The other day a reader emailed me a question about orange beige.
She had an existing orange beige stone fireplace and wondered what the rules were about choosing a neutral to coordinate with it. Which ones worked, which ones didn’t.
The System for Specifying Colour™
My answer was that all of the other 8 undertones can live with orange beige. And to clarify, I explained the fundamental guideline to use when choosing neutrals.
So I thought I’d share it with you as well.
The reason why I don’t spend a lot of time (well zero actually) talking about colour theory in my Specify Colour with Confidence workshops is because when you are learning colour theory, you’re looking at the primary colour wheel.
Which is not that useful.
I have never walked into a house and thought to myself “I think I’ll introduce a split complementary triad here”.
Also, the basic lesson in colour theory is that you look to the colour wheel to help you when coordinating colours.
And the reason this is not that useful is most people use the colour wheel wrong. I have seen this over and over again with colour enthusiasts and designers everywhere.
This is how a novice will generally use the wheel:
Okay I have cherry cabinets in my kitchen so that means I’m dealing with a red undertone, right?
What’s the complement of red?
And then you go out, choose a green shade of paint for your kitchen and now you’re cranky. You can see that it’s not awesome with your countertops but you might not understand why.
Not only does this green paint colour in no way relate to the two tone pink beige (and what appears to be green grey) countertops, it also makes the countertop look dirty because it’s too clean.
So there is also a clean and dirty problem here.
Here’s another ‘complementary’ red and green colour combination with a green carpet and red drapery (below). Except now the ‘neutrals’ here are pink beige upholstery and yellow beige paint.
As yellow beige makes pink beige look dirty, that’s exactly what’s happening here. The furniture looks old and dirty because of the colours in this room.
Related post: 3 Surprising Reasons Your Colour Scheme Looks Dirty
The first and foremost guideline to choosing the correct neutral (if that’s what you’re trying to do) is this:
Identify the neutral/s in the room
The wall colour you choose should be chosen to pull the room together. So look at the biggest pieces in the room.
In the above photo since we probably aren’t going to paint the walls green or red, pink beige is really the only option to fix the clean and dirty problem.
Because no one wants beige right now, I would probably choose a cream that didn’t go yellow. Something like OC-1 Natural Wicker.
Determine how bossy it is. Can you ignore it?
Going back to the question at the beginning of this post, let’s look at a couple rooms with orange beige stone.
Here, Suzanne Kasler did not ignore the stone. In fact, she chose a medallion patterned drapery to coordinate with the stone.
If you look closely, you can see that the fireplace also has pink beige undertones in it, which also relates to the pink beige area rug and slipcovered sofa and chairs.
Here’s another fireplace with earthy rusty/orange tones in it. The orange pillows on the chairs are cleaner than the orange stone but I think it works here.
Generally, fireplace stone is pretty bossy. Which is why I prefer millwork and a simple surround over stone for the most timeless look and feel. I think stone belongs in a ski chalet or a country house.
Limit your neutral undertones to TWO at the most. Sometimes just one is best.
Here’s what this means.
This bedroom is pink and primarily green grey.
It would not work to add a second neutral here, like painting the walls a blue grey for example. That would look like you’d just moved in and hadn’t painted yet.
So in this case, one neutral (besides the cream) is all that’s necessary which the grasscloth picks up nicely. Even the end table is the same neutral tones in this bedroom.
This living room (below) has two neutrals maybe three. You could call the drapes yellow because they look very yellow in this room because there are no other yellow tones here.
In another space, they might simply read yellow beige.
Context is everything.
Then we have the pink beige furniture and the paint colour which appears to be a green grey (it’s definitely not pink).
So in this case, again, we have two unnecessary undertones here, AGAIN.
Related post: What Everyone Should Know about Grey
Again, the basic guideline for choosing a wall colour is choose the colour that pulls the room together.
Could this room have been painted navy? Yes it could have been.
Or it could be a pale pink beige to relate to the furniture.
Then the drapes could have been a pink beige linen to coordinate with the furniture with some navy banding or to make it feel fresher, white and navy.
Here we have a very interesting (at the time I guess) dated backsplash that is pink beige, orange and blackish.
In this case the pink beige countertops do relate to the backsplash.
However, the yellow paint colour does not relate at all and is too clean which, in comparison makes the finishes look dirty.
Also the cabinet colour is too white. Given there is no white in the existing countertop and backsplash, the best colour for the cabinets would be a creamier colour like SW Dover White.
The colours in this living room are basically blue grey, gold beige and indigo blue. So two neutrals plus the strong blue shade. Can you spot the third neutral that technically looks slightly out of place?
The yellow beige stripe in the drapery. And it could have simply photographed this way because colours always look darker against a window wall. However, three undertones is usually too many.
And here’s the thing, working with undertones obviously comes naturally to many designers out there because there’s a lot beautiful rooms in this world that work.
Something else to think about, if you have too many questions about which undertones go with which colours, perhaps it’s a sign that you need to attend my Specify Colour with Confidence workshop or simply hire a designer to help you.
That’s the best way to get a look and a feel that will make you happy every time you walk in the door!
I’m on my way to Boca Raton tomorrow morning super early, it’s the first city in our three week trip! Follow me on Instagram and on my stories to catch all the fun!
PS. The only way to receive one of my Understanding Undertones colour wheels this Spring is to attend one of my workshops.