Solutions: The golden ratio of 60/30/10

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

When it comes to making design decisions, color is a major player. Whatever hues you choose, the right combination creates a cohesive space.

Cleveland-based Sue Wadden, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, offers some advice. One of the guidelines she learned early on while studying interior design, was the golden ratio of 60/30/10 that applies to color, which is why designers often select three per room.

The primary color (60 percent) might be applied to the walls; the accent color (30 percent) could be for a feature wall or a piece of furniture that defines a portion of the room. Lastly, the accessories (10 percent) might be something bolder, like pillows with small pops of intense color.

Whether your palette is dramatic or subtle, the overall effect is really about balance, Wadden says.

With artwork or furniture you can choose a light color like a mid-tone neutral and make the room moody and mysterious with charcoal walls and a deep rich carpet. “It’s a way to take a risk, like applying white as the 10 percent to lighten up the accents in a really dark room,” she says.

On the flip side, with white as your primary color, you can add gray furniture with a pop of color, like navy or dark brown.

Gray, citrus green and navy also make a great combination.

“It really does work. I’m a firm believer in golden proportions,” says Wadden.

Paint can go beyond your walls. “With the upcycling trend, it’s great to find an old piece of furniture and paint it in a killer color you love, so it becomes a feature piece in the room,” she says.

Walls have become works of art with the help of stencils. “These are not like the borders we had in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” says Wadden. “They’re really beautiful designs.”

Painted floors and cabinets can invigorate a room. In her own kitchen, Wadden is considering a deep charcoal for base cabinets and white on the upper cupboards.

Unfinished cabinets can be painted and embellished with hardware. “It’s a great way to upstyle your kitchen without spending a lot of money,” she says.

Painting doors in a fun shade like coral is another affordable option that gives an overly neutral room a quick pick-me-up.

Wadden says Milan Design Week featured glass and brass with deep colors like chocolate brown, black charcoal and forest green with teal undertones, balanced with walnut wood. “It looked so modern and fresh. Designers are starting to take a risk with deep colors,” she says. “The pendulum has swung.”

At home, Wadden prefers color in small doses. “I can’t live in an overly bright or saturated room, so I paint the smaller rooms, where I don’t spend a lot of time, in rich colors,” she says.

Her acid green foyer is visible from the gray living room, while the bronze TV room overlooks an adjacent space with a coral ceiling.

“It works for me, little bits of bright color. It’s a really cool look,” she says.

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Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at