Adding the Right Amount of Colour to your Space: It’s as easy as 60:30:10!

Chris Browne of Fox Browne Creative is a master interior designer – at least in my opinion. He and his team specialise in fitting out safari lodges in unique and unexpected ways. Regular readers of this blog may recall that we discussed some of his designs in an earlier post on safari lodge styles.

As I happened (again) to be traveling in Africa last Christmas, I had the opportunity to marvel at another of his creations. This time we were fortunate enough to spend a few days in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. A small tented camp, AndBeyond’s Xaranna lodge is certainly not as dramatically opulent as that overlooking the Ngorongoro Crater, and rather emphasises the simple and practical. Nevertheless, it remains beautifully stylish, and chock-full of design surprises. 

1-color-wheel-complementary-schemeTo me, the most interesting aspect of the Xaranna design is Browne’s unusual colour scheme. The many neutrals are spiced up by solid fields of warm greens and pops of dove white and pink. At first blush, the unexpected combination is jarring, but one quickly realises that, somehow, it works. This is because Xaranna demonstrates the skillful implementation of a complementary colour scheme.

Personally, I find pulling these off quite hard, because a space can be so easily overwhelmed by too much colour. So I took a closer look, hoping to discern the secret behind Browne’s success.

I had two specific questions: (1) Why did Browne choose green, pink and white, and (2) how was he able to make this colour combination feel like the African Bush rather than See’s Candy Store?

The first question was easily answered, though I probably would not have figured it out myself! According to the staff at the lodge, Browne was inspired by the colours of the waterlilies that cover the Delta.

Going by 60:30:10

Selecting pleasant colours is, however, only part of the equation. Where to apply them and in what ratio is another. I once read that many professional designers follow an easy guideline when it comes to the distribution of colour, the so-called 60-30-10 rule:

  1. The dominant colour should occupy about 60% of the room’s surfaces. Thus, it is generally applied to walls, flooring, ceiling, and other large surfaces.
  2. Another 30% of surface area is then dressed up in a secondary colour which adds visual interest and may come in the form of upholstery or drapes.  
  3. Finally, the remaining 10% are meant to add some sparkle to the overall mix. In other words, this is where the use accent colours comes in. Accessories such as flower arrangements, throw pillows, bed/table runners, statuettes and lamp shades are perfect for this.

Like all rules, this can, of course, be broken (or at least adjusted somewhat). For example, no harm is done when choosing two accent colours instead of just one, thus going 60% dominant, 30% secondary, 5% accent A, 5% accent B – or some variation thereof. 

Perhaps the 60:30:10 rule is the secret behind Xaranna’s pleasant colour scheme?

How did Chris Browne apply his colours? 

The dominant colour:  Browne used the natural colours of wood (flooring, walls), canvas (ceiling), and sisal (carpet). The three neutrals form a beautiful, natural, backdrop for the greens, pinks, and whites of Brown’s waterlily colour scheme.  

The choice of secondary colour is a sage green.  In line with our 60:30:10 rule it is applied to medium-sized surfaces throughout the lodge, most prominently on curtains and drapes as well as the upholstery of the sofas. 

Finally, we arrive at the remaining 10% reserved for the accents. At Xaranna they come in two bright hues that contrast well with the rest of the colour scheme: pink and white. Both of them add a sense of freshness and the feel of springtime to the fairly subdued colour scheme. They appear on throw pillows and small decorative items such as painted horns or hippo statuettes, lamp shades, horns, etc. 

Interestingly, Browne often combined all three waterlily colours (secondary and accents) in larger ensembles. For example, the bundles of pendant lamps, the group of horns or the collection of bean bags. This choice helps pull together the colour scheme, an effect that could also be achieved through paintings that show all three colours, patterned blankets and the like.

In addition, he applied the secondary colour to lesser accessories such as glass vases, leather food containers, tissue boxes, and bathroom towels. Why? My guess is that this is a deliberate attempt at toning down a very bright colour. As there are so many, the sage green items begin to move automatically into the background, rather than stick out uncomfortably.

So, what’s the verdict? Did or didn’t Browne use the 60:30:10 rule?  Well, of course, I don’t know. This said it appears as if the fresh, yet zen-like atmosphere at Xaranna owes its success to a formula that comes quite close it.

So, as long as colours are used in a sensible way and roughly according to the 60:30:10 rule, even candy-like hues can be combined such that they form beautiful, serene interiors. It’s definitely worth a shot!

Cheers, Sabine 

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