Painting Your Home #2: Perfect Wall Color

A Rose By Any Other Name…

The range in shades of any one color is vast.

You can mull over the right hue until your eyes are so feeble, it will no longer matter.

Even so,  you can still pick a color that will look like a rotting vegetable on your walls.


A single color is influenced by every other color in its immediate vicinity. Always test your color in the room where it will live. Don’t think that if you select a “pink” at the paint store with the loud chartreuse walls that it will look just the same when you check it out at home. Another consideration is light and time of day. Both can radically change your opinion of a color.

Color Check. Generally, one starts the color selection process with a chip. If you’re looking at a color chip, select a shade or two darker than you want for the wall. The same color translated to paint on a large surfaces looks a shade or two darker….really.

Half measures avail you not much. Don’t stop at acquiring only a few measly chips. Many of the best paint companies offer their color selection in small sample sizes. Otherwise, buy quarts of the colors of interest if need be. This is not the time to quibble about the expense.

A whole room painted the wrong color is an avoidable misfortune.

If you are going to test your color(s) directly on the wall, make sure to paint big samples on your walls. You want to see the color in real life scale.

Orange on a paint chip seems harmless; all over a twelve by fifteen foot room, not so much.

The most accurate sample will be two coats (allowed to dry) over primer. Some color professionals go so far as to suggest painting a swath from floor to ceiling, at least six feet wide. Though the notion of a huge swath of color is spot on for being perfectly clear about how a particular color will look, this “Big Swath Solution” could get very unwieldy if you want to test a few different colors.

The best method for color testing is to paint your samples onto white foam core boards. These are available at any art supply store and cost no more than a couple of dollars for an eighteen by twenty inch sheet. Paint two coats all the way to the edges of the boards. You can then move the samples around the room to see how light affects your selection at various times and in various locations, how the color works with the rest of the proposed color scheme and also how it might work with your furnishings.

It’s important that all of your choices play well together even if they are in different rooms. You want your entire home to have a very considered and coordinated look. At the very least, use the same color for doors and trims throughout your home to ensure continuity, if you can.

Do the deed. Once the perfect color has been determined, don’t take any short cuts on labor. Generally two or three coats is adequate for maximum color depth as well as coverage, depending on the condition of the surface . You will need two coats in any case to see the color accurately.

Don’t cheap out.  A good primer is a must, especially if painting a lighter color over a darker or brighter one. Without a primer coat first, you could get an “echo” of the old color as a subtle bleed though.

This could be an exceptionally icky color combo, by default. Even if the old color was as pale as the new color, there are still very good reasons to prep your walls with primer first.

Primer will:
  • Adhere to the old paint better than the new paint . This enhances the durability of the fresh coat.
  •  Ensure true colors. You will get the color you spent hours deliberating over, without the undertone of the color previously painted (as noted, see section above).
  • The paint job itself will just look better and more finished.

The Pros know. If you have ever re-finished furniture yourself, you know from experience that the more thin coats you apply, the more the finish and color are enhanced and deepened.

There’s a hack for that (see above suggestion):  tint the primer with a small amount of the top coat color.

Make sure that the top coat and primer are either latex-based or oil based. Mixing dissimilar solutions does not work!

Your color choices reflect your personal style and the impression your rooms will give. Which colors tell your story? Read about the special effects of your favorite colors here.

Paint color is the least expensive and most effective design tool you have.

It’s well worth the extra time and trouble to get it right.
 Related Posts

(Guide To Painting Your Home Four Part Series)

Painting Your Home #1: Color Confusion

Painting Your Home #3: Which Color Goes Where?

Painting Your Home #4: Quality Paint & The Right Finish


The original version of this post was published on It’s represented here as a foundation for further topic discussion.