Fifthroom Living


One Home, Five Colors

In reference to the School of Decorating’s article, “7 Steps to Create Your Whole House Color Palette,” I’ll be summarizing some of the key elements mentioned. I highly suggest that you take the time to go and read the full article yourself as well as watch the video tutorials meant to further help you to plan a color palette for your whole house.

Ideally, the color palette for your whole house should consist of only five colors. The first is white, then a neutral, a bold color, a “friend of bold” color (also called a “second color”), and finally an accent color. These colors would be used repeatedly throughout your home. Just these colors. (Read on to learn how to extend your palette.) By having a finite color palette, all the rooms of your house will tie together somehow.


The first thing to do is to understand what your fixed elements are within your house. These include things like the floor, cabinets, and countertops. When looking at these things, if your home was properly designed, these should all have something in common- an undertone. An undertone is the result of two colors being blended together and usually is one of two options. These options include cool and warm. Cool colors generally consist of green, blue, and purple, while warm colors are generally red, orange, and yellow. Remember this. I’ll be referring to it many times throughout this post.

If you’re not familiar with the color wheel, now may be a good time to consult one, as it is the key to determining how colors transition into one another and how they play against other colors.

You may already get a feeling of cool or warm undertones without actually knowing the science behind them, but the process of creating a color palette that you’ll be able to live with begins with determining what items in your home you are least likely to change. In all reality, if you wanted to change your cabinets, for example, you could, but it’s ideal to have continuity in undertones for these particularly hard to replace elements. If the undertones for each of your fixed elements is different, this process may be less successful, but the point is to begin on a consistent foundation of color.

Let’s assume that all of your fixed elements (cabinets, floor, and countertops, etc.) all do have the same undertone, how might you even determine that? You may want to traverse your house with a pen, paper, and color wheel, listing each fixed element with its individual undertone beneath it. You will want to compare the colors of these elements to a masstone, meaning a color you know for sure is cool or warm. These masstones are true colors like the perfect blue, red, or yellow. Keeping organized throughout this process can be greatly beneficial.

Once you determine each fixed element and its undertone, you can start using your imagination as to what you might envision as your home’s color palette. Would you want your home to reflect the same undertone as your fixed elements or would you want to complement them by using colors opposite of them? This is an odd question because maintaining consistency in the feeling of your home by undertones may seem ideal, no question, but by choosing only warm or cool colors in your house, you can cause a sense of imbalance as well as too much of one thing. Your whole home can and should use the same color palette, and if you consider the variety of rooms and their purposes, you may not want every single one of them to be all warm or all cool, especially with the changing of seasons. Complimenting the undertones of your fixed elements can create more variety and less stagnation, not to mention that it’s much more inspiring. You may want to write down your choice of whether you plan to match the undertones or compliment them. (Perhaps, you can consider both options and see what they look like once you’ve thought them both through.)

If your fixed elements have a cool undertone and you’d like everything to match them, you’ll want to select cool colors for your palette, like green, blue, and purple. If you’d like to compliment the cool undertones, you’ll want to select colors like red, orange, and yellow for your palette.

And if you have warm undertones, you can match them with warm colors like red, orange, and yellow. Or you may compliment them with green, blue, and purple colors for your palette.

The next thing that you’ll want to do is decide what kind of color scheme you may want to utilize. You have three options and they require referencing a color wheel.

The first color scheme to choose from is Monochromatic, meaning that you select a single color from the color wheel and simply take shades (darker versions) or tones (lighter versions) of that hue to fill in your palette. If you want to match your fixed elements’ undertones, if they’re warm- select colors that are warm. If they’re cool- select colors that are cool. If you want to compliment your fixed elements’ undertones, if they’re warm- pick cool colors. If they’re cool- select colors that are warm.

The second color scheme is Analogous or “Harmonious”, meaning you can select colors that neighbor each other on the color wheel. Red is friends with orange and violet. Orange is friends with yellow and red. Yellow is friends with green and orange. The point is to choose a color on the color wheel and then look at the colors on either side of it. When using this scheme, you can still choose to either match or compliment your fixed elements’ undertones. If the undertones are warm, choose a warm color and the colors surrounding it to match. The same goes for cool colors, match cool undertones to cool colors. Alternatively, if you want to compliment your undertones, choose the opposite set of colors. Cool undertones would be complimented by warm colors and warm undertones would be complimented by cool colors.

The third color scheme is Complimentary, meaning that you’re choosing colors for your palette from all over the wheel. It sounds a little scary, but it turns out that a color and its complete opposite work well together. You can determine the complimentary colors by selecting a color on the color wheel and finding what color is completely across the wheel. Examples of complimentary colors include blue and orange, purple and yellow, red and green, etc… This can get a little tricky because you may be choosing to still match or compliment your fixed elements’ undertones, but you have a bit more of a puzzle to determine what colors will work best together.

Once you’ve selected a color scheme, you’ll determine your white and neutral colors before the last three colors. All you know is what they fixed elements’ undertones are, whether you want to match or compliment them, and whether you want your home to be different tints and shades of blue (or whatever favorite color you choose), colors that are similar on the coloring wheel to your favorite color (or whatever you choose), or if you want a house full of opposite colors.

We’ll get there. I promise.

