Choosing the right colors for a space can be a complicated process. Ultimately, the needs of the space and preferences of the client, not a canned formula, will lead to the best solution. Still, there are a few facts and rough guidelines that can help in the selection process.

Generally, says Sashi Caan, of the Parsons School of Design, too much saturated color makes people uncomfortable. “The more intense a color is, the brighter it is, the harder it is to live with,” Caan says. “The colors we live with most comfortably tend to be dark values that have a moody quality, like in a traditional bar or restaurant.”

Lighter values too can be comforting, though they will generally not provide the same cozy intimacy as darker values.

Neutral and near neutral colors are always popular with less adventurous homeowners, Caan says.

“When they're being safe, keep it neutral and you can't go wrong. Make the color scheme largely neutral with moderate mid-range values and dark accents.”

However, Patsy Zakian-Greenough, an interior designer at Harrell Remodeling in the San Francisco area, warns against too much restraint.

“The biggest problem with color,” Zakian-Greenough says, “is that people are intimidated by it.” Wary of seeming too bold or unsophisticated, she says, homeowners sometimes avoid tints, highly saturated colors, and color contrasts at the cost of visual interest.

She and Caan stress that although balance is essential, variety is, too.

“Look into nature,” Zakian-Greenough says. “You see a real variety of warm and cool hues, and you can be comfortable in it for a long time.”

A homeowner's particular tastes can't be ignored, either, Caan says. Though color theory predicts tendencies, individuals do have unique preferences and they vary in their sensitivity to color.

“For someone who loves color, it really is important that they play with that,” Caan says.

Most important though, Zakian-Greenough says, is for homeowners to determine how they want to feel in the various rooms in their homes before deciding on colors.

“If your client has said, I want this to be a calming place where I can come and sip my coffee and read my newspaper, don't put highly saturated colors in that space.”