If you’ve ever sighed over a picture of a room on the cover of a magazine because it was just soooo beautiful, you may have thought:
“How did they do that? I could never do that!”
What many readers of those magazines don’t know is that the luscious harmony of color isn’t a product of artistic genius or even years of schooling or design experience.
Much of it comes from following a little-known secret of the interior design trade called “The 60-30-10 Rule.”
Simply put, the rule goes like this: Take the surface area of any room, counting ceiling, walls and floor, and make 60 percent of it a dominant color. Allot 30 percent to a secondary color, and 10 percent to an accent color that catches the eye.
Though that’s not all there is to know about color theory, which is a lot more complex, interior designers start with the rule all the time, says Sue Hoaglund, designer and owner of Decorating Den in Fort Wayne.
Hoaglund says she often goes back to the rule when she begins a project.
“Do I actually sit down and figure out the square footage and figure out the percentage and say, ‘I’m off by 2 percent?’ … No,” she says.
But, the rule helps to organize a space and “understand why a room works,” she adds.
Sara Kruger, owner of Sara Bella Home Staging and Design in Fort Wayne isn’t a big fan of rules in general. “I’m one to not follow rules necessarily,” she says. “Rooms are like people. You just can’t apply rules to them. They’re individuals and they all have different needs.”
But 60-30-10 is “something I just do instinctively,” she says.
The result of applying the rule can mean a refreshing change when she’s asked to stage a house for someone trying to sell.
“There’s just so much visual chaos when I go into homes to prepare them to sell,” Kruger says, adding that’s what happens when people have a lot of items of different colors competing.
“There’s so much paring down and simplifying that has to happen – the less is more theory,” she says.
That goes for colors as well.
“Once they’ve pared down, people often love it, and they want their next house that way.”
Holly Linna of Choice Designs Inc. in Fort Wayne recently used the rule, slightly modified, in a client’s dining room.
“We used neutrals – taupe and deeper browns – for the dominant, green for the secondary, and for the 10 percent, we used black,” she explains.
The room played out this way: Walls and a tile floor with a cobblestone look were in the beige family, while green was used for upholstery and drapes.
The black was used on a chair railing and crown molding, while little touches of orange and red also appeared as accents
“It came together very well,” says Linna, 24, a graduate of the interior design program at Indiana Wesleyan University, where the rule was part of what she was taught.
“You wouldn’t think about it (making a difference), but it does make sense when you think about it,” she says.
“It’s been researched, what proportions people react to, and that different colors have different effects.”
Linna says there are several circumstances when she’d likely deviate from the rule.
One would be for a big space, such as a great room. In that case, she says, she might add a fourth or even a fifth color as an accent, or perhaps split the primary or secondary color into two shades or tones.
Another time not to heed the rule would be period-appropriate décor, such as for a Victorian look, she says. That era featured many colors used together; scholars say it was partly from enthusiasm for new paint and fabric manufacturing techniques.
Still another time to break 60-30-10 might be a child’s room with several bright primary or pastel colors in service of a theme, Linna says. And, a very formal room might call for a virtually monochromatic scheme using several related neutrals and perhaps only one accent color, she says.
For the dining room, Linna says, she started with the colors in a Tiffany-style lampshade – an approach that Hoaglund also endorses.
Starting with an inspiration piece, a piece of art, a patterned rug, or even dishes or plates, helps in choosing colors for a whole room, she says.
“Artists often have a good sense of what goes together well,” she says.
The inspiration piece can become the focal point of the room and cuts down the visual stress of wading through the overwhelming number of paint colors consumers face today, she says.
While people should paint a room first when redecorating, Linna says, they need to choose their wall color last.
People also might want to consider the outdoors as a source of inspiration, Hoaglund points out.
For example, there might be large windows with a view of green trees or a blue lake. Those colors can actually become part of the 60-30-10 scheme.
Kruger says today’s decorating usually relies on neutrals as the dominant color for the public rooms of a house. Often that’s to help with resale, she says.
But other aspects of a room should be taken into account for choosing a dominant color, Kruger adds, including the effect of artificial light and sunlight, and how residents want the room to make them feel.
Warm colors, such as yellows, oranges, red and bright purple generally lend a room energy, she says, while greens, grays and blues, all cooler tones, feel calming and serene.
In designing a room, the 60-30-10 rule isn’t the last word about color, Kruger says. Designers also consider tone or shade and intensity of color, as well as placement on the color wheel, she says. Closely related colors (yellow-orange-red) and opposite colors (red/green or blue/orange) are often used within a 60-30-10 scheme.
Hoaglund notes that 60-30-10 schemes that are currently popular include grays for the 60 percent (typically on walls and/or flooring), creamy neutrals for the 30 percent, and yellow, tangerine or deep turquoise for the 10 percent.
Dominant tans mixed with deep brown and blue – clear blues and aquas, “not the Wedgewood blue of the 80s,” are also holding sway, she says.
Dominant cream mixed with sage green as a secondary color and slate-blue accents is another scheme trending in rooms seeking a serene vibe such as a master bedroom or bath.
But, “As soon as somebody says, ‘This is a hard and fast rule,’ … someone will show you a room that’s just beautiful and doesn’t follow the rule,” she says.
Still, Hoaglund adds, “Color is going to make the biggest impact in a room. But it’s like people say – ‘Rules are meant to be broken.’ ”