Can You Mix Warm And Cool Colors In Decor?

Discover the art and science of harmoniously blending warm and cool colors in your home decor to create attractive, interesting, and balanced decor.

This is such an important question for every home decorator to answer. The short answer is yes, you can mix warm and cool colors in decor. But the trick is knowing how. Let’s talk about how to mix warm and cool color and get it right!

We should back way up because there is a back story to mixing warm and cool colors when we decorate.

First of all, there are a few things you need to know and understand about warm and cool colors. And when you learn these things, your decorating will look so pretty because of it!

Let’s dig right in…



A color wheel is a sophisticated tool that arranges colors in a circular format, depicting the various relationships between different hues.

For this post, I’m using the color wheel to illustrate two important things…

  • the warm colors on the color wheel
  • and the cool colors on the color wheel

The color wheel is basically broken down into warm and cool colors.

A great example in nature of a warm and cool color spectrum is a rainbow.


Purple and violet are created by blending the cool tone of blue with the warm tone of red. Although these colors lean towards the cool side of the color wheel, if a sufficient amount of red is added, violet can be perceived as warm. For our purposes today, we are considering violet to be a cool color.


The right side of the color wheel is where the warm colors live.


Colors like red, orange, and yellow are all warm. Neutrals like beige and tan are cool shades. I’ll explain later.


Warm colors often evoke a cozy and comforting mood.


Cool colors live on the left side of the color wheel.


Colors like purple, blue, and green are all cool colors. Gray is often but not always a cool shade. I’ll talk about that later too.


Cool colors tend to make us feel relaxed and serene. They are crisp and clean.

It’s important to remember that each color has a different effect on our emotions and reactions. Each color possesses a unique ability to evoke different moods and feelings within us.

Basic Color Info To Know

It’s important to know what colors in their most pure, saturated form are either warm or cool.

Here’s something interesting you probably already know…

Red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors, and all colors on the color wheel are created by mixing red, blue, and yellow together.

White is a mix of all colors. And black is the absence of color. Just so you know.

Are you with me so far?


Every color has a mass tone and an undertone.

Understanding these terms, you will start to crack the color decorating code! And it will help you mix warm and cool colors when you decorate!

Once you grasp these concepts, you’ll begin to unravel the color decorating code! This understanding will enable you to skillfully combine warm and cool colors when you decorate.


A mass tone is the first color you see when you look at a color.

Here’s an example

Without any thought, say the color of the blocks below…


Going from top left to bottom right, you might say blue, blue, red, pink, yellow, yellow.

The first color you see is the MASS TONE.

Most of us who are not color blind can easily see mass tones. They are easy to figure out most of the time. Maybe the pink and light yellow are a bit harder. So if you said red or beige, you are still right!

We can figure out whether a color is warm or cool by looking at its mass tone.


While mass tones are easy to see, undertones are not often apparent at first glance. And even with a bit of inspection, they can still be hard to figure out.

These undertones can be especially difficult to ferret out when working with neutrals and whites. But that is for another post.

Since all colors are made by combining red, blue, and yellow, the ratio of the colors mixed together to make a new color becomes very important.

Stay with me. Let’s take blue, for example…


The bar going horizontally across the top blocks of the infographic is true primary blue.

In the top bar, a weak saturation of green (cool color) was laid over the primary blue. See how adding a little green undertone to blue changes its color?

And I did the same, using yellow. A weak saturation of yellow was laid over the primary blue color to produce a warmer shade of blue.

The bottom two blocks show how undertones of warm and cool colors have huge effects on primary blue. This is true for any color.

Undertones are major players when it comes to creating color. Blue is still a cool color no matter what the undertones are, but the undertones can make blue feel a little warmer or cooler.

With a little practice, you can figure out the warm or cool undertones of any color. This is so important to know if you want to decorate with both warm and cool colors in your home.


Color theory plays a vital role in the beauty and cohesive look of a room.

 Selecting harmonious colors that complement each other rather than clash is very important. If you find that your room isn’t achieving the desired cohesive look you want, the likely culprit is the conflicting undertones that are at odds with one another.

Here’s an easy way to see what the undertones in a color are.

To find the undertones in a color hold it up to its mass tone. The truest red, yellow, blue, green, or purple. Think of the truest of these colors in a box of crayons.


You should be able to see what colors are hiding under the mass tone? Are they warm or cool?


The center colors in the infographic above are mass tones for blue, green, and red. The left color blocks are warmer because they have a warm undertone. This moves the mass tone to the warmer side of the color spectrum.

The color blocks on the right side of the infographic have cooler undertones added to the center mass tone color. And that moves the colors on the right side to the cooler side of the color spectrum.

But remember, a cool color will always be cool, and a warm color will always be warm no matter what undertone is added to them.

Look at the red blocks…

The more yellow (warm color) added to the mass tone red, the warmer it looks. If we added even more yellow, this red will eventually turn orange.

The more blue (cool color) added to the mass tone red, the more magenta and eventually purple it will become.

Can You Mix Warm And Cool Colors When Decorating?


This is THE BIG question!

The answer is a resounding YES! However, knowing the right mix is crucial.

Combining warm and cool colors in a room keeps the room interesting, but you will want to strike a balance between the two.

Here’s an easy way to mix warm and cool colors so a room is interesting…


This is a super easy way to mix warm and cool colors. It is not detailed or does not go into color theory in depth, but it is a good rule of thumb for the home decorator.

Your walls and big items in your room should all be warm or cool. Don’t mix these unless you have a trained eye or are a color theory savant!

I hear from so many readers saying, “Something is not right” with a room. I ask them if they considered undertones when they decorated? No matter what decor we bring into a room, we should always consider undertones! And the first undertones to consider are the paint we put on the walls in a room and the undertones of the big items in it.

My home is full of warm-toned neutrals and creamy whites. All the walls (paint colors) and foundation furnishings also have warm tones. So my mass tones and undertones all work together!

Mixing In Opposite Undertones

Once all the big items in a room are happily working together, it is now time to add a bit of interest and some good tension to a room by adding in a bit of the opposite undertone.


Decorating with a small amount of opposite undertones creates interest in a room. Adding both warm and cool colors creates this fantastic thing called tension!

Think of a violin. When the tension on the strings is just right, the strings play a beautiful song! When the tension on the strings is too tight or too loose and just not right, a violin sounds squeaky and out of tune.

Same in decorating. We need to strike the right tension between warm and cool colors and undertones to create beauty too! When warm and cool colors are not balanced in a room, the room seems “off”. That beautiful balance is called tension. And tension creates interest and drama.

Here’s another rule of thumb to help get the mix of warm and cool colors in a room…

The 80/20 Rule

When mixing warm and cool colors in a room, strike a beautiful balance using 80% of warm or cool colors and 20 % of the other.

My favorite way to do this is to add a mix of warm and cool pillows to my sofas or chairs. Another way to mix undertones is through accent chairs and accessories.

This little stylized floral chair is a great example of cool and warm colors mixing together to create a nice balance.


It is such a versatile chair that it has found a home in a couple bedrooms, my office, and my sunroom. It has just enough warmed-up gray (remember that gray is still a cool color no matter how warmed up it is) to make all the warm tones in my home come alive!

Personally, I find it challenging to live with gray when it dominates a room as the primary color. Its cool and impersonal nature doesn’t resonate well with me. This highlights how color can have a profound impact on our emotions and experiences. Nevertheless, I’ve discovered that a warmed-up gray works wonderfully as an accent color in my warm-toned home. It adds just enough tension to make the room more interesting.

A great example of this warm/cool tone balance is in our living room.


This area of my living room is filled with warm tones. To introduce tension and contrast, I incorporated a blue/gray pillow. While the blue hue in the pillow remains cool, it has subtle warm undertones, referred to as a “muddy blue” in decorating terminology. Surprisingly, this cool-toned pillow looks beautifully with the warm tones in my living room, creating an interesting, balanced aesthetic.

Practice Finding Undertones In Your Home


When a room in your home seems “off” but you don’t know why it might be the undertones! They play a very big role in creating beauty, interest, and cohesiveness in any room in your home.

So practice finding the mass tone and the undertones in your furnishings. And follow all these easy tips for creating harmony and beauty in your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a warm color scheme and a cool color scheme in interior design?

