
  • Warm colors appear closer to the observer.

  • Cool colors include green, blue, and purple, and variations of those three colors.
  • Blue is the only primary color within the cool spectrum.
  • Greens take on some of the attributes of yellow, and purple takes on some of the attributes of red.
  • They are often more subdued than warm colors.
  • Cool colors appear farther from the observer.


Neutral colors include black, white, gray, tans, and browns. They’re commonly combined with brighter accent colors but they can also be used on their own in designs. The meanings and impressions of neutral colors depend more so upon the colors around them.

Color Models: CMYK vs. RGB

There are two models for colors. They have different purposes and different attributes. They are as follows:

  • CMYK Color Models: Stands for cyan, magenta, and yellow. It applies to painting and printing. The CMYK model is a subtractive model, meaning that colors are created through absorbing wavelengths of visible light. The wavelengths of light that don’t get absorbed are reflected, and that reflected light ends up being the color we see.
  • RGB Color Models: RGB stands for red, green, and blue. It applies to computers, televisions, and electronics. The RGB model is an additive model, meaning that colors are created through light waves that are added together in particular combinations in order to produce colors.

Hex Codes

To name colors in web design, teams use hexademal code. All hexadermal codes:

  • Start with a hash mark (#)
  • Consist of three pairs of characters sequenced together (totaling of six characters), with each pair controlling one of the primary additive colors (red, green, blue)
  • Those six characters following the hash mark consist of ten numerals (0-9) and/ or six letters (a-f)

It is easy to identify patterns in the hex codes some colors; see SmashingMagazine’s great chart at the right for this. Some things to know include:

  • 00 is a lack of primary
  • ff is the primary at full strength

To find additive colors, start with black and change each pair to ff:

  • #000000 is black (no primaries)
  • #ff0000 is the brightest red
  • #00ff00 is the brightest green
  • #0000ff is the brightest blue

To find subtractive colors, start with white and change each pair to 00:

  • #ffffff is white (all primaries
  • #00ffff is the brightest cyan
  • #ff00ff is the brightest magenta
  • #ffff00 is the brightest yellow

It is also possible to abbreviate some hex numbers. For instances #fae expands to #ffaaee and #09b expands to #0099bb.

Additional Resources

  • Color Meaning
  • Color Pallets
  • Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color
  • The Code Side of Color
  • Color Theory 101: Deconstructing 7 Famous Brands’ Color Palettes
  • Color
  • Color Meanings
  • Color Wheel Pro: Color Meaning

Basics of Color Theory

Apr 28, 2017 · 6 min read

The first thing to know about color is that all color originates from light. We see colors because they are oscillations of electromagnetic energy, with certain wavelengths appearing as different colors.

A mixture of all the colors of light produces white, while black results from an absence of light. For paint and inks, things are the opposite way around. White results from an absence of pigments while black is a combination of all the pigments.

The color wheel is a tool that can be used as a reference to come up with pairings and sets of colors.

The standard color wheel is comprised of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors (more on this later).

Other color wheels consist of the same colors, but show variations of values or saturation for the colors.

Primary Colors

Primary colors are known as source colors, meaning that they cannot be made with mixtures of other colors.

Blue does not contain any red or yellow, red has no yellow or blue, and yellow has no red or blue.

Secondary Colors

Mixing primary colors results in secondary colors:

Red + Yellow = Orange

Yellow + Blue = Green

Blue + Red = Violet

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors result from a mix of primary and secondary colors. You can find them on the color wheel between the spokes of primary and secondary colors. For example: Red+ Violet = Red-Violet

The Makeup of a Color

Colors are always defined by three qualities: hue, saturation, and value (HSV).

Hue: A color or shade, the spoke on a color wheel

Saturation: The intensity of a color/hue. Also referred to as chroma, purity, or richness. Something that is fully saturated is the most intense form of a hue. Mute or dull a hue to make it less saturated.

