Working with colour in 5 easy steps

colour wheel 1 comp3

Always wondered about the rules for choosing colours for your home? We’re taking it back to basics to give you just a few principles to get you started.

Whether you’re into statement or sophisticated, knowing your way round the colour wheel can help you get the balance right. Welcome to Colour 101 with Zanui

The colour wheel and allll the colours. Images sourced L to R: and

  1. Meet ROY G BIV and his mates

Way back when in Science class, we were introduced to Roy G Biv. The acronym is based on the first letters of the colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. In true teen-nerd style, we committed his name to memory, and it’s still bumping around in our grey matter today. (Ahhhh, Roy.)

Roy pretty much runs the colour wheel. There are 12 wedges in total, made up of:

  • Primary (red, yellow, blue – cannot be created by mixing other colours),
  • Secondary (orange, purple, green – made by mixing primary colours together),
  • And tertiary colours (6 shades made by mixing primary and secondary colours).


The colour wheel is a helpful tool to guide your décor decisions. Read on. We’ll show you how.

  1. Hue, value and saturation

Colour is made up of three defining elements:

  • Hue (the purest form of a colour as shown in the bright, saturated wedges of the colour wheel),
  • Value (its degree of light and darkness),
  • And saturation (how bright or dull it is).

Two complimentary colour schemes displaying vastly different values and saturations. Images sourced:

  1. Take the temperature of your room

Different colours convey different moods (granted). If you split the colour wheel down the middle like a pie, you separate the warm colours (reds, yellows, oranges) from the cool colours (blues, greens, purples).

Splitting the pie. Image sourced:

Your colour choice influences the sense of space. While cooler shades add a tranquil element to your home, in a large room they can seem a bit bleak. Warmer tones are more vibe-y and evoke intimacy, but in a smaller space they can feel a touch in-your-face. 😉

Add in elements of both through your accent pieces to pique your palette.

Cool and warm tones in decor. Images sourced L to R: +

  1. Temper it with neutrals

Selecting a base colour direct from the colour wheel is like painting in broad strokes. Tint, tone, and shade help you refine your colour choice.

  • Tint means to lighten by adding white.
  • Shade means to darken by adding black.
  • Tone means to darken by adding grey (both white and black!).

Adding white, black or grey to the colours on the colour wheel creates graduations in your decor scheme… Images sourced L to R: +

  1. Collude and contrast

The colour wheel can also help you finding the right partner(s) for your base colour. Various couplings create diverse aesthetics.

In addition to monochrome and neutrals, there are five different kinds of colour relationships according to colour theory: complementary, analogous, triadic, split-complimentary, tetradic (rectangular) and square.

Consider the kind of look you’re shooting for. Then use these schemes to experiment with achieving this.


  • Monochrome schemes flirt with one colour exploiting its different iterations. E.g. green: light green, medium green, dark green, dull green… yeah, you get the picture. It’s simple and effective. There is an easy harmony of colour within monochromatic rooms.
    The more vibrant shades will draw the eye – you can use these to give your room shape. Select decor accent pieces in these shades to prevent your room from looking too flat. This is an easier palette to master and a great place to start.

Monochrome. Images sourced L to R: +

  • Complimentary colours face off against one another on the colour wheel, e.g. yellow/violet and red/green. They are high contrast, pairing a warm colour with a cool one. These couplings work well as accent colours in rooms with a neutral base, with one being the more dominant.
    But you can also employ them for more exotic aesthetics, e.g. Moroccan styling. Playing with the saturation and value in at least one of the hues will allow you to achieve a more sophisticated palette.

Complimentary colours. Images sourced L to R:, +

  • Analogous colours are runs of two or more colours on the wheel, e.g. red, and red-orange and orange. Sticking to a max of four will help to prevent it becoming unwieldy (and overwhelming on the eye!).
    These colours blend into one another giving your room a sense of flow. Use the 60-30-10 rule to make the most out of this colour scheme, with the most vibrant shade as your 10 – your accent colour.

Analagous colours. Images sourced: +

  • Triadic colour schemes bring together three colours that spaced equidistant from each other on the colour wheel (every fourth colour), e.g. red, yellow, blue (the primary colours) or orange-yellow, yellow-orange, and violet-red. This fusion of colours is high on vibe.

Tetradic colours. Images sourced L to R: +

  • Split-complimentary colour schemes pair a colour with the two colours either side of its compliment, e.g. red-orange with blue + green, or purple with yellow-orange and yellow-green. If you’re looking for a non-neutral base colour, this is a great approach.
    This works well for areas with multiple focus points and enhances energy of your room.

Complimentary colours + split-complimentary colours. Images sourced L to R: +

  • Tetrad (rectangular) colour combinations bring together two pairs of complimentary colours, e.g. red + green with yellow + purple, or blue-purple + yellow-orange with red-purple + yellow-green. This harmonious fusion of cool and warm tones gives you lots of scope to work from.
    Don’t forget to play with value and saturation!

Tetrad colours. Images sourced L to R: +

  • Tetrad (square) colour schemes are exactly the same as tetrad (rectangular) ones – except for the fact that the colours are equidistant on the colour wheel (so every third colour). Makes sense, doesn’t it? 

Well, that’s rather a lot to take in all at once. But so very, very pretty all the same. Congratulations! You’re now fully equipped. Go forth and embrace colour!

Image sourced:

Kay is a feature, blog and copywriter. She collects empty jam jars, academic degrees and tawdry dreams in the hopes of turning them into something useful someday. Her work has been published in ACP magazines, ABC fiction, Overland, Brittle Star, Seizure, trade publications and online forums. Her creative writing has won several awards.