Look at a color wheel, like the one at the beginning of this post, for an easy visual. Colors like red, burgundy, yellow, orange, brown, beige, brown, cognac, cream, and warm neutrals are warm colors and are part of a warm color palette. Colors like blue, navy, violet, deep purple, green, gray, and other cool shades are part of a cool color palette.

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  1. Thank you for all the information. That was a lot of work to present.

      1. Love your post!!!! There is always so much info in them. All of your decorating tips seem so simple, when you break them down. Thank you!! Also, your recipes are delicious!!!!

  2. Christy H says:

    Can you remind me where your chair came from? I know you have talked about it before but I wasn’t in the market for one till now. I love the gray and neutrals in the print. Thank you.

  3. Thank you so much, this was super helpful! I love your blog!

  4. Thanks, Yvonne. Repainting the main living area is on our to do list. My couch is cream colored and wood tones are warm. Does that mean I need to use a warm paint color on the walls? I was hoping to go cooler, even white, in order to neutralize the warm tones. Just want to be rid of yellow undertones.

    1. You can certainly paint your walls white. Our whole house is white but it is a soft white. It appears white but it actually has some yellow undertones. Just stay away from white paint with gray or green undertones. Hope this helps.

      1. Yes. Thank you so much.

  5. Thanks for your post to explain this all. I never really thought too much about this before. One question I have – if walls are creamy white, what do you think of black color with them? For example – if your table top was black? Would those colors look good with each other?

    1. Black can also be warm or cool. But mostly black will work with both cool and warm colors. Just don’t overdo black. A little goes a long way unless you like very dramatic decor.

  6. Wow! That was so helpful!! Thank you!! Now If only I could grasp this concept ??

    1. I know and I gave you a very simple version of this concept. Color is really a big big far reaching thing and it is not easy!!!! But I hope this post helps.

      1. Megan Harpring says:

        It did! And those curtains behind that chair? MmMMM! Them are Fabulous!!

      2. Please tell us about the curtains behind the chair and the source. Absolutely love them.

  7. What a great tutorial on warm and cool colors! It was so helpful. Part of choosing colors is intuitive for me, but not entirely. ;). Now I understand my issue when colors aren’t playing nice with each other

    1. Yes, color can be very intuitive… until it’s not! Right? Knowing about undertones makes a big difference.

  8. Thanks for this tutorial. Your posts are always helpful. Do you have the source fir the rug that’s under the stylized floral chair?

  9. Undertones!! I think this is the missing piece of the puzzle for me. Thank you for this info and for explaining it in a way that is easy to understand. Choosing color can be such a challenge at times!

    1. I’m so glad this is helpful Theresa! Yes, undertones are so important. And color is a very complex and wonderful thing!

  10. Yvonne that was hands down the best explanation on how to tell the difference between warm and cool colors. I work as a framer and am always trying to figure out the different mat colors in relation to the artwork. Thanks so much for this easy explanation that I’ll be able to apply to work and to my home. Pinning.

  11. Wonderful tutorial! I learned a lot about warm and cool colors when shopping for white paint for the interior of my home this fall. I had no idea white wasn’t “just” white! I still don’t have all of the color wheel concepts figured out, but your tutorial answered a lot of my questions. I know it’s not easy to find a simple way to explain the color wheel in a short post, but you packed in a lot of great information! Thank you for helping others create beautiful homes of their own! ~Kristi

    1. Thanks, Kristi! How sweet! Yes, color is a very complex concept. But as home decorators, we can learn the basics to create beauty and harmony in our homes!

  12. Great explanation!

    My new home has warm toned orange stain oak floors. My sectional is a cool gray . Should I go warm or cool for the wall tone?

    1. Great question. I too have oak floors and they will have to stay that way. It really depends on how dirty or muted the gray sectional is. I’d put a large cool toned rug on the floor and go a neutral white for the walls. Hope this helps.

  13. Thank you! This is the best source I’ve been able to find on how to utilize both warm and cool colors in decor! You explained it very well!

    1. Thank you so much Elissah!I think if more home decorators knew about warm and cool colors and how to mix them they would find decorating much easier.