Right now, you’ll just want to choose a white. Whites have undertones as well, so remember how you were considering matching your entire color palette to the undertones of you fixed elements? Or that you may have wanted to complement them? You have to stick with that decision now. All of your colors from here on in will only work if you are consistent in choosing to match or compliment those undertones. This also applies to white, and every color after this. So, if you want to match those fixed element undertones, match cool with cool and warm with warm. I think you know where I’m going with this by now. Once you select a white based on your decision, you may want to do some experimenting. Test out a few whites at home. Paint can look different at home than what you saw it as in the store. Natural lighting (and artificial lighting) can change the way it appears, so testing a few samples out can really open your eyes to what it’ll look like before you end up impulsively painting something you’ll hate.

White is generally used for painting things like cabinetry, trim, the ceiling, and for furniture, so keep that in mind.

Next, you’ll choose a neutral. The purpose of a neutral (and yes it, too, counts as one of your five palette colors), is to be a default color. What does that mean? It’s sort of like a framing color. It’s almost a filler color that keeps everything bonded together nicely. This neutral color can be used in rooms, but ideally, it’s for hallways, lofts, open areas, and flowing spaces. These places may not be the areas you necessarily want to show off in your home. It’s also good for bathrooms and closets.

Neutrals generally have undertones, too. There are warm neutrals and cool neutrals, so remember to be consistent to whether or not you want your color palette to match the undertones in those fixed elements. Another thing to note is that there is a strange hybrid neutral that is neither cool or warm. This neutral is called “Greige” (a play off of grey and beige) and can be used in combination of undertones. The author or the article I’m referencing actually suggested this for complimentary color palettes.

Now, you’re going to select the bold color. This color is the most dynamic on the palette. It’ll provide a wow factor and should either be the darkest color or the most saturated. Choose a color you’ll like because it’s going to be in your face when you see it. Perhaps, pick your favorite color. Remember, if you’re matching warm undertones, choose a warm color. If matching cool undertones, choose a cool color. And if you’re looking to compliment those undertones, if they’re warm, choose a cool color, and if they’re cool, choose a warm color.

Next, you’re going to pick out your bold color’s friend. That’s what I like to call it. They’re buddies. The article also calls this color the “second color” as opposed to the bold color. (Apparently white and neutral don’t count.) The friend color is going to be tricky depending on what type of scheme you want.


If you chose the monochromatic scheme, you’ve got it easy. See your bold color? Keep it and pick a shade or tint as its friend. Let’s pretend you picked a bold blue as your bold color. Now you may have a bold blue and its friend, light blue. (Or dark blue. ONLY ONE OF THEM!!)

If you chose an analogous scheme, your friend color is going to be next to your bold color on the color wheel. Let’s use our imaginations. Perhaps, your fixed elements have warm undertones and you wanted to compliment them with an analogous color scheme. You pick blue as your bold color (because blue is a cool color and compliments those warm undertones.) What will your friend color be? Well, on either side of blue on the color wheel are your choices. You have green or purple to choose from. Remember, that this friend color should be lighter and/or less saturated than the bold color. This color is the friendly one, the bold one is the loud one.

BUT, if you’ve chosen the complimentary color scheme, resort to the technique used for a monochromatic scheme. Just pick a shade or tint of your bold color as a friend.

Finally, you’re going to choose the last of your palette colors- the Accent color. The accent color is also meant to add a touch of drama but not as much as the bold color. It should be used sparingly but repeatedly.

The accent color can be another neutral, one that contrasts your default one. For a monochromatic scheme, another tint or shade of your chosen color will do. In an analogous scheme, a tint of your friend color is what you’ll want. And for a complimentary color scheme, pick the color opposite to either your bold or friend color. (For example, you picked a bold blue and a light blue. Now you can pick a bold orange or a light orange as your accent color. Inspiration: A pumpkin at sea.)

And there you have it.

If you want to extend your palette, you can add more colors that are shades and tints of your main ones, just make sure that they match the same undertones of your overall color scheme.

The article goes on to suggest keeping track of these colors by keeping multiple samples of swatches, having the mixing information on the back of each swatch (so you’ll be able to recreate it,) and keeping a swatch book with the colors, information, and other samples so that you’ll always have it available to make future decisions off of.

You can also keep a keychain with each color sample with you so that you’ll be able to test colors against items in the store, in case you’re looking for furniture, decorations, or accents.

Another good piece of advice was to have multiple canvases hidden away, each one painted entirely one color of your palette. Why? So, if you want to paint another room in your house, you can pull all the canvases out and stand them against the walls. Then you can see which one you think would look best in that room.


Finally, where do the colors go best?

White is good for trim, cabinetry, ceilings, furniture, and even walls.

Default Neutral is for all your open areas, connecting spaces like hallways, bathrooms, closets. You can use this pretty much anywhere that isn’t a main room.

The Bold color is loud so only use it in separate rooms or as an accent only. You can seriously paint one wall in your room this color and paint the rest that default neutral. Don’t use this color in open spaces, though. It might make you sick.

The Friend color is super friendly. Use this color anywhere but it works best as a subtle accent wall or in separate rooms.

The Accent color should be used sparingly as well and only to enhance the feeling of a room. If the accent is part of a monochromatic or analogous scheme, you can used it anywhere really. If your scheme is complimentary, though, only use it in rooms where the adjacent colors are complimentary. If it’s neutral, it should be a dramatic neutral.

You can extend your colors as well by using tints and shades of your original five colors. A good idea is to keep similar rooms a similar color, even if they are different values of that same color.

Well, get to it! Start planning possible palettes for your home and remember to read the School of Decorating’s article “7 Steps to Create Your Whole House Color Palette,” and also to visit for more inspiration. Until next time.


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