Can You Mix Warm And Cool Colors In 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…

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE COLOR WHEEL

COLOR WHEEL

The color wheel is a complex device that organizes color in a wheel type shape showing colors relationship to each other.

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.

WARM AND COOL COLORS ON A RAINBOW

WARM COLORS

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

BLOCKS OF WARM COLOR

Colors like red, orange, and yellow are all warm. Also neutrals like beige and tan, but not always. I’ll explain later.

Warm colors evoke a cozy and comforting feeling. These colors are welcoming and can make us feel energized and upbeat!

COOL COLORS

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

BLOCKS OF COOL COLOR

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

Cool colors tend to make us feel relaxed and serene. They make us feel calm.

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

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

Are you with me so far?

MASS TONE AND UNDERTONES

Color has mass tones and undertones.

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!

WHAT ARE MASS TONES?

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…

BLOCKS OF DIFFERENT MASS TONES

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 our cool by looking at its mass tone.

We just have to think about our color wheel or the rainbow to know the mass tone.

UNDERTONES AND HOW THEY AFFECT COLORS

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…

BLUE BLOCKS IN DIFFERENT WARM AND COOL TONES

The color at the top of the infographic is a true primary blue.

I overlayed a Kelly Green (cool color) in a weak saturation and then an even weaker saturation to show you what a cool undertone would do to the primary color blue.

And I did the same using yellow in a weak saturation and an even weaker saturation to produce two warmer shades of blue.

Blue is still a cool color no matter what the undertones, 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.

ANOTHER UNDERTONE EXAMPLE

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

It’s important to choose colors that work together and don’t fight one another. If your room is just not coming together the way you thought it would it’s probably the undertones that are not playing nicely together.

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

Hold a color up to its truest color. The truest red, or yellow or blue or green, or purple. Think of the eight colors in a box of crayons.

Then you should at least be able to tell if the undertones are warm our cool.

BLOCKS OF WARM AND COOL COLOR

The center colors in the infographic above are the truest blue, green and red. The left color blocks are warmer because they move toward the warmer side of the color spectrum.

The color blocks on the right side of the infographic are cooler versions of the true color because they move towards the cooler side of the color spectrum.

Look at the red blocks…

The more yellow (warm color) added to true red the color begins to be a tomato red and will eventually be orange.

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

CAN YOU MIX WARM COLORS AND COOL COLORS WHEN DECORATING?

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. However you should strike a balance between the two.

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

WALLS AND BIG FURNISHINGS

WARM WHITE FIREPLACE AND CHAIR WITH A BLUE PILLOW ON IT

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 all cool. Don’t mix these unless you have a trained eye or are a color theory savant!

I hear from so many unhappy decorators because “something is not right” with a room.

They have pretty furnishings but their undertones fight!

Super simple solution. Keep walls and big items in the room either warm or cool.

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

ADDING OPPOSITE UNDERTONES FOR INTEREST

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

PILLOWS ON A SOFA

Decorating with a bit of opposite colors and undertones create 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 are just right they play a beautiful song!

Same in decorating. We need to strike the right tension between warm and cool colors and undertones to create beauty too!

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.

CHAIR WITH WARM AND COOL UNDERTONES

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!

For me, gray is a hard color to live with if it is used as a mass tone in a room. It’s too cold and impersonal. Do you see how color can affect you and me? You may love gray and warm neutrals may overstimulate you! Color is an amazing thing, friend!

However, gray is a wonderful accent color for my warm-toned home! It wakes up the colors in a room and makes it interesting.

A great example of this warm/cool tone balance is in my dining room.

DINING ROOM TABLE AND CHAIRS

There are a lot of warm tones going on in here.

The soft gray of the concrete top of my table works to bring in a balance of warm and cool.

Did you notice how warm the concrete is even though it is still a cool color? If the tabletop was too cool and icy it would not have worked at all.

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 in your home.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Here are a few post you might like. They are all about important design concepts to know to create a beautiful home.

COLLAGE IMAGE OF POSTS
from top left clockwise

ELEMENTS OF DESIGN… COLOR

RHYTHM IN DESIGN

ELEMENT OF DESIGN, SPACE

FOCAL POINT TIPS FOR A BEAUTIFUL ROOM

PIN FOR POST

83 Comments

      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!!!!

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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. Hi
      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

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

  18. 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.

  19. 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:https://www.stonegableblog.com/color-palette-and-decorating-style/

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

  21. 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?

  22. 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!

  23. 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….

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.
    Turina

  27. 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,
    Natalia.

    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.

  28. 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!

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