Value: The relative lightness and darkness of a color/hue. The most important of the three qualities. Hues cannot exist without value and different levels of saturation cannot be applied without hues.

Warm vs Cool Colors

Colors can convey different moods and feelings. Broadly, there are two families of colors: warm ones and cool ones.

Warm Colors: These colors make up the red, orange, and yellow side of the color wheel. Can be used to convey a variety of things including: love, energy, cheerfulness.

Cool Colors: Make up the violet, blue, and green side of the color wheel. Conveys things like: peace, growth, nature, harmony.

Specific hues can also be described as being warmer or cooler than other. For example, a warmer red leans more towards the orange side while a cooler red leans towards the green side.

In general, warm colors attract more attention (think stop signs).

Greys can also take on a warm or cool feel depending on which side of the color wheel they lean more towards.

Color Relationships

The color wheel is an extremely useful tool for seeing and remembering visual relationships between different hues. Color wheel relationship allow you to quickly and easily explore different combinations of color that could turn out to be pleasing and effective.

Monochromatic: A set made up of lighter and darker versions of one color/hue. Monochromatic color palettes can have any number of shades and tints (darker and lighter versions). Generally though, a palette of more than seven or eight will cause the eye to start having difficulty seeing differences between the different versions of hues. Good for compositions that need a tone of economy (getting a lot done with just a little) or purpose (enhance the style and thematic of the main hue with several similar versions).

Analogous: Analogous sets are made up of three to five adjacent hues on the color wheel. This scheme is often used to create a theme of support and agreement because of how all the members are close to each other. However, sets with more members also have the potential of conveying some diversity and opposition, especially with the application of different values and levels of intensity.

Triadic: Made up of three hues equally spaced around the color wheel. Creates an energetic and charismatic set of colors with divergence given how the three hues are spaced so widely apart on the color wheel. Softening or increasing differences in the values and saturation levels will decrease or intensify the feeling of divergence.

The BK logo is one example of a triadic color scheme

Complementary: Made up of two hues directly opposing each other on the color wheel. This scheme can convey individuality and liveliness given the differences. If needed, you can lower the energy and emphasis by muting the hues in your complementary palette.

This bedroom makes good use of complementary colors

Split Complementary: Created by joining a hue with the two hues beside its complement. For example: blue with red-orange and yellow-orange. Because this palette consists of two nearby hues, paired with one on the opposite side of the wheel, it can be used for conveyances of both harmony and dissent.

The orange-yellow stands out nicely from the blue and violet in this split complementary color scheme.

Tetradic: Tetrad means four. Tetradic palettes form the shape of a square or rectangle on the color wheel. All tetradic schemes are made up of two sets of complementary colors. They are useful for conveying diversity and liveliness due to the wide variety of hues. Because of how this palette is always made up of two warmer and two cooler hues, make sure that the colors do not complete with each other for attention. An easy way to fix this is by lowering the saturation level of anything shouting out too strongly.

Microsoft’s logo makes use of a tetradic color scheme.

Create an inviting living room by designing with a warm color scheme, adding personality and interest and keeping the feel of autumn in your home all year long. Warm colors feel cozy, ranging from pale yellow, through all the hues of orange, the tints of brown, and finally into red, from vivid Cadillac red to delicate pale pink, all from the warm side of the color wheel. Since warm colors tend to advance, this means that they tend to draw in a space, making it cozy and welcoming. Comfort is when you walk into a room and feel embraced by your surroundings. The furniture, accessories, wall colors, flooring and its textures all contribute to the feeling of being warm and cozy. A living room’s size is either diminished or increased by its design and colors, and turning your living room into a welcoming, peaceful retreat starts with your color scheme. So get inspired by the collection of images we have gathered for you below and create a warm and inviting atmosphere in the living room of your home with one of these colorful looks.

For further inspiration, have a look at one of our past articles on, 50 Energetic and colorful living room design ideas and How to use color to tie an entire room together.

