Complementary and Split Complementary colour schemes are ideal for creating an interior scheme that is pleasing to the eye. There is a whole bunch of science behind this, to do with the way the cells in our eye that are responsible for our colour vision perceive different colours of light. If you’d like to read more about the science behind complementary and split complementary colour schemes and why they work, here is a good starting place. I’ve written a little break down on what complementary and split complementary colour schemes are below, and have provided a few tips on how to best use them in your home. This is a pretty in depth topic, so I would definitely recommend further reading if you’re interested, and have added some links at the bottom.

Complementary Colour Scheme     


These colours sit opposite each other on the Colour Wheel. They have no ingredients in common, and any pair of complementary colours contains all three primary colours. Used together these colours intensify each other, making each colour pop. Colour schemes based on complementary colours create a stimulating effect. If the desired result is to be more subdued, complements should be used in lower intensities, or one should be of higher value than the other.

Tips for creating a complementary colour scheme

  • Create balance by using two colours in equal parts. The effect of this can be relatively soothing as neither colour dominates. 
  • Play with variations by using different of shades and intensities of the pure hues, for example by pairing peach and peacock, or adding pops of coral to a soft sage room. 
  • Use colours found in the local environment. Colours readily found in the local environment, such as the tones and shades of the sea and sand are ideally suited to homes near bodies of water and beaches, hence the ‘beachy’ colour palette so often found in Northland homes.
  • Add or subtract. Introducing one or two pieces of each of the complementary colours that you have chosen into a monochromatic room can be a good way to start playing around with a complementary colour scheme. A natural palette will town down a colour scheme.
  • Colour-block for boldness. Complementary colours can be particularly dynamic together when offered in equal parts, since they play up each other’s intensity. 
  • Break it up with pattern. For example, a bedhead that is wallpapered in a green botanical print makes a wonderful backdrop for popping pink euro pillows.


Split Complementary Colour Scheme

A split complementary scheme  involves the use of three colors.  In this colour scheme one primary colour and two secondary colours are used. Start with the primary colour and find its complement. The two secondary colours are taken from equal distance away from the complement. For example, the complement of yellow is purple, and the two colours on either side of that are red/purple and blue/purple. Any shade, tint or tone of these three colors can be used when developing your color scheme. Split complementary color schemes have the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but has less pressure on the eye of the user.  In this colour scheme there is a combination of either one warm and two cool colours or vice versa, which generally allows for a better balance between warmth and cold than with a complementary colour scheme.

Tips for creating a split complementary colour scheme

  • The primary colour is generally used as the main colour, while the two secondary colours can be used as accent colours or highlights. 
  • Choose a more muted shade for your primary colour and then go bold with your other two shades in the room’s accent pieces.
  • Various monochromatic shades of all three colours can be used.
  • The key to this scheme is the distance between the shades of the two accent colours. The closer they are to the secondary colour the more similar it will be to a full complementary scheme, however once all three colours are distributed at equal distances around the colour wheel it moves to a Triadic colour scheme.

There are a ton of really interesting and informative articles about complimentary and split complimentary colour schemes available on line. I’ve added some links below to get you started.

Here is a great article by Apartment Therapy about Complimentary colour schemes and how to get great results using them in your home.

This article by Medium has some great examples on ways to use complementary colours.

Am loving these examples of split complementary colours being used in home decor.

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