    2. Sandra Hood says:

      My headboard is a mid tone dove grey and bedroom furniture a lighter painted dove grey with warm oak tops. If i was chosing between grey or taupe/ beige curtains what would ypou recommend? I would prefer to have a ligjt beige tone paint on walls if this would work?
      Many thanks Sandra

  14. I bought a cream sofa but in the evening with the lighting it looks like a cool light gray. My walls are darker, like a warm goldish beige with Venetian plaster. We don’t want to change the walls or sofa. What do you suggest?

    1. I would add pillows that work with both colors. And add a light beige throw. Play around with the colors of your pillows to find ones that create a bridge between the wall and sofa color. Also, you might think about changing the color of your lightbulbs. Hope this is helpful.

  15. Help! I had my kitchen cabinets painted Ben Moore Nimbus, which has very strong blue undertones. Sometimes they even look purple along the bottom next to the floor. I can’t have them repainted. Is there anything I can do ( wall color, etc) to tone down the blue? I really wanted just a nice greige. Im miserable with this color!

    1. Oh, Denise, I feel your pain! There is NOTHING you can do that will cancel out the blue/purple tones enough to make a difference.Oh, I am so so sorry! You need to have them repainted. You won’t be happy until you do. Bless your heart! I wish I could give you a big hug!

  16. Crystal Miller says:

    Thank you! This was awesome. I have been trying to learn about colors and this is the first time I have “gotten” it; at least a little bit. I want to paint my living room soon and I appreciate all the information. I am also going to be looking for a new sofa so I believe I should be looking for a warm undertone as my hardwood floor is yellowish birch?

    1. Yay! I’m so happy this is helpful! Make sure to get samples of the sofa fabric to take home and look at them in your homes lighting and with the color of your floors and walls.

  17. Where did you purchase your curtains

  18. Peggy Summitt says:

    I have always loved the paint in your homes…I have woodwork that is Antique White from Sherwin Williams and my walls are Hopsack ( a paper bag/ caramel looking color) and Kilim Beige on the ceilings…I can’t change the woodwork to white as much as I would love to because my blinds and bath fixtures etc are all the bisque or cream color…How would you suggest I could use beige on the walls and ceilings? Is there a beige that would work with Antique White?

    1. Hi Peggy, if I were you I would paint my ceilings white. That would make your room look crips. Antique white is a pretty creamy color that has a bit of yellow undertones. I think a warm white on your walls would be beautiful. Because your woodwork is beige I would not put another beige on my walls. Paint your walls a soft white also with a tad of yellow undertones.

  19. Beautiful! Your designs are amazing. Can you share where you purchased your wooden floor lamp? Thank you

  20. Adele Britt says:

    I am stuck. The tutorial was super helpful but I’m still not sure what to do. My living room is presently a light tan color that opens into my kitchen/dining room that is “warm” blue with off-white (not yellowish) cabinets. I want to paint my living room and was leaning towards gray. But it’s just not working out. I’ve tried 3 different shades—the first was too blue. The 2nd (which I thought was going to be more of a greige) kind of looks purple. The 3rd is the gray my daughter picked out for her room and looks great for her space. Luckily, I only painted large splotches in different spots to see how it blends when you look into the kitchen. I’m not impressed. Should I just go back to another light tan or off white? (my wannabe teenage designer daughter thinks it is passé) Right now my furniture is brown but that will definitely be changing (not sure to what yet). I just wanted to get the walls done first.

  21. Thank you for this post! I am in the process of choosing flooring, cabinets, countertops, backsplash, and paint color for a new home and I am so afraid of getting this wrong! For the paint color, the builder uses Kelly Moore Swiss Coffee for the whole house. I can upgrade the wall color and the one the designer suggested was Feather Stone. I will have white cabinets, dark floor, light and grey countertops. I am scared the Feather Stone is too warm and could clash with white cabinets/white and grey countertops but you said above that a grey wall paint would not feel good to you (and I agree). Do you think it would be better to stick with Swiss Coffee for ceiling, walls and trim or go with Feather Stone for the walls? Thanks for your feedback!