Picking the Perfect Color Palettes for Your Home

There’s little doubt that color is a powerful decorating tool. It works at an architectural level to define and link spaces and highlight the interesting details of your home. It tricks the eyes and the mind, making spaces appear either open and airy, or cozy and intimate. Color also works on an emotive level, creating mood and atmosphere. It can be sophisticated, uplifting, somber or vibrant. Creating a color palette for your home, then, is often a highly personal task.

Decorating with color is all about intuition, imagination and some knowledge of color theory, the experts say. Here, Wendy Rennie, color consultant with Haymes Paint; Lisa Burdus, an interior designer; and Judith Briggs, principal of Colour Consultants Australia, talk practical strategies and ideas for building a color palette you’ll love to live with.


Finding a Starting Point

The color palette is not just about paint, it includes the colors of the floor, furniture and fabrics, window coverings, wallpaper and accessories. The first step in putting together a color palette is to look at the base elements of the room that can’t be altered. “The first question we ask when we’re working with clients is what’s staying and what’s going,” Rennie says. “We’ve got to factor that into the overall scheme.”

This includes the color of the flooring, window frames, fireplace surrounds, exposed brickwork and any other permanent fixtures. If they’re part of the room, they’ll need to tie in with your new color scheme.

In this formal sitting room, the color scheme radiates outward from the beautiful charcoal-colored mantelpiece.

Next, think about the decorative pieces that will be taking center stage in the room: artworks, patterned fabrics, decorative rugs, collections of objects from your travels — all the items that you love looking at every day. You can draw inspiration for color and mood from these items.

“Wall color is a backdrop to everything else that’s going on, whether it’s the furniture, the art, the view, the feel,” Burdus says. “These are the focal points. It’s all about what you want people to see when they walk in the door. You want your paint colors to accentuate all the other items that you have.”


Briggs agrees: “An artwork, for example, will have its own color palette,” she says. “Pick out three or four colors and use those as the basis for your scheme. That will then make the artwork stand out because the room is reflecting part of that artwork.”

This living room illustrates the concept well — note how the wall, cushions and accessories pick up on the blues and oranges used in the painting. The overall effect is harmonious and puts the spotlight on the painting.

Tip: Color inspiration can come from outside the home as well. Here are some places to look:

  • Nature — your view, the countryside, a spring garden in bloom, the sky, the coast.
  • The seasons — think lush greens for spring, russet golds for autumn.
  • Your travels — for example, terra cottas and yellows of Italianate villas, crisp whites and blues of the Greek islands, tropical brights of the Pacific islands.
  • Picture galleries on Houzz and in interiors magazines.
  • Paint charts — color experts at the major paint companies group each season’s newest shades into palettes. These can be an invaluable resource.

Anthony Baratta LLC, original photo on Houzz

Combining Colors Successfully

When pulling a color palette together, a basic understanding of color theory can help. On one side of the color wheel we find warm colors: yellows, oranges and reds. Opposite are the blue-based cool colors, which include blue, purple and blue-greens.

To create a harmoniously coordinated palette, choose colors that sit beside each other on the color wheel, such as the rich red, orange and yellow that feature in this sitting room.

If you’re more adventurous and want to add vibrancy with bursts of color, choose a complementary scheme: Pick colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors will look dramatic and lively, without clashing.

Tip: Warm colors tend to make small rooms appear smaller. Cool colors appear to recede and will make a room look larger.

Related: Recliner Chairs in Bold and Warm Colors

The Importance of Undertones

Once you’ve selected the bolder colors you’d like to use in your home, anchor them together with neutrals that have a subtle undertone of the same color and color temperature. “That’s the key to linking all colors, to make sure that the undertone of one works with the undertone of the other one,” Briggs says.

Tip: Not sure how to identify the undertone? “The only way you can properly discover a neutral’s undertone is by comparing it with the purest version of the same type of neutral,” Briggs says. “So if it’s a white, compare it to a paint such as Dulux Vivid White. It helps to look at the color outside, as sunlight will usually reveal the undertone.”

