Patio Decorating Ideas | Color Schemes

by mandeesears

Choosing a color scheme for your patio decorating is a lot easier once you understand how colors relate to one another.

Colors are at the base of all patio decorating ideas. They can influence your mood and set a tone for any room -- including outdoor rooms such as patios, porches or decks.

It's easy to figure out colors that you like. It's a bit more involved to find out if the colors go well together. Being able to coordinate a pleasing color scheme doesn't mean you need a professional designer. You just need to understand the basics of how colors relate to one another. Then, you can come up with a patio decorating scheme that looks great and reflects your personal tastes.

Most elements are the same in interior design and patio design with one difference -- read on to find out.

A Note About Patio or Outdoor Color Schemes

Indoor vs. Outdoor

The difference between patio and outdoor color schemes is that Green is almost always in a patio color scheme in some way because of foliage, trees and/or lawn. For this reason, green is basically treated as a neutral in patio and garden decorating. 

Understanding the Color Wheel

Color Basics

Stick with me on this... it may seem boring but in order to understand color relationships and what "matches" you need at least a basic understanding of the color wheel. It'll be painless and have lots of images! 

Primary Colors
The traditional 12 Spoke Color Wheel (not the color wheel for web based projects) starts with 3 primary colors. These colors cannot be made by mixing any other colors - thus, the primary status.

Yellow, blue and red are the three primary colors. The positions of these primary colors are illustrated in the image, left.


Our "color wheel" is depicted with two triangles to better explain color relationships. 


When you mix equal parts of 2 Primary Colors together, you get 3 Secondary Colors. These new colors are inserted on the wheel between the two Primary Colors that were mixed. So, your color wheel now looks like this: 

Primary and Secondary Colors

Mixing yellow and blue, you get Green.

Mixing red and yellow, you get Orange. 

Mixing blue and red, you get Violet. 


The next step is mixing equal parts of the two colors that appear beside each other on the wheel to get the 6 Tertiary Colors. These are then inserted between the two colors that were mixed together to create each Tertiary color, with the primary color used listed first in the new color names. 

Primary Secondary and Tertiary ColorsTheir formulas are:

Yellow + Green = Yellow-Green

Yellow + Orange = Yellow-Orange

Blue + Green = Blue-Green

Blue + Violet = Blue-Violet

Red + Violet = Red-Violet

Red + Orange = Red-Orange



images source: Mandee Sears

Color Term Definitions

Hue: The name of a particular color (e.g. blue, orange, yellow-green, etc...)
Tint: A color plus white added.
Tone: A color plus gray added.
Shade: A color plus black added.
Warm Colors: Reds, oranges and yellows (and their derivatives).
Cool Colors: Blues, greens and violets (and their derivatives.)

Types of Color Schemes for Your Patio Decor

Complementary, Triad, Tetrad? What does that mean?
Before you head off to Home Depot or Sears to look at patio furniture, replacement cushions and patio accessories, figure out what you want in the final look and feel of your patio. Choosing a color scheme is important. 

Color Schemes can be or complementary or harmonious. Examples of complementary color schemes are:
  • Complementary Colors are colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. (e.g. blue & orange, yellow & violet, red-orange & blue-green) 
  • Split Complementary Colors are achieved by choosing one color and then using the two colors on either side of the its complementary color (see Sample - Complementary below)
  • You get Triad Colors when you use 3 colors that are equally spaced from each other on the color wheel. A triangle works well for this. (see Sample - Triad below)
  • Tetrad colors are 4 colors total -- 2 sets of complementary colors. Use a square shape in the middle of the wheel where the two diagonal corners point to complementary colors. (See Sample - Tetrad below) 

Harmonious color schemes are:

  • Monochomatic: Using any tinit, tone or shade of just one base color. (Think gradients.)
  • Analogous: You can create this harmonious color scheme by using at least 2 but no more than 5 colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. (see Sample - Analogous below)

Neutral Colors don't usually show up on a color wheel. In general decorating, the most common neutral colors are:

  • Black 
  • White 
  • Brown

These colors can change tint, tone or shade (by adding white, gray or black, respectively) to the base color to achieve different intensities. 

Most designs use a neutral as an addition or base to their color scheme. For instance, the patio furniture you chose is an all-weather wicker in a deep chocolate color. In this case, your neutral is a shade (adding black) of brown. 

Remember, in outdoor color schemes, greens are also considered neutral. 

