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Color Wheel from Paint Happy by ©Cristina Acosta

Complementary Colors – Tips and Ideas

Remember that opposites attract and you’ll start to get a grip on the concept of complementary colors.  But like any relationship of opposites, the passionate pop of togetherness can be festive and passionate or garish and out-of-control.

What exactly are complementary colors? Simply, they are colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel or color circle, a schematic that presents pigment colors in at the least, their primary and secondary relationships. Color circles or wheels dating to the 1700’s help artists and scientists visually understand the color experience (check this Wikipedia link). The complimentary colors opposite each other on the color wheel are pairs, for example: Red is opposite (complements) Green, Blue is opposite Orange, Yellow is opposite Violet. Science and history aside, here are some practical tips for using complementary colors in real life.

  • Follow the 80%-20% rule: Create dominance of one color over another by using  about 10%-20% of one complement against 80%-90% of the other complementary color. In the photos below, you can see how the red and green of the cup and grass change dominance due to their visual ratio. This is a 2-dimensional example that shows you how colors work in a contained area (print, painting, a computer or tv screen).
Green Dominates the Red Complementary Color
Green Dominates the Red Complementary Color
Red dominates the Green complementary color
Red dominates the Green complementary color










Choosing complementary colors for architectural spaces is a different challenge. When using complementary colors in a room or an area where multiple wall colors are visible from different vantage points, the percentages of color will vary with a person’s vantage point. My 80%-20% rule is a guideline, not a mandate, and like any design or art “rule,” can be broken successfully. As a architectural colorist I find that playing with the ratios of various colors is a exciting balancing act that shifts as you walk through a room or in and around a large architectural space.

Cascade Middle School Colors by Cristina Acosta, architectural colorist.
Cascade Middle School Colors by Cristina Acosta, architectural colorist. Note how the complementary colors of blue (turquoise) and orange balance each other.

For color consulting, contact colorist Cristina Acosta. 541-389-5711 [email protected]



Classic taupe and brown neutral wall colors © Cristina Acosta

Warm Gray Taupe Neutral Paint Colors are Calming and Serene

Three mushroom taupe neutral paint colors link the open plan master bedroom suite. Neutral colors can be “neutral” in several different tonal directions. This client’s master en suite bath is a selection of three mushroom taupe neutrals that coordinate beautifully as they merge within the architectural space of the room.

I specified Benjamin Moore Paint colors for this project. Areas of the master bath were open to the bedroom, so the color palette was used throughout the suite. The house is a large adobe style ranch house with contemporary and traditional accents. The color palette we developed for the entire home flowed beautifully in each wing of the home, changing moods with the rooms. It was a lovely project.

View From Master Bedroom into Bath with Rock Pillar and Wood Horse Sculpture:*

Ceiling of bedroom and Bathroom: Benjamin Moore, Whitall Brown HC-69, eggshell sheen.
Walls of Bedroom: Benjamin Moore, Jamesboro Gold HC-88, eggshell sheen.
Bathroom Walls: Benjamin Moore, Bear Creek 1470, eggshell sheen

*note: these particular colors are effective in this particular architectural environment. Test them before using them in your home.


Hire Cristina as your color expert for: Residential, commercial and institutional architectural projects. On site and remote projects welcome. Traveling is an additional option.