    1. Goodness, that is a very heavy question! I really am not very familiar with those paints so I don’t want to say. My best advice is to be very careful about the undertones. And get a sample of the countertop. I did that and thank goodness! The countertop I originally picked did not work with my cabinets. How exciting to have a new kitchen!

  22. Hi! Just found your blog and this post has been so helpful! In my living room I just got a new rug and it is a warm toned beige and ivory, but it is making the couch (grey/white) look way too cool toned. Is it possible to warm up the couch with pillows or will it always clash?

    Thanks again for the post!

    1. You can warm up a cool sofa with warm tone pillows. Just make sure there is a little bit of the color of the cool sofa in them too. Hope this is helpful.

  23. I recently replaced my Formica countertops with granite. I didn’t feel the need to replace cabinets, which were already installed when we bought our house,19 years ago. They are like new, so I kept them, not sure of the color name but a warm brown. My new tops are Blue Dunes, leathered and quiet busy, and I’m looking for a backsplash. I’m beginning to think I really messed up! I have looked a LOT for something to pull the two together and not having much look! I’m pretty angry at myself for being so uninformed BEFORE I chose my granite! Is there any hope?

    1. Yes, however, I would have someone from a stone and granite place come in to help you. You need something quite calm. Hope this helps.

  24. Thanks so much for putting all of this info in such an understandable way. This post, as well as the one on focal points, has helped immensely in correcting what’s been “off” in our living room. I do have one question. Do you have the source for your “arrow” pillow? I’ve searched quite a bit to find one, to no avail. Thanks, again!

    1. Hi Debbie I’m so glad you are finding these posts helpful to create a beautiful home. I picked up the arrow pillow years ago at a local shop. Sorry I don’t have a source.

  25. Thank you for this – I feel as though I learn a lot reading your blogs.

    1. Yvonne, Wow when is the last time you slept? What a thorough and information packed post THANK YOU! I appreciate all you do. Love that blue-gray pillow. Do you recall where you purchased?

  26. Linda Steinberger says:

    Can you give me the link for the leopard pillow long lumbar

  27. I have oak cupboards ,dining table and china cabinet in the kitchen dining family room area. I think that all this oak furniture igives a very heavy bulky feel to the rooms but I really cannot afford to replace them. I have cream color leather sofa,love seat and recliner in accompaning open living room What can I do to soften the look of these rooms? Is oak a warm or cool color?

    1. Your oak is probably a warm color tone. You should probably break up your oak dining set. I had a mahogany dining set and wanted a lighter look so I kept the table and got different chairs and took off the top part of my china cupboard and painted the bottom. Try switching out a few pieces. I know this might seem hard at first but it will make such a big difference. It seems to need to create a color palette for these rooms that will work for you. Here is a post you should read, I think it will help:

  28. Yvonne could you link the website you found your brown, gray, cream oriental looking rug? Perfect for my family room.

  29. Color is very tricky with all the different undertones, hard to get right.Your post has a lot of good information.

  30. I agonized over paint color trying to be very careful to choose a warm , calming and not gray color and ended up choosing accessible beige but now that it’s on the walls I’m seeing gray . Did I make a mistake ? Would you consider accessible beige cool or warm?

  31. Hi Yvonne,
    Your color wheel post helped me so much with picking out colors for a new sunroom. My walls are sonnet in the house and all my trim is white.( just like your stone gable house)! I wanted to continue the sonnet in the new room and wanted to add a gray marble around the fireplace. I was so confused until I read your post! It all blends because the furniture and beams are all warm colors just like the sonnet paint color. The trim of warm gray marble will bring in a balance of warm and cool. Thank you for your help! My sunroom renovation is starting in 2 weeks!

  32. I have never been an experimenter with color for my walls, because if I didn’t like something after it got painted I would have to live with it and I wasn’t willing to re-paint so I had to make sure and pick a color that I could live with, mostly lights or whites and I was happy with my choices….I always used colorful accessories and window treatments to make the room colorful….

  33. Wow oh wow! What a ton of great info to unpack! Using this information will surely make the difference between a nice room or space and a great, unforgettable and inspiring one. Thanks for making it so understandable.

  34. Micaela Brundage says:

    Thank you for bringing so much clarity to color!