Sample - Complementary

Complementary Colors
Complementary Colors
Mandee Sears
Split Complementary Colors
Split Complementary Colors
Mandee Sears

Sample - Tetrad

Tetrad (Rectangle)
Tetrad (Rectangle)
Mandee Sears
Tetrad (Square)
Tetrad (Square)
Mandee Sears

Sample - Triad & Analogous

Triad Colors
Triad Colors
Mandee Sears
Analogous Colors
Analogous Colors
Mandee Sears

Color Schemes You Know will Work via the Color Wheel

Patio - Garden Color Schemes

A Tuscan Garden themed patio would, more than likely, use an earth tone color scheme. Earth tone neutrals are tints, tones and shades of brown, black and green.

Tuscan color scheme

The actual colors on the color wheel that represent earth tones are reds, oranges & yellows. This would be an analogous color scheme because the 5 colors of yellow, yellow-orange, orange,red-orange and red are used in addition to the neutrals.

Let's say you want a more tropical style patio color scheme. You know you want to use blues and greens but what colors will complement blue and green?

tropical patio colorsTurn to your color wheel for options. You could try a complementary scheme by using the tetrad formula (rectangle shape).

The colors that appear at the four corners of the rectangle could be red-violet, orange, yellow-green and blue. Since green is a neutral in patio decorating, the top row of the illustration, right, has shades and tints of red-violets, oranges and blues. The neutrals this time are grays, white and greens. 

See? It's a Very nice complementary color scheme. Now you know, through the color wheel, that shades, tints and tones of these 4 colors will coordinate and make your tropical patio gorgeous! 

images source: Mandee Sears

Do Stripes, Patterns and Solids Go Together?

Successfully Mixing Colors

Yes, you can mix stripes, geometrics, florals and solids. The key is color. Suppose you fell in love with a Sunbrella® fabric in a floral print to use for your patio cushions. Since you don't want the entire area in the same floral print (very taxing on the eyes) you pull colors from the floral to use.

For instance, let's say you have an outdoor furniture set that includes a love seat and 2 chairs. You could use the floral fabric for the love seat and choose a solid, stripe or geometric for the 2 chairs pieces. You could also accent the chairs with outdoor throw pillows in another coordinating fabric. Here's a sample: 

coordinating fabrics

All the fabrics at the bottom have a color or colors that have been pulled from the floral fabric. You see 2 solids, 2 stripes and a geometric that can be used on the remaining chairs, as toss pillows, outdoor drapes or even placemats or cushions on a patio dining set if you have one.

This color palette is called an Analogous -- the blue and green hues appear beside each other on the color wheel. The neutral here is white. 

Mixing textures and patterns gives depth and interest to your patio design. 


Fabrics used above: Sunbrella® Violetta Baltic(floral). Row 2 in order - Dupione Deep Sea, Seville Seaside (stripe), Ginko, El Greco Calypso (geometric) and Dupione Paradise.  

Which is your Least Favorite Fabric Design?

Which is Your Favorite Fabric Design?

Color Theory and Schemes

Colors hold meaning and evoke certain feelings or emotions.There are also more formulas out there such as the "diad" method of choosing colors. While these and other more in depth research is beyond the scope of this article, there are plenty of resources on the internet and at your local library or book store.

This article's intention was for you to feel comfortable with choosing your patio decor colors. The whole concept behind decorating and design is to make a room or area pleasing to the eye, welcoming and personal. Armed with the knowledge of the color wheel basics (what colors go together best), you can be confident in your patio design ideas -- or any other area you chose to decorate. 

Good luck! 


Sunbrella is a registered trademark of Glen Raven, Inc.

Additional Patio Decorating Ideas Resources

Picking a theme for your outdoor living space helps you decorate easier, with ways to make those all-important choices.
What brand fabric is best for performance, longevity and beauty of your patio furniture? Sunbrella fabrics. Find out why.
Isn't it about time to redo your patio, porch or deck? Patio decorating ideas are everywhere -- but let's concentrate of the look of the islands -- tropical style.
Make your patio, porch or deck a Tuscan garden escape with some of these patio decorating ideas -- Tuscan style.
Updated: 02/19/2013, mandeesears
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Angel on 04/02/2012

Thanks I needed this! We are having a pool installed over the next couple of weeks and I am in need of new patio furniture and decor. Your article will help me make selections!

katiem2 on 04/01/2012

Beautiful ideas, oh now I'm so inspired to get my patio and deck in order. I have a beautiful space in need of a fresh new look, great decorating ideas, thanks :)

mandeesears on 04/01/2012

You're welcome ladies! Thanks for reading!

terrilorah on 04/01/2012

Yes, thanks for the helpful tips. I have a back patio I am working on so this helped.

BuckHawk on 04/01/2012

Very nicely done. Simple explanation for a tricky subject. It seems some people understand this naturally, while others just don't know how to put colors together. You did a great job of helping us all understand how to get started with pulling colors together.

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