Color Guide: How to Work With Colors

Main colors — blue, black, yellow and red — are the bases of the rest of the colours (white and black help with tone and value). But they are not as common in interior design than their derivatives. You see a lot of light yellow and different shades of blue; a ton of green. However, you don’t see as much of the true shades.

This could be because main colors in their true forms are often related to youth and a floor covered in toys. But there isn’t any reason they have to be babyish. Merely ask Mondrian or even Mirรณ. Main colors are the colors of modern art, comic books and pop art.

Main colors have major impact, especially when they’re used together. They’re clear, straightforward and bold. You often see them blended with geometric shapes in modern design. But they are ordinarily utilized in small doses — a painting here, a chair there — or in more muted derivations, like light blue, turquoise, pinks and burgundies.

In modern design, primaries go nicely with vivid gray and white tones. But in other styles they could go a bit more crazy. You see them sometimes in richly stained rugs.

Below are a few rooms that go out — main colours or bust — and a few that are somewhat more meditations on an issue, with a lot of space for interpretation. All of them are brave and beautiful in their own way.

Sharon Portnoy Design


This modern concrete facade looks like a Mondrian painting. The primary color cubes lighten up what could look a small Soviet if left unpainted.

Castanes Architects PS

The geometric panels of main colors (plus orange) shine on this modern neutral home in its vast, neutral landscape.

Landon Bone Baker Architects

A distinctly modern and vivid take on the cabin-in-the-woods look. The main colors give the home an artistic appearance.

Domiteaux + Baggett Architects, PLLC

Authentic Primaries

Small regions of true yellow and red hot up a huge space and bring out the color in the wood flooring and also the area rug. This is a great illustration of how primary colours do not have to be starkly modern or playroom chaotic.

CWB Architects

I really like the small touches of main colors in this area, all complemented by the blue chair. The appearance is striking and subtle.

Morse Constructions Inc..

They’re here, but they’re not taking over the space. Rather the red, yellow and blue blend into the remainder of the warm decor.

Spaces Produced, Interior Design Studio, LLC

This diverse room has traditional elements, like the blue wingback chairs, paired with modern elements, like the geometric shape of this room and window. It also expands the use of primary colors by including the orange and turquoise painting.

Landing Design

I like this chair.

Marina Rubina, Architect

A very modern usage of primary colours. Vibrant white sets it all off, so each piece is a little burst of color.

Webber + Studio, Architects

Primaries in their most comfortable: Exotic, spare and modern.

Sarah Ames

Variations on a Theme

The main colors in this painting are highlighted by the primary-colored accessories and publications on the table beneath.

Jill Sorensen

This brave room is mostly about primary colours, but the decorator has added green and pink and pattern and… wow.

Lucy McLintic

A mellower take about the primary-colored kids’ room. Still vivid but slightly subtler than true primaries.

Kristen Rivoli Interior Design

Geometric shapes, vivid white, but not quite primary colours. The effect is comparable but softer.

Amitzi Architects

This diverse room is indeed gorgeous. The primary colours are nearly hidden in artwork and carpets and that one little strip of crimson on the bookcase. But they’re there, in all their trendy glory.

Another beautiful, eclectic take on primary colours.

A pop artwork dream area. Some true primaries, some muted versions, but “Pow!

All 1 Color

When primary colors are about the walls, they generally go solo. This saturated blue is both modern and Mediterranean. And bright yellow canvas is the perfect punch. Notice how everything is extremely straightforward.

Kendall Wilkinson Design

Vibrant yellow walls. Red chairs. Need I say more?

Marie Burgos Design

Red is probably the most popular primary to appear on walls.

Benjamin Moore Marine Blue 2059-10 Paint – $35.95

Authentic blue but a bit darker than main.


Commodore (SW 6524)

Just a little brighter.

Benjamin Moore Ben Paint, Blue Danube 2062-30 – $35.95

Brighter still. Every one these can read as primary blue in the ideal setting.

Guides to using blues

West Elm

Benjamin Moore Ben Paint, Sun Kissed Yellow – $35.95

Vibrant, zingy yellow.

Color Guide: How to Use Bright Yellow


Funky Yellow SW6913 Paint

A much greener yellowish.


Sunrise SW6668 Paint

A mellower, orangey yellow.

Benjamin Moore

Tomato Tango CSP-1145 Paint

A very orangey red that can read as main on a wall.

Color Guide: How to Use Red

Benjamin Moore

Flamenco CSP-1195 Paint

A darker, bluer reddish. It is going to also read as a main red.


Rave Red 6608 Paint

Something Between. A true primary, perhaps?

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