In interior design, cool colors and warm colors can evoke different emotions when you step into a room. That's why when it comes to choosing "cool" colors or "warm" colors for your room design, it should depend on the intent of the space. Cool colors like blues are said to have a calming effect and would work best for a bedroom or home office where you want to relax or concentrate. Meanwhile, warm reds, oranges, and yellows make a room feel cozy, yet stimulating, much like the feeling that a glowing fireplace might provide. A lot of red would be best used in a social space rather than a bedroom, for example. Understanding warm and cool colors will help explain why different rooms can make you feel psychologically a certain way.
What Are Cool Colors?
Cool colors are considered to be shades of green, blue, and purple. The only primary color is blue, so any hue with a blue undertone (the dominating tone when colors are mixed) is considered a cool color. They're called cool colors, as opposed to warm colors, because they are evocative of cool water. Warm colors, on the other hand, may stimulate thoughts of heat, such as a fire.
The Color Wheel
The color wheel in color theory is literally a circle divided into groups of warm and cool colors. The decorating rule of thumb is that opposites should enhance each other. In the color wheel, the colors that enhance one another are called complementary colors. For example, red (warm) and green (cool) are complementary colors on the color wheel since they are opposite of each other.
Cool colors make you feel calm in a space. Like water, sky, and greenery in nature, cool colors are soothing to the eye. Cool colors also give the eye the impression that they are receding which makes a space feel more open, adding to the serene effect.
Cool and Complementary Colors
You can mix warm and cool colors in a room that has a neutral foundation, such as white, lighter taupe, gray, beige, or greige flooring, walls, or large pieces of furniture. Neutrals have warm or cool undertones, too, so just make sure your neutral walls are all the same color so they have the same undertones, and then you can play with warm and cool colors for visual interest. By mixing warm and cool colors in a space, you may feel emotionally stable and welcomed by the balanced of color variations when entering the room.
To mix warm and cool colors in a neutral room, get to know the complementary colors on the color wheel. Here are some examples of how to mix warm and cool colors in various rooms:
- Blue/orange: Blue and orange are complementary colors on the color wheel. Pair a soft greenish-blue area rug (cool) with burnt orange (warm) accents. Add throw pillows with patterns that include greenish-blue and burnt orange colors. The pillows will tie in with the rug and the orange accents pop against a neutral sofa or walls to add a bit of color drama.
- Purple/yellow: Purple and yellow are complementary colors. Use eggplant (cool) and pale yellow (warm) for a subdued, but elegant combo in a bedroom or bath. For the bath with a neutral foundation of cream-colored ceramic tile, paint the walls a very light shade of yellow for a cheery glow. Add accents in eggplant colors, such as towels and wall hangings. A warm, wood-toned vanity ties all of the elements together.
- Purple/yellow variation: For a brighter bedroom, paint the walls a creamy white and dress the bed in creamy neutrals for a peaceful canvas. Add throw pillows in lemon yellow (warm) and raspberry (cool), using patterns or stripes of both colors. Toss in some solid raspberry throws for a strong accent. Or make a bold statement with a raspberry duvet cover and shams, accented with cream and a bit of lemon yellow in the throw pillows for warmth.
- Monochromatic cool: Go for a cool monochromatic vibe by using several shades of the same color along with a neutral. For example, use a liberal amount of various shades of blue as accents in an otherwise all-white bedroom. The result will be a quintessentially cool and peaceful space. Another example of a cool monochromatic look would be an all-white tiled bathroom accented by a pretty palette of all greens for a refreshing look.