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How do you pick muted colors?

How do you pick muted colors?

Choosing the right muted color palette for your home or wardrobe can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Muted colors are soft, understated tones that create a relaxing and sophisticated look. By understanding the basics of color theory and learning how to combine muted shades effectively, you can easily develop beautiful muted color schemes. This article will provide tips and advice to guide you in selecting muted color palettes with confidence.

What are muted colors?

Muted colors are low saturation tones that are not overly bright or intense. They have a calming, subtle effect and are considered more neutral than bold, saturated hues. Some common muted colors include:

  • Grays
  • Tans
  • Pale pinks
  • Light blues
  • Dusty greens
  • Mustard yellows
  • Mauve

Muted color palettes evoke a sense of relaxation and tranquility. They are versatile enough to use as accent colors or full color schemes in home decor, fashion, and graphic design.

Benefits of using muted colors

There are many benefits to building a muted color palette:

  • Calming effect – Muted colors have a soothing, peaceful impact on mood and emotions.
  • Versatility – Muted colors are extremely flexible and can be combined in countless ways.
  • Sophistication – Muted tones convey elegance and refinement.
  • Neutral background – Muted colors make an excellent base palette to layer bolder accent colors over.
  • Visual interest – Skillful combinations of muted shades add subtle depth and dimension.

For these reasons, muted color schemes are a popular choice in interior design, fashion, and other creative fields where a sense of harmony and balance is desired.

Choosing a muted color palette

When selecting muted colors, it helps to start with a simple three or four color palette. Look for muted shades within the same color family that coordinate well together. Some examples of muted color schemes include:

  • Soft greens – sage, mint, olive
  • Dusty blues – powder blue, slate, periwinkle
  • Warm neutrals – almond, oatmeal, sand
  • Cool neutrals – charcoal, taupe, heather
  • Blush tones – mauve, dusky rose, nude

Aim for colors with enough variation in hue and brightness to add visual interest, but not so much contrast that they clash. Adjacent colors on the color wheel, such as blue-green or yellow-orange, naturally complement each other.

Color theory basics

Understanding basic color theory principles will help you develop more pleasing muted palettes. Some key guidelines include:

  • Hue – Hue refers to the pigment of a color, ranging from warm (yellow, red) to cool (green, blue). Muted palettes often contain a mix of warm and cool hues for balance.
  • Brightness – This refers to how light or dark a color is. Aim for a range for visual interest.
  • Saturation – How intense or dull a color is. Muted colors have low saturation but are not complete neutrals.
  • Color wheel – Colors opposite each other on the wheel complement, while adjacent colors harmonize.
  • Value contrast – Contrasting light and dark values creates depth. Not enough contrast looks flat.

Use these elements thoughtfully when curating your muted color palette for the most pleasing results.

Choosing accent colors

Once you’ve selected your main muted hues, consider adding one or two accent colors to provide a pop of contrast. Vivid accent colors in small doses prevent the scheme from feeling too dull and flat. Try these accent colors with muted palettes:

Muted Palette Potential Accent Colors
Taupes, greys Yellow, teal
Pale blues Coral, yellow
Lavender, mauve Mint, peach
Sage greens Rust, goldenrod

Accent with bright, saturated versions of the muted colors for cohesion. Contrast the accent shades in texture and application, such as glossy ceramic vases or colorful artworks.

Using muted colors in home decor

In home interiors, muted color palettes create an elegant, welcoming backdrop. Here are some tips for effectively using muted colors in home decor:

  • Paint walls in muted tones to anchor the space. Gray, tan, and pale blue make versatile neutral backdrops.
  • Upholster large pieces like sofas or sectionals in muted hues. This allows bolder accent patterns and colors to shine.
  • Use patterned rugs, pillows, and throws in contrasting brights as accents over the muted foundation.
  • Select natural muted wood tones for furnishings to warm up the look.
  • Inject color with fresh flowers, plants, ceramics and artwork. Vivid pops prevent a monotonous look.
  • Layer muted shades in soft fabrics. Sheer curtains over darker shades add depth.

The versatile, mellow nature of muted palettes adapts well to any decorating style. Whether your leanings are modern, traditional, or eclectic, muted colors provide an adaptable base.

Muted colors for fashion

In fashion, muted color schemes project a polished, elegant aesthetic. Muted tones allow statement prints or accessories to shine without competing. Consider these tips for using muted colors in clothing and accessories:

  • Make muted earth tones like tan, grey, and olive the core of your capsule wardrobe. These basics anchor louder prints.
  • Layer muteds together for interest. For example, wear mauve with oatmeal or taupe with soft sage green.
  • Use muted shades close to face to flatter skin. Mauve, peach, and sage green work well.
  • Inject brights in smaller accessories like shoes, handbags, and jewelry as focal points over muted outfits.
  • Choose muted coats in warm neutral or sophisticated gray as foundational pieces that work with anything.
  • Tie looks together with muted tights, scarves or hats that coordinate with the overall color story.

Muted color dressing projects an effortless, put-together look. The versatility of muted palettes makes them perfect for crafting a French girl minimalist capsule wardrobe.

Muted color schemes in graphic design

Muted color palettes are extremely effective in graphic design as well. Their soft, neutral nature provides the perfect background to make images and text pop. Some examples of using muted colors in graphic design include:

  • Using a muted shade like charcoal gray as the base background of a website or advertisement.
  • Picking a muted palette like sage green, cream, and tan for product packaging or brand collateral.
  • Choosing a muted color scheme for infographics, allowing the data and graphics to stand out.
  • Using muted tones for large background areas and brights for small accents and call-to-action elements.
  • Crafting advertisements, posters or brochures with primarily muted hues and touches of vivid colors for focal points.

The adaptability of muted palettes gives graphic designers flexibility across applications while still providing enough color for visual interest.


Muted color palettes offer countless possibilities through thoughtful combinations of soft, subtle hues. By following basic color theory principles and understanding the unique strengths of muted tones, anyone can develop sophisticated muted schemes. Peaceful and elegant, muted colors bring adaptability across design fields and style preferences. With so many pleasing options, there is a muted palette for every taste and purpose.