How Many Colors Can You Use in a Palette?

While there’s no magic number or formula for creating the ideal color palette, Briggs says three to five colors will produce a good result. “But that’s not to say you don’t use different tones of the same color as well,” she says. “The more tones you have of the same color, the more interesting the whole color scheme becomes.”

In Living Colour, original photo on Houzz

Rennie says that it’s not always about the number of colors used, but the way they’re all tied together. This living room features nine colors from Haymes Paint’s Strata palette. Can you spot them all? They’re all tonally similar, which means that when brought together they build depth and interest without looking overtly colorful.

Related: Neutral Accent Tables That Complement the Palette

Get the Right Proportions

When it comes to making color work, the division of labor is important. “You need different proportions of each color to make it interesting,” Briggs says. “It’s like the golden mean, which is sort of the 60-40 in nature. That is always a good guideline.

“You have one main color, which is usually your neutral, and this is applied to 60 percent of the space. Then you do another 20 percent in a contrasting or complementary color, and then break it down to make up the different proportions, roughly 10 percent each in accents.”

Creating a Sense of Flow

So what if you’d like to use different colors in different rooms? There are no rules to say it can’t be done, but there are “right” ways to do it. Burdus suggests painting all the public areas of the house — the entryway, hallways, kitchen and family room — the same color, and then introducing different colors in the bedrooms.

Briggs says that this is most easily achieved in older houses, which, thanks to their high-ceilinged rooms and generous architectural detailing, can take a diverse color palette without looking fragmentary. “But you do need to link it together with the trim color,” she says. “Choose something that works with all the colors that you’re going to use, and follow that through on all the , doors and window frames.”

Another way to use different colors in different rooms without creating a jarring effect is to choose colors of the same saturation levels. Rennie says Haymes Paint’s Blended Neutrals palette, which is a selection of neutrals in which the undertones are highlighted, was developed with this concept in mind. “These colors can be scattered through the house, and every room can look quite different, but because they’re all similar in saturation, they feel alike.”

Related: Explore Different Ranges of Neutral Colors for the Home

Dalecki Design, original photo on Houzz

Using multiple shades of a single color is perhaps the most sophisticated way to manipulate the mood and personality of different rooms while maintaining an elegant, cohesive feel through the home.

“Because we’re now so used to open plan, and our living areas are often really big spaces, we’ve lost some of the intimacy we used to have,” Rennie says. “So it’s often a good idea to use darker and lighter variations of a color to define and identify spaces according to the way they’re used.

“For example, you might want to make the living room feel cozier than the open-plan kitchen and dining. So you’d use a darker version of your wall color to create a more intimate feel.” This strategy has been put to use in this inner-city Perth, Australia, home. The kitchen is light, bright and airy with pale gray walls, while a deeper shade features on the living room walls.

Victoria Waters Design Pty Ltd, original photo on Houzz

3 Fail-Safe Color Palettes

It’s not easy to suggest color palettes that will suit every home. There are so many variables at play — the style of your home, its location, your lifestyle and personal preferences. However, if you’re stuck for inspiration, these suggestions from Rennie are a good starting point.

Black and white. She says this classic color combination works well both externally and internally. It’s bold and graphic yet minimalistic, and its inherent simplicity means it’s hard to get wrong. The white base-black accent pictured here is sharp and sophisticated. For an edgier, more contemporary feel, play around with the proportions; dress a wall or two in black and pick out the architectural details in white.

Monochromatic gray. This color scheme, built from different strengths of the same shade of gray, is also a great fail-safe option, Rennie says. It’s timeless and sophisticated, and it can be adapted to suit most spaces. Take it down to near-white and all the way up to charcoal.

Gray is a versatile and diverse color, and because it can feature either warm or cool undertones, it can be coordinated to the color of your floors and other existing architectural features.

