There are many books on the subject, but color cannot be explained in words alone. The best books have large photographs of each stylish room, swatches showing the colors used to create the look and a detailed explanation of how to duplicate it.
Nothing will replace seeing the actual color in a room to know if it works. But books can help you eliminate the colors that won't work, either because they don't fit the theme or they remind you of something unpleasant — Brussels sprouts or your ex's first apartment.
Here is a sampling of books loaded with color combinations:
"Choosing Colors," by Kevin McCloud (Watson-Guptill Publications, $35). An expert on architecture and design, McCloud proves that the right hues can turn an ordinary white box into a designer's showcase. This 192-page hardback is well organized and brimming with 700 colors grouped into dozens of palettes inspired by ancient tiles from the Middle East, French porcelains from the 18th century, modern advertising and car exteriors.
Photographs of Victorian to mid-century modern rooms are on almost every page, as well as the palette that was used to make them stand out. Unlike the printing in inferior books, swatches here have been painstakingly and accurately reproduced, making it easy to see the difference between Feverish Pink by Sherwin-Williams and Hot Lips pink by Benjamin Moore. A directory of paint colors and manufacturers helps do-it-yourselfers go to the store and get what they want. Or think they want.
"The Style Sourcebook: The Definitive Illustrated Directory of Fabrics, Wallpapers, Paints, Flooring, Tiles," by Judith Miller (Firefly Books, $60). Miller is an interior designer and antiques expert who has written books about furniture restoration, style history and modern homes.
This 416-page hardback has more than 2,300 swatches divided into eras. Do you fancy florals from the early 20th century? Turn to those pages to see reproductions of wallpapers with images of yellow roses, brown thistle and pink tulips, along with their modern-day manufacturers, sizes and prices. There also is a nice chapter about the history and use of paint.
Don't panic because some of the sources are across the globe; a useful directory lists addresses, phone numbers and websites.
"The Color Answer Book," by Leatrice Eiseman (Capital Books, $30). Eiseman responds to more than 100 frequently asked questions and some not so common, such as "Can color memories and perceptions be passed on through our DNA?" (She thinks it's possible.)
Eiseman, the director of the Pantone Color Institute, uses her experience in psychology and counseling to explore how we emotionally respond to color. There's even a quiz to see what a favorite hue says about you.
Buried between chapters on wardrobe, makeup and office color choices in this 172-page hardback is a section on decorating a home. She writes about alternatives to beige or gray as neutral wall colors (try shades of green, from iceberg to cedar) and explains how to create various moods in a room.
"Kitchens & Baths," the latest in a book series about paint, by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle (Clarkson Potter, $20). This practical 176-page paperback displays more than 50 do-it-yourself projects for kitchen and bath floors, walls, ceilings and cabinets, with helpful before-and-after photographs.
Travis, the host of "Debbie Travis' Painted House" on Oxygen, specializes in quick makeovers, focusing on paint. The results won't catapult you into the home-tour circuit, but the heavy reliance on paint won't send you into debtors' prison either.
There are step-by-step instructions on painting ceilings, horizontal stripes, Venetian plaster walls and laminate countertops, but resource and paint information is skimpy.
"The Paint Effects Bible: 100 Recipes for Faux Finishes," by Kerry Skinner (Firefly Books, $30). Skinner walks readers through the process of making something fake look real. The 256-page, spiral-bound book shows how to make a surface appear textured, metallic, wooden, even like snakeskin. Sorry, artistic talent isn't included.
"Color in the Garden," by Nori and Sandra Pope, Penelope Hobhouse and photographer Clive Nichols (SOMA Books, $25). The 160-page paperback has 300 luscious photographs that explain the authors' point of view that gardens look best when they are bursting in blues, greens, yellows, oranges, reds, plums, pinks, peaches and white.