This is an original “How Does This Work?” article from the Decoding Decor Library Archive
For the most recently updated information, read the Guide Painting Your Home series, starting here
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.
…or you can apply a few of the following guidelines and pull the trigger with some degree of confidence.
Some designers, such as Jamie Drake or Diamond Barratta, are famous for their fearless color choices. They are master magicