How to Design with Primary Colors

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Image: Pinterest

One of my all-time favorite color combinations is the classic red, yellow, and blue: the primaries! In color theory they’re the most basic color hues used to create the other colors in the spectrum. However, all too often they are used in such pure hues (without the addition of white or black) that they seem to be meant for a child’s room. If you’re going for a more sophisticated, then here are a few tips to create a more livable space.

  1. Use only one or two bright hues at a time. When using red, yellow, and blue together, keep one or two colors in the pure hues and mute down the third by choosing a color that either has a bit more black or white or leans slightly to the right or left of the color wheel. For example, in the top image, the yellow of the painting and the red of the chair are the two pure hues. The blue sofa is lighter in value, thus becoming more livable.


  • Create rest for the eye by using alternative colors and textures in the space. When working with a primary scheme, feel free to add in additional colors and textures – try rich woods in the furniture, and pops of color in the flowers. This will provide an outlet for the eye so it doesn’t seem strict.



  • Choose alternative values in the wheel. This one is similar to number one; however, rather than choose pure hues in the first place, select colors in the wheel that border the primaries. For example, the bottom left photo depicts a tufted light blue sofa with pops of a bright lemon chair and a tomato throw cushion. None of these are pure hues because they borrow from other colors in the color wheel. The tomato red throw cushion contains a lot of yellow so it should more properly be called red-orange, while the yellow of the chair contains a lot of green so it would more properly be called yellow-green. By selecting colors that are not pure hues, you eliminate the kindergarten reference and elevate the level of sophistication.


Primary Colors for Interiors
Images: (Top Left) Elle Decor, (Top Right) Fauxology, (Bottom Left) Joanne Clothing, (Bottom Right) Pinterest

What are your favorite color combinations to work with?

1 Comment

  1. I always love your posts Brittany! Great tips!

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Brittany Watson Jepsen is an American designer and crafter who just returned to America after 2 1/2 years in wonderful Copenhagen, Denmark. Her motto is "a creative mess is better than tidy idleness" and she lives each day accordingly. During graduate school for interior design she spent one summer working for designers Jonathan Adler and Celerie Kemble and another summer studying textile design at the Danish Design School. She created her blog, The House That Lars Built, as a way to keep her designing and crafting. She currently runs her blog and her etsy shop, where she sells her home accessories and paper flowers.