Color Hierarchy And Proportions

The hues of the color wheel form a hierarchy, with some hues being naturally more dominant than others, even when used in precisely the same proportions. It is fairly easy to see which colors are dominant on the color wheel. As different values and chroma are introduced, the hierarchies become more complex. Changing the individual proportions of the selected colors also affects which color dominates. It is helpful to know which color will dominate in any given combination of colors. Below are a few general principles to help guide the designer.


When viewed together, warm colors appear to advance while cool colors appear to recede. This is especially true when the different colors are viewed in similar proportions. The warmer colors actually trigger a different physiological response in the eye than the cool colors do: this is why the warm colors appear to be in the foreground. Warmer colors also elicit a stronger psychological reaction: red, orange, and yellow are naturally more arousing and exciting than the more subdued and soothing blue, green, and purple.

Proportion Dominance Subordinate
Fig. 2.4 Primary reel, yellow, and blue swatches of equal size show /ha/ the red advances and is dominant while the blue and yellow recede and are subordinate.
Yellow Red Interior

When red, yellow, and blue are viewed together in equal proportions the red dominates and appears to advance. The yellow is next in dominance while the blue is least dominant.

Proportion Dominance Subordinate

The pure blue of the soffit is the dominant color while the blue-gray of the tile is subordinate. The blue-gray tile appears to recede because it is the subordinate color. This gives dramatic emphasis to the apparent depth of the tile recess.


Purer colors advance and dominate, while muted or grayed tones of the same color recede. Again, this assumes that the two colors appear in approximately equal proportions. Remember, the eye is naturally drawn to colors which are more intense.

It is helpful to know which color dominates so that it is not used in such a great quantity as to overpower the other colors in the scheme. Understanding which color advances and which recedes can be useful if a greater apparent depth of space is desired. Intense colors can be used in the foreground while more subdued colors are used in the background or recesses of a space. This creates a stage set effect where recesses appear deeper than they actually are.

Dominant Values


Lighter values advance and dominate while darker values recede. This is because more light is reflected off lighter-value colors which makes them more luminous and draws the attention of the eye.

This principle can be applied to an interior to highlight the most important areas of the space. If an interior has medium to dark values and a few light accents the eye will naturally be drawn to these lighter areas. Hence, it is important to be selective about what to highlight with lighter value accents.

Color HierarchyBest Colors For North Facing Rooms

The lighter value of gold in the room beyond dominates while the darker gold value in the foreground recedes. This color effect focuses attention on the room beyond and makes it very inviting.

Color Red Architecture

The strongest color, red, is used in the smallest amount as an

__m accent. The deep green, which is next strongest, /> used in slightly greater amounts as an accent. The soft peach tone is used in the largest area.

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