Decorating with Complementary Colors

Last week, I talked about analogous color schemes. Here’s a quick refresher. There are multiple ways to use the color wheel (below) to create harmonious color schemes. Analogous schemes use colors next to each other on the color wheel. Monochromatic schemes use multiple shades of one color. Complementary color schemes use colors across from each other on the color wheel.

Do you know the saying “opposites attract?” That basically sums up complementary colors. They are good to use if you want to create some visual tension within a room. The two opposing colors play off each other just enough to keep things interesting. But, here’s where it gets a little tricky. There are actually multiple types of complementary color schemes.

Complementary Color Schemes

A regular complementary color schemes uses two colors opposite each other on the color wheel.


  • Red-Orange and Blue-Green (pictured)
  • Orange and Blue
  • Yellow-Orange and Blue-Violet
  • Yellow and Violet
  • Yellow-Green and Red-Violet
  • Green and Red
Complementary color diagram

Examples of Complementary Colors in Decorating

Bunny Williams living room with complementary colors

This living room, by Bunny Williams is a great example of Red | Green.

Designed by Katie Davis Design, this kitchen is an example of Blue | Orange.

Split Complementary Color Schemes

Strictly speaking, a split complementary scheme is a little different. Instead of using two colors, it uses three. Split complementary schemes use one color, plus two colors on either side of its complement.

Interior design is, of course, not as cut and dry as a color wheel. You’ll see this demonstrated in the example photos. The designs tend to be loose interpretations of split complementary color schemes.


  • Orange, Blue-Green, and Blue-Violet (pictured)
  • Yellow-Orange, Blue, and Violet
  • Yellow, Blue-Violet, and Red-Violet
  • Yellow-Green, Red, and Violet
  • Green, Red-Violet, and Red-Orange
  • Blue-Green, Red, and Orange
  • Blue, Red-Orange, and Yellow-Orange
  • Blue-Violet, Orange, and Yellow
  • Violet, Yellow-Orange, and Yellow-Green
  • Red-Violet, Yellow, and Green
  • Red, Yellow-Green, and Blue-Green
  • Red-Orange, Blue, and Green
Split complementary colors

Examples of Split Complementary Colors in Decorating

Designed by Ashley Whittaker, this sitting area is an example of Blue-Green | Blue-Violet | Orange.

Mark D. Sikes kitchen sitting area

I would consider this room, by Mark D. Sikes, an example of split complementary colors used in decorating. It’s a variation on Red-Orange | Blue | Green.

This dining area, designed by Furlow Gatewood, is another example of a split complementary color scheme. I would consider this an interpretation of Red | Blue-Green | Yellow-Green

Bunny Williams Living Room

By Bunny Williams, this living room is another take on Red-Orange | Blue | Green.

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