Your Go-To Color Theory Guide

Wondering about color? When it comes to a room makeover, color is where we spend most of our time thinking. You’re looking for a hue that can do a little bit of everything. It should complement the space, capture style and reflect your personality all at the same time – it’s no wonder color selection gets so much attention. That’s why we’re breaking down the building blocks of color theory to help you find the perfect hue that checks all the boxes.

Warm colors

It’s all in the name. Warm shades of red, orange and yellow are associated with the literal warmth that the sun and fire radiate. These vivid shades are closely tied to energy, joy and positivity, to create a space where the emotion feels uplifting and welcoming.

Red Paint Dabs

Red

Red is symbolic of strength, power and passion, but it’s boldness can often overshadow its versatility. The key to using this hue is focusing on the statement you want to make with it. While the brighter shades of red generate more energy, darker ones tend to show a softer side that’s subtle and conservative. Consider a rich burgundy or brick red when designing for a space where the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, like a dining room.

Orange Paint Dabs

Orange

The overall friendliness of orange makes it an ideal choice for rooms where people gather, but it’s also well suited for front doors that welcome guests into your home. From the bright citrusy hues to the muted earth tones, this happy hue’s versatility allows it to work well with a number of different design styles.

Yellow paint dabs

Yellow

A cheery nature follows yellow wherever it goes. This golden hue triggers thoughts of happiness and sunshine especially when it’s used in a room with lots of natural light. Since it’s often considered to be the brightest warm color, a soft, sunny yellow is the perfect choice for guest bedrooms because it makes everyone feel right at home.

Cool Colors

What comes to mind when we think of cool colors? Whether it’s a serene lake or a clear sky, cooler hues are often associated with feelings of calmness, relaxation, and tranquility. They’re a softer option that can make a space feel larger thanks to the way they make color look like it’s receding.

Green Paint Dabs

Green

Mixed with the calming nature of blue and vibrancy of yellow, green is a color embodying balance and harmony. This down-to-earth hue is just as diverse as the nature it’s inspired by. Soft sea-greens can bring a restorative energy into a space, while deep olive tones can add depth and stability that feels anchored to the ground. Consider using deep greens to emphasize features you want to stand out like kitchen cabinets.

Blue Paint Dabs

Blue

It’s the color of trust and tranquility. Blue is just as refreshing and friendly as it is reserved and sophisticated. It’s representation of sea and sky closely ties to open spaces where inspiration and imagination flourish. Soothing shades of dusty blue create a sense of serenity, while midnight shades of navy can add depth and drama. Blue’s universal energy makes it a hue that works anywhere.

Purple Paint Dabs

Purple

Like green, purple embodies the characteristics of the colors it’s made of. The energy of red and tranquility of blue result in a hue that’s rooted in imagination and poise. With the ability to be both calming and uplifting, purple is an ideal choice for spaces where you seek creative energy and focus. Try this distinguished color in a home office or as an accent wall in a meditation space.

Neutral Colors

It’s not always warm or cool. Sometimes color falls in the middle for a hue that’s a perfect blend of both. Neutrals can take on the meaning of the colors they’re paired with or they can stand on their own. Either way, these transitional hues are tried and true thanks to their timeless appeal and versatility.

Black Paint Dabs

Black

An air of mystery surrounds this bold hue that’s commonly associated with power, elegance and an ability to coordinate with any design style. While this color is most often used as an accent, we’re starting to see it take center stage in newer design trends. Dark shades are working their way into our homes more and more to create a space that’s rich, dramatic and full of dimension. Create a contemporary look by pairing black with rich jewel tones or play up its softer side with natural wood tones and neutral furnishings.

White Paint Dabs

White

It’s technically the absence of color, but when it comes to white, there’s more than meets the eye. Known for its light and innocence, this hue can often be viewed as simple, but a variety of tints and tones proves there’s more complexity than you’d think. Bright whites can help design a space that feels larger and spacious, while softer whites create a sense of warmth and coziness. No matter which way it’s used, this neutral provides a backdrop for endless options.

Gray Paint Dabs

Gray

The conservative nature of this balanced shade infuses spaces with the mystery of black and the lightness of white. Lighter shades of gray can be used to achieve bright modern looks, whereas darker shades can be used to create a bolder space that’s more dramatic, but gray’s versatility doesn’t stop there. It comes in a variety of shades with undertones ranging from red to blue and everything in between.

Beige Paint Dabs

Beige

Rounding out the warm end of the neutral spectrum is a nurturing hue that comes in a variety of tints and tones. Like its gray counterpart, beige is a great transitional color that can take on warm or cool depending on what’s surrounding it. Its natural warmth derives from brown undertones that capture the comfort and calmness that we all seek in a home.

36 Comments

  1. can I set up an an appointment for a virtual assistant to help with color?

    laura gruber
  2. Can I come in for help with a contrasting color if I have color numbers for already painted walls??? I’m so confused and need some help!!!

  3. I’m needing a suggestion on a warm ,neutral, but clean white for kitchen cabinets. I have a dark brown granite with iridescent blue flecks. I want to paint the island cabinet blue. Also the white could continue on the walls, or I could contrast a little with a light taupe or cream. Help!

    Catherine L. Miller
    • Hi Catherine, are you open to doing two tone cabinets? We suggest you consider painting the lower cabinets and island the blue you want and then painting the upper cabinets AND the walls the same warm white color. Let us know if this is something you are interested in and we can give specific color names.

      Sherwin-Williams
  4. I have chosen Naval as my living room color. Much of three of the living room walls are windows, french doors and bookshelves that I want to be white. Is there a warm white that would help lighten up those areas of the living room but not be “cold?”