Bold naturals. “This is a harmonious approach, where the colors are all related, although they feel quite different,” Rennie says. Combine colors inspired by nature — deep buff and warm brown, forest greens, steely gray-blue. Make it work by using one shade for the walls and introducing the other colors on furniture and accessories.

Any good designer will tell you, color has power. It can be used to evoke different moods, tell a story within a home, even change the way someone feels in a space. So deciding on the color palette for a room can be high stakes and fairly tricky. Before you begin choosing paint colors, furniture, or decor, it’s important to understand which colors work best together and why.

According to Nicole Gibbons, founder and CEO of Clare Paint, there are several different approaches you can take when it comes to color pairings.

1) Opt for Colors with Like Temperatures:

“Colors can be bucketed into two groups—they’re either warm or cool. And pairing colors with like temperatures always results in harmonious color combinations. For example, pairing cool hues like blues and greens together always works well. Or pairing a mix of warm neutrals, such as a soft beige with a rich brown or a deep shade or orange, will be equally pleasing to the eye.”

2) Go Monochrome:

“I love working with monochromatic palettes. Think tone on tone. It’s a very sophisticated look and is almost foolproof to pull off and make work. Colors within the same hue but slightly different tones—for example, a pale blue with a deeper blue—will always look stunning.”

3) Choose Complementary Colors:

“Opposites attract and this certainly holds true when thinking about color in terms of the color wheel. Colors opposite one another tend to be very complementary and look beautiful when paired together. One of my favorite complementary color combos is pairing shades of coral with blue-green aqua tones.”

And if all else fails, a heavy dose of great inspiration can go a long way. Read below for 20 eye-catching color combinations in some of our favorite spaces.

After a stifling summer, settling into a cozy fall at home sounds idyllic — and there’s no better time to infuse your space with inviting, warm colors than when the weather cools down.

“Fall is the perfect time to embrace warm colors in your home, as the natural autumn color palette ranges the whole warm side of the color wheel,” says Decorist designer Erika Dale. “Refreshing your textiles, art, accessories, or floral arrangements with these autumnal hues can embrace the coziness and warmth of the season.”

So what does it actually mean and look like to decorate your home with warm colors? Three interior designers offer their tips for translating the color wheel into perfectly balanced colorful decor.

What are examples of warm colors?

“In general, warm colors are those in the red, orange, and yellow families, while cool colors are those in the green, blue, and purple families,” Dale says. Think scarlet, peach, pink, amber, sienna, and gold versus cooler teal, eggplant, emerald, aqua, and cobalt. Remember the color wheel from grade school art class? A line drawn right through the middle divvies up those two groupings, although hues near where the halves meet (like purple) can function as “hybrid colors,” Dale says.

Reds, oranges, and yellows on the right side of the color wheel typically get categorized as warm colors. LichtdimensionGetty Images

You can also think of warm colors as cozy, earthy tones. “For me, warm colors are camel leathers, oranges, deep grays, and taupes,” says Decorist designer Baylee Deyon. “Cooler colors are usually lighter and bring an airy feel to a room.”

Is white a cold or warm color?

Both! White can lean cooler or warmer, depending on the shade. “If you look closely, you can see hints of the undertones like red, blue, yellow, and purple in the color,” says Ariel Richardson, interior designer and founder of ASR Design Studio in San Diego.

It may take some practice to pick up on these subtle tints, but they can make a big impact on how a paint color or piece of furniture will look in a room. “Yellow or pink undertones will read warmer, while whites with blue or green undertones will appear cooler,” Dale explains.

A mix of warm and cool whites balances out this charming breakfast nook. Joe Schmelzer

Different types of lighting can also influence whether a white will look more warm or cool — hence why many designers recommend testing a big swatch on the wall before painting an entire room. “If you have tons of natural light pouring in, things will appear cooler, whereas rooms lit with artificial light will look much warmer,” Dale says.

