• how to pick the perfect colour palette

    Originally published on the Urban Barn blog. See original post here.

    Hi everyone, it’s Madison here – resident Design Lead at Urban Barn, and style fanatic. You might remember me from a few posts here and there last year, but if not – nice to meet you! I’m going to be taking over the blog today to tackle what I’m going to call the beginning of Project Spring – a three part installment coming your way over the next few weeks! Ready?

    Today, we’re talking about colour. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this is an issue that many people struggle with, but few think they do! It’s really easy to pick an accent colour and throw it into your space in a few different ways, but what’s challenging to do is to create a well-rounded colour palette that doesn’t look too “matchy-matchy”. So, with that – as I’ve possibly insulted some of you – let’s get on with it (ha!): 

    Step 1:
    Start with ONE colour you love.

    It’s surprisingly easy to pick this colour – you just need to look inside your closet! If you’re like me, and your wardrobe is basically only black then just ignore that tip – and maybe look to some of your accessories: a great pair of shoes, earrings or a scarf that you love. Look to things you love that look good ON you for inspiration. Just think about your “go-to” colours. 

    We’re going to use my living room for this exercise, so for me, that colour is this shade of darker teal:

    Step 2:
    You’re going to need to add dimensions.

    Just like you don’t want your hair to be one flat shade after getting it done, you’re going to want to add some highlights and lowlights to your space to give it a bit more dimension. You don’t have to worry too much about where to get them from, these are going to be neighbouring colours to your base tone. Since my main colour is a dark teal, I am going to pick other blues to help balance out the tone.

    Once you’ve established what your high and low light colours are in your palette, you’ve set a strong foundation. This will keep you grounded as the trends come in and go out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ALL about trends, BUT, it can be a challenge to bring them into your home without it looking like a disorganised mish-mash if you don’t have this foundation nailed down.

    With that in mind, here is my updated palette, with my base colour and high and low lights:

    Step 3:
    You’ve got to WARM it up and COOL it down.

    To create a well-rounded palette, you need to incorporate cool tones AND warm tones to the foundation you’ve already set. In my eyes, this is the MOST crucial step that people forget. I’ll use an example of the colour red.

    Red is often used as an “accent colour” and people will use various yellows, oranges, warm woods, warm toned tiles and caramel leathers to surround it. I get it – it makes sense – maybe you’re looking at a colour wheel, you’re picking things in the same family that match side by side and it all “goes”. BUT, what can end up happening with all of those colours together, is that your room becomes a giant fireball. 

    If you’re nodding in agreement, and you’re asking your computer screen, “but how do I know if it’s a warm or cold colour?!?”, I’m here to help:

    When it comes to warm vs. cold, I’m naturally drawn to cooler tones – I love the fresh and airy feeling that cooler colours bring to a space, so for me, the hardest part is bringing in those warm tones. 

    When we look at my example palette, we can see that I’m going to need to bring in some warmer tones here. Otherwise, the space is going to look a little stark and uninviting. I’m not typically attracted to linen tones or to browns, which are often used to warm up a space, but there are other ways to do it. I like to incorporate warmer woods like teak or oak and add a warm metallic like brass to turn up the temperature. 

    Check out where we’re at now:

    Step 4:
    Choose an Accent Colour.

    This is the colour that has a bit more flexibility than the rest of your palette. Earlier, when we were talking about trends, THIS is where you can bring in and out that trendy seasonal colour. This one really doesn’t need to be a choice that takes too long. Something you wear, something you like – something that adds a little fun and interest to your room! 

    One note I do want to make about this accent colour is that this vibrancy of this colour should really match your personality. For me, my personal design style is minimalist with a hint of bohemian – it’s not QUITE as weird as it sounds, ha! My mind is constantly busy, and I spend most of my days working pretty closely with colour so I like my home to be a bit more on the neutral/calm side. It helps me relax and shut off at the end of the day and spend time with the important people in my life. With that said, my accent colour ends up being pretty quiet. I bring it in through fresh flowers, artwork, trays, little things I can bring in and out – instead of the larger pieces. If you’re more energetic, and have a bigger personality then go for it; buy a statement piece in that colour. Of course, this is not the colour bible, these are just suggestions and considerations. 

    A good rule of thumb is more color, more contrast = the busier it gets.

    But, at the moment (and let’s be real, always) I’m into mossy green. I just bought a new pair of pointy toe slingback flats in that colour, and I just can’t get enough. I’m a redhead and I’ve heard that this is MY colour – I believe it too! So, I’ve selected that as my new accent colour. Here is where the palette ended up:

    What I will say about where we are now is that you don’t want to be TOO rigid on this palette as you start to collect items for your space. Of course, we’ve defined our base colour, our highlight and our lowlight, our warm tones and our accent colour, BUT what will really bring the space together and reflect your personality is mixing all of these colours together and bringing in different shades of this palette throughout the room. If anything, I hope this exercise in creating a palette has helped you to feel MORE free, not more nervous about bringing items into your home. And if I could offer any advice at this stage, it would be: “don’t worry about being too matchy-matchy!”

    Everyone is drawn to different kinds of décor, so every home will be different – and frankly, they should be! That’s what makes it fun!

    Remember that your space should tell YOUR story and share little details about your life. If you are a reader, a lounger, a homebody like me, then your space should give off that vibe. It’s probably not the best idea to bring in tonnes of neons, or edgy pieces if you want to relax in your space, but if you’re an entertainer, an extrovert who is the life of the party, then bring it on. Your space can help communicate for you! Try new things, bring home pieces that catch your eye, plop them down in your space, take a minute to reflect on them and take a photo and edit! Ask yourself, if this was on Pinterest, would you stop and take the time to re-pin it?

    Just to bring some context to my colour palette, I’ve recreated my actual living room here for you to see how I did it. As I mentioned previously, I am more of a neutral gal, so my accent colour is kind of quiet – but it’s still there! I prefer to have a tiny pop, because in reality strong “accent colours” aren’t very me. My wardrobe is full of neutrals and I like my accessories like that too. I picked an accent that was still “safe” with my foundation for a bit more of a restful vibe. So, with that lengthy explanation, here you are:


    Now, I know you’re thinking that this is A LOT of information and that it’s all fine and dandy, but how do you really put it into practice? We’re going to do a quick one together! This time, with a totally different palette.

    Since we’ve been through the steps, we’ll just start the end:

    So, as you can see above we’ve got a base colour of what I will dare call “Millennial Pink” which is almost a completely neutral colour in tone. While pink is usually a warmer colour, this one has almost a grey undertone. So to work with that, we’ve got a warm low light and a warm high light. Whoever lives in this room is into suede, cooler metallics, and marble with a warmer veining (the lines in the marble is more beige rather than grey). They like everything “just so”. This is a person who carefully picks their accessories to match their outfit. They’ve got a great pair of shoes for every occasion! Sound like someone you know? I’ve got a friend in mind!

    Here is where we ended up:


    Hopefully, this made a bit of sense! If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. What kind of colour palette do you have? Any advice that I missed? Let me know!

    Stay tuned for our next segment of Project Spring: Accessorizing for Your Style!

    See you then!