    • Hi Jan! There are several options for you to consider for a warm white trim color. Look at:
      White Duck SW 7010
      Whitetail SW 7103
      Futon SW 7101

      Sherwin-Williams
  5. We live in a condo in which they used Sherwin Williams and they left a pail of paint. It is not what they used originally and touched up with that paint. It has now turned pinkish so you can see all the touch up areas. It has been 15 years and I want to repaint every area in which they did touch up. How do I match? It is throughout the condo which is fairly large. Most noticeable are at the entrance and suggestions please.

    Jane Heisenfeldt
  6. I Need help choosing a color for my stairway walls please.

  7. I love the new format. Thanks

    Pat Drilling
  8. I love this information! It is inspiring and very helpful.

    Morris Wendy
  9. Hi I would Like to do a Bedroom in is what I think is called Flaux or Flax Finish. I forget what they call it where You take Two Rollers hooked together and roll in Crisscrossing directions. I would like to do in some kind of Red, but do not want to be overwhelming . I was thinking of Burgundy with something Similar? Should the Colors be close to matching? Not Sure Any Tips or advise would be greatly appreciated..Kenneth Clark

    Kenneth R. Clark
    • Hi Kenneth! You are describing a faux finish which requires paint and glaze to get the effect you want. Unfortunately, Sherwin Williams no longer sells any faux techniques or glazes.

      Sherwin-Williams
    • I am painting an old China cabinet and wanted a different color for the inside. My wall color is Misty. I was leaning toward Commodore but unsure the inside color. Any suggestions?

      Thanks!

      • Hi Lisa, Commodore SW 6524 may be too dark and bright to complement Misty – the effect could be jarring. Consider using the same color family but lighter versions. Look at either Denim SW 6523 or Sporty Blue SW 6522.

        Sherwin-Williams
  10. I really appreciate how wonderfully useful, responsive and easy to navigate you’ve designed your site. Kudos!

    Howard Barry Weiner
  11. My walls are painted Placer White. I am needing a white to paint the interior doors that would go good with the white on the walls. What do you suggest?

    • Hi Jeni, is Placer White a different brand’s color? Or possibly a spelling error? Let us know! We are glad to help.

      Sherwin-Williams
  12. I have a 1/2 bath with a very high ceiling. It has a large mahogany vanity with an ugly black/rust/grey granite top. I’ve painted it sw natural linen but it’s so boring.

    Any suggestions? I read about color blocking to make a room appear shorter but have no clue what bolder color to paint on the bottom half.
    I need help. Thanks.

    • Hello Caroline, do you have ceiling molding? If you do, are you open to painting the ceiling? Let me know when you get a minute. Thank you.

      Sherwin-Williams
  13. We are painting our home and guess house smoky blue. Not sure what color to paint front doors? Please help! Judi

    • Hello Judy, there are two color families that would work with your exiting palette. The first option would be comprised of subtle green grays in the Spare White family but several shades darker – such as – Oyster Bay SW 6206 or Acacia Haze SW 9132. The second option would be comprised of sophisticated warm neutrals which would complement your Smoky Blue and still work with your trim – such as – Threaded Loom SW 9512 or Relaxed Khaki SW 6149. Order some chips of these colors to see if they will work for you. Let us know if you need anything else, thank you!

      Sherwin-Williams
  14. Our house interior walls are painted Pacer White throughout – trim is white. I’m thinking of painting interior doors Shitake. It’s hard to decide if they are compatible in the different sunlight throughout the day. Will these two paint selections go well together?

    • Hi Sandy, yes Shitake SW 9173 would look great with Pacer White SW 6098. Another option which is just a little lighter is Slumber Sloth SW 9606. Shitake or Sloth would both look stunning paired with Pacer White.

      Sherwin-Williams
  15. I am having shaker style white cabinets installed. Having Cambria Daron (jewel collection) countertops. Considering Benjamin mores color Ice Mist for walls. What would be a good trim and ceiling color?

    Christine Johnson
    • Hi Christine, BM’s Ice Mist is very close to our color Snowbelt SW 9623 which is a very light color. Consider painting the trim a crisp white like Extra White SW 7006 and then take your wall color up onto your ceiling as well. This will actually make your kitchen appear larger with a more cohesive palette.

      Sherwin-Williams
  16. I’m helping my newly devorced son to decorate his apartment living room/dining room. He has a beautiful tryptic ( 42h x 36 – 1 piece; the other two are 42h x 24 wide)which he wants to place on the one wall in the dining room. The colors are predominately peach,slight gry and some light brown and atiny touch of seafoam. It is a tryptic of “Sailboats”. All other walls are dove white.The mantle for the fireplace is Dove White with regular brick on the hearth. Sectional is off white with a leather black chair.Coffee table black wrought iron frame with cream marble top framed in black. Sisal rug. What colors can we use on pillows etc. to pop the area. His taste is less is more and loves black.reds, golds. Any suggestions?

  17. Hello,
    I have a house whose exterior color is yellow—fairly mellow yellow with a slight darker yellow trim. I need to paint the front door, the porch, and the front steps. I can’t seem to find a color that goes with the yellow, and yet is dark enough to not show dirt etc. especially on the steps and porch.
    I’m not afraid of a bright color, but red and yellow are too clownish looking. Not fond of blue and yellow (too marine or college-y). Brown and yellow not attractive.
    Any ideas?
    Thank you very much
    Judy

    judy barath-black
    • Hello Judy, we think a gray would look fantastic next to your yellow house. Check out:
      Light French Gray SW 0055
      Tin Lizzie SW 9163
      Classic French Gray SW 0077

      Sherwin-Williams

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