Don’t worry about matching every white in a room perfectly. Utilizing both cool and warm whites can bring in the best of both worlds. “I love layering a crisp, clean white with other warmer whites because it makes for a light and airy, yet cozy and warm vibe,” Deyon says.

Okay, so is gray a cold or warm color?

Just like white, gray can also function as a warm or cool color. If you want one that skews warm for your walls, try Classic Gray by Benjamin Moore. “It feels light and airy, but there is also a warm elegance and formality to it that makes it perfect for a living room with bright white trim,” Dale says.

Warm Paint Colors to Try

Fields of Gold Benjamin Moore benjaminmoore.com

“It’s sunny but moody and full of depth. I would love to see a color like this on the ceiling paired with bright, cool white walls or on a front door!” —Dale

Repose Gray Sherwin-Williams sherwin-williams.com

“I love to use this color throughout an entire open floor plan to create a very inviting look.” —Deyon

Odessa Pink Benjamin Moore benjaminmoore.com

“Nude enough that it reads as a neutral but blush enough to bring with it all of the warming, sensual qualities of pink, this color is perfect for a bedroom, dressing room, or bathroom.” —Dale

Swiss Coffee Benjamin Moore benjaminmoore.com

“It is a very creamy and rich white that warms up a space while keeping things light and airy — sort of the best of both worlds!” —Deyon

How can you tell if a color is warm or cool?

“You can tell if a color is warm if it seems to be more mellow,” Richardson says. “Bold and vivid colors tend to be on the cold side.”

If you’re still questioning your eyes, try this easy trick from Dale: Hold the swatch or item in question next to a pure version of that color (e.g., put your white against a true white from the color wheel). You’ll quickly determine which way it leans when you see them side-by-side.

Warm colors can make spaces feel cozier and more inviting. Mike Garten

How do warm colors make you feel?

“Warm colors instantly conjure up associations with heat, fire, and the sun, so these colors tend to feel more energetic, inviting, cozy, stimulating, passionate, and intimate,” Dale says. “Conversely, cool colors bring to mind water and the sky and therefore a create a more calming, focused, relaxed, restful, soothing, and refreshing feeling.”

Besides influencing your mood, color temperatures can change the feel of a room, too. Warmer colors can make an interior seem welcoming – but also smaller, Richardson warns. Cooler colors have their own pros and cons: They’ll create the illusion of extra space, but go overboard and the room can feel too sterile.

Should warm and cold colors be put in the same room?

Yes! “One of the best design tricks in the book is creating a nice balance of warm and cool colors in a space,” Dale says. “While the dominant colors in a room can dictate the overall mood, what makes the design feel grounded and cohesive is balancing that out with elements of the opposite color temperature.” For example, if you are going for that light and airy look with cool white walls, adding in warm elements such as a red rug, ivory linens, or brass accents can help make the room still feel cozy and inviting.

A warm rug balances out the cooler whites in this bathroom. Amy Neunsinger

How do you decorate with warm colors?

Richardson advises using cooler colors on the walls and ceilings to make a room appear more spacious, but layering in warm touches through the architectural details, furniture, lighting, finishes, fixtures, and accessories.

But what about bringing in those fall colors like mustard, terra cotta, ochre, or persimmon? Switching up the accessories can quickly update your home for the season. “Incorporating warm-colored throw blankets and pillows to a space can make a huge impact,” Deyon says. “I love to swap out my greenery with something such as natural dried cotton stems to make for a textured and cozy space.”

Shop Warm-Colored Accessories

Adelina Velvet Pillow Anthropologie anthropologie.com $48.00 Natural Dried Cotton Stems GTIDEA amazon.com $11.99 Pink Textured Throw Blanket Bourina amazon.com $19.99 Tufted Cabello Bath Mat Anthropologie anthropologie.com $78.00

Warm And Cool Colors

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Understand warm and cool colors and you will create stunning color schemes. (There’s more to cool and warm colors than most people think!)


a) ‘Warm’ colors, in the most general terms, are related to the yellow/red side of the color wheel chart. They attract attention and are generally perceived as energetic or exciting.

b) ‘Cool’ colors, on the other hand, sit on the blue/green side of the color wheel; they are generally perceived as soothing and calm.

Is it really that simple?

No! Yellow and red are just more obviously warm than blue or green. But you’ll see below that it’s much more subtle and interesting than this!

‘Cool’ Yellow … ‘Warm’ Blue?

In this graphic, one panel of colors is ‘warmer’ than the other.

Which one is it? (I do hope both the warm and cool colors show clearly on your screen – it’s always a bit of a gamble!)

If you can see that the colors in the left column are much warmer than those in the right, then the logical next question is …

… how can there be ‘warm’ blues,
if blue in itself is a cool color?

The four-primary color wheel shows how this works:

A Color Wheel Chart That Explains
Warm And Cool Colors

The outer ring of this 4-primary color wheel chart shows how neighboring colors “infiltrate” each other around the color wheel so that every color family (yellow, red, blue, green) ends up with a ‘cool’ and a ‘warm’ side:

  • Cool yellow has a bit of green in it, warm yellow tends toward red.
  • Cool red looks a bit bluish, warm red has a yellowish cast.
  • Cool green has a blue bias, warm green a hint of yellow.
  • Cool blue looks a bit green around the gills, and warm blue has a blush.

(You can find more info about this color wheel here.)

Now, does this mean there aren’t cooler or warmer color groups? Of course not. Blue is still much cooler than orange, even if it’s a ‘warm’ blue. But it’s the subtleties that make all the difference in a warm-and-cool color scheme.

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How Colors ‘Change’ Their Temperature

Talk about subtleties … it’s been proven that we humans are completely unable to see and remember how colors look in isolation, independently of their surrounding colors. This is because the ‘background’ colors can strongly interfere with how a color appears to us.

(This, by the way, is one of the reasons why modern art galleries & museums generally exhibit art on a white background.)

Let’s put this to the test! Have a close look, if you will, at the central green squares in these two color blocks:

Which green is cooler than the other?

Even though the green square in the blue field looks ‘warm’ compared to the cold blue background, it is exactly the same green hue as the ‘cool’ green square in the bright warm yellow field. You can see it clearly against a white ‘museum wall’:

And if you connect the blue and yellow fields, you can watch the green color ‘change character’ mid-way:

So there you have it – things may not be what they first seem in the world of warm and cool colors. By the way, even neutral colors range from warm and inviting to very, very icy indeed (and yes, their ‘coolness’ varies depending on the surrounding colors as well 🙂

For further color theory information & color inspiration …

… Click A Pic !

Or, check out the chapters on:

If you’re working on a home decorating project, you may also be interested in some of these color scheme books or portable color wheels (loads of examples of warm and cool colors):

Yet to find the information you’re looking for? Type a word or phrase into the search box below:

Since 1666 when Sir Isaac Newton developed the color wheel, this visual resource has been revisited, updated and used by artists to represent the various hues derived from the primary colors. Over time, information and knowledge about how colors evoke emotion and subtly influence the thinking of the viewer has increased. In particular, the categorization of warm and cool colors has lead to a deeper understanding of the psychological effects that various hues can induce.

How Colors are Categorized

Colors are categorized as warm and cool according to their placement on the color wheel. A color wheel is designed around the three primary colors. Red, blue, and yellow sit on opposite sides of the wheel. The combinations of each pair of these colors form the secondary colors of purple, green and orange. The tertiary colors, which fill out the rest of the wheel, are mixtures of primary and secondary colors.

The colors on the right side of the wheel are considered warm colors. These hues include shades of red, yellow, and orange, and have the longest wavelengths on the color spectrum. Warm colors advance toward the eye, while cool colors recede. Cool colors on the left side of the circle, including green, blue and violet, have shorter wavelengths.

Why Colors are Labeled as Warm and Cool

Warm and cool colors are categorized as warm and cool due to the feelings that one gets when looking at the hues. Reds, yellows, and oranges are evocative of the sun and fire. Therefore, they tend to convey a sense of warmth and comfort. Cool colors, on the other hand, are reminiscent of earthy objects, such as grass and water. These hues often feel cool and refreshing, much like the outdoor areas that they are associated with. Incorporating a mix of warm and cool colors will provide a balance and a more defined contrast between the different hues.

Psychological Effects of Warm and Cool Colors

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_wheel

Both warm and cool colors impact our visual perception of the objects that we see. For example, warm colors will feel inviting and comforting, and provide the illusion of heat and warmth. Since these colors advance toward the eye, they work well in large spaces in order to make them feel cozy and secure. Warm colors can also be stimulating. They often evoke strong emotions and promote activity, so these colors are ideal for gyms and living rooms. Advertisers often use warm colors to provide a sense of urgency, such as with red clearance signs, as well as optimism and cheerfulness.

Cool colors have nearly the opposite effects of warm colors. Receding from the eye, cool colors can make a space feel larger and more open. These hues work well in smaller rooms in order to increase the perceived size of the area. Additionally, cool colors provide a sense of calm and relaxation. They are ideal for small spaces that are intended to be tranquil, such as bathrooms and bedrooms. Cool colors also influence people by evoking a sense of health, tranquility and wisdom. Blue, purple and green are utilized in advertising to convey trustworthiness and respect.

It is important to pay attention to the characteristics of warm and cool colors when choosing hues to use for a space or project. The colors that you select can influence your perspective and emotions, as well as those around you. Be sure to choose warm and cool hues that represent the type of room or message that you are trying to convey.

What are Warm & Cool Colors?

Colors can be separated into two main categories, warm colors and cool colors. What colors are classed as warm, and what colors are classed as cool and how can they influence us?

The Color Wheel – Color Theory

It was Isaac Newton who created the first visual circular color diagram around 1665, also known as the commonly labelled (Color Wheel).

The color wheel is made up of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary colors using the Red, Yellow and Blue (RYB) color model. The color wheel can be separated or divided to approximately display warm and cool colors as shown.

Warm Colors – The primary warm colors are Red and Yellow. Orange is the main secondary color. Brown, Taupe and Beige are also considered warm neutral colors, ideal for interior design.

Cool Colors – The primary cool color is Blue. The main secondary cool colors are Green, Purple and Violet hues. Gray is considered a neutral cool color.

Warm Color Influences

Warm colors can increase energy levels, physical and mental, speed up heart rates and increase blood pressure, encourage impulsiveness, increases our appetites and generally encourages expression of emotions.

Cool Color Influences

Cool colors generally have a calming and relaxing influence. They can lower heart rate and blood pressure and discourage aggressive and impulsive behaviors. Cool colors are generally believed to suppress emotions and appetites.

Warm colors also give the impression of warmth or heat, while cool colors can actually make us feel cold or cooler than the current temperature, hence the labels, warm and cool colors based on their influences.

Depth Perception

Warm and cool colors also affect our depth perception. Artists often use cool colors to make objects seem further away and warm colors to make areas of an image or painting appear nearer or more prominent.

This is because warmer colors have longer wavelengths. Long wavelengths are detected sooner by our eyes, which gives the illusion of warmer colors gravitating towards our eyes or coming forward. On the reverse, our perceptions of cool colors/short wavelengths are not detected by our eyes as quickly, this creates the illusion of cooler colors gravitating away or receding from our eyes.

Depth Perception Test

You should be able to test this for yourself using the image. It may take a few repeat attempts but you should begin to notice a difference in how your eyes perceive the two colors or wave lengths.

Using Warm & Cool Colors

Whether you are planning on creating a work of art where depth perception is important, or perhaps engaging in some interior design to create a desired and comfortable environment. It’s important to understand the influences that colors can have on our minds, emotions and perceptions.

Related Post

Color Theory continues with Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Colors


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