Using Complementary Colors like the Impressionists Did
1. Mutually Reinforcing ColorsAn adherent to Chevreul’s color theory would point out here that the plum accent pillows appear redder here than they would against, say, orange pillows, where they might look more purple. The argument is that all the green in this room casts its complement, red, onto those two lonely plum pillows. Whether you subscribe to the theory or not, it is undeniable that the wallpaper and overall color scheme do give this room an Impressionistic lilt, and each color seems to enhance the other.
2. Contrasting Dark with BrightWhile not an Impressionist painting in the nineteenth century French sense, the painting seems to have informed the designer’s color choice for the chair. Drawing out the yellow in the painting makes the deep indigo tones stand out more, while prioritizing the blue for the chair’s upholstery would have seemed to place the fiery oranges on center stage.
4. A Thoughtful Backdrop to ArtThis example from the same home is dear to my heart because, as an art lover, I’m always thrilled when homeowners and designers dare to paint their gallery walls something other than white. This balmy teal hallway pushes a complementary orange into relief and makes this painting stand out much more than it would have against a bland wall.
5. Intensity MattersI also love to use this photo as a lesson in the same principle of adding a dash of complementary color to put another color in relief. In this case, it’s the inverse of the previous photo: Using an orange tone to make a bluer tone stand out. Clear, bright colors were used in the previous Modern Impressionist project, but more complex, historic colors are privy to the same effect: It is recommended, though, to choose colors of a similar intensity, bright with bright and muted with muted.
6. Mixing Across a Tonal RangeWant your peach and salmon tones to veer more pink than orange? Consider pairing them with green instead of blue. Remember that according to that prominent color theorist, Chevreul, green casts complementary red onto hues under its umbrage, while blue casts orange. Blush, salmon, peach, or coral, though, you can’t go wrong with a palette of blues and greens that pop with sunset colors.
7. Simultaneous Contrast Colors Our PerceptionWhat’s not to love about this dynamic vortex of color. At first glance, the leaves in the wallpaper seem yellow, owing– if Chevreul is to be believed– to the purple sofa’s complementary cast. However, on closer inspection, they’re actually green, and not at all the same hue as the true yellow sky in the watercolor painting above the sofa. Why does it work to pull green, purple, and violet all together on one wall? It’s because of that yellow cast that melds the green and yellow together in the mind’s eye.
8. Coloring Natural HidesThe back of this banquette may very well be brown leather, but because of the way the lush greenery plays against it in the background, it appears distinctly red in tone. Whether this is simply an optical effect or a genuine reflection of the upholstery fabric’s color, it’s a tasteful pairing of two complements that can be deceivingly hard to get right.
9. Coloring Natural Wood GrainIt’s safe to say that this colorful painting would probably make a statement irrespective of the wall color behind it, but would the orange tone of the wood vanity? The question remains hypothetical because we have the pleasure of seeing how a periwinkle blue with just a touch of purple deftly displays the complementary orange and yellow tones present.
10. Two for TwoAgainst an ivory backdrop, this sunflower painting risks being overpowered by the bold blue diamond ikat of the rug, but thanks to a savvy designer who pulled that yellow down and positioned it in front of the blue fireplace as a pillow, the yellow painted flowers remain an integral part of the spectacle.
12. Mixing Color and TemperatureFinally, mixing colors is all about having fun, so if you’re experimenting with wall color, get out an easel and do your brainstorming by mixing up some paint samples until you hit on just the right shade and proportion. Maybe you’ll find you’re drawn to bright, saturated hues like Van Gogh and Gauguin, or maybe you gravitate toward Monet’s pastels. Maybe you’ll go chic and sophisticated as designer Franck Renoir does here, mixing color and temperature in the form of a very cool gray-blue with warm amber tones. The sky truly is the limit!