  35. I always enjoy your blog.

  36. Melody McLaren says:

    Thank you so much, I have bookmarked this article for easy access!

  37. Hi: The floor in my bathroom is dark grey slate with Carrara marble walls. The adjacent bedroom carpet is a warm cream/white.
    I want to change the bathroom floor to get rid of the dark grey. Not sure what color to use on the floor to tie rooms together.

    You article is very helpful and informative.
    Thank you.

    1. I’d change my floor to work with the walls in the bathroom. Hope this helps.

  38. This has been the clearest explanation I have ever read about cool and warm colours. I can actually understand how to find the undertones of a colour, that info in itself is enourmously helpful for me.
    Thank you so much for this article.

  39. That was so informative!! Thank you for taking the time to explain in such a detail.
    I have a question though and maybe you know the answer.
    Recently, a kitchen designer was showing me color samples for the kitchen cabinets. And a color that seemed to be light blue for example, turned into an obvious grey when she placed it next to another color. So she insisted that I have to take into consideration the surrounding colors because I could buy a light blue kitchen and end up with a grey one. Now.. A few days later, I purchased white zellige tiles for the bathroom. I wanted them to be white with cool undertones. Unfortunately, when I layed them down to check them out the undertones were beige. I remembered what happened with the kitchen designer and the light blue sample and I wonder if I can use that to my benefit. So is there a color I can use for the grout or the floor tiles or the lighting that could bring out the cool tones in the tiles?

    Thank you,

    1. Hi Natalie, this is hard to answer because I would need to see the tiles in person. Undertones are tricky. My best advice is to go to the store you bought your tiles and pick out some grout samples and bring them home. Place them in your bathroom and see how they look. Hope this helps.

  40. Mandy Williams says:

    Just found this via the Southern Hospitality blog. Fantastic explanation of undertones! I love color, am a life long crafter but, struggle so much with color and undertone. I was always frustrated with nail and lip color when folks talked about red with too much blue 🙂 I finally have a better understanding, thanks to you!

  41. Willie Simpson says:

    ❤️you are a genius; while looking at your room colors, I see how cool and warm colors work together. So there are no burgundies, reds, or yellows. I have a psychotic childish dilemma. have a situation where I’d like to use my favorite fire lava, color prop pieces…..…. But in a cool blues, greens, whites, grays, blacks framework backdrop. It won’t work will it.
    All blessings and grace strength to you.

  42. This was so helpful for me thank you. I’d love to read more on how to distinguish undertones when working with neutrals and whites!

  43. I love your blue/grey pillow with flowers. Can you give me the source? Thank you, love your sense of style.

  44. I enjoyed this tutorial so very much.
    Your explanations were so clear and informative!
    Thank you so very much for sharing this with us all.

  45. Michele Blocker says:

    Could you tell me where you purchased the grey/blue and tan floral pillow that is on your chair in the living room. It is the one in the main post. Thank you so much!

    1. Michele Blocker says:

      Thank you! I hope they look as good in my house as yours!!!

  46. Trish Vastano says:

    What a great post! I’ve always struggled with this but never seemed to be able to find info. Thanks!

  47. Great info. I remember learning the opposite of this, though. “White is a mix of all colors. And black is the absence of color.” Was I taught incorrectly? Thanks!

  48. Pamela Dillon says:

    In reference to undertones I have a new build and ALL the walls and ceilings were painted frosty white which supposedly has beige undertones! In the main living area the ceiling is vaulted and from the front door you see to the back patio. Not a lot of ability to change paint colors. Also I still love all my furnishings! In the main living area there is so much light that the cool colors of my furniture ( blue chartreuse chair and beige read well. But the dining room which I use as my sitting reading room has warm furnishings. Doesn’t seem to feel right! Thinking about painting the tray ceiling a color to warm the room up! Any suggestions? You have the most recent posts on Pinterest that I can find. Hope this post isn’t too long!!! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Pamela, It sounds like, from what you are saying, that you might have want to pull some of those cooler colors from your living room into your dining room. I would not paint the tray ceiling first, though. Since you already have a room that you like, take a clue from your living room and create a complementary color palette in the dining room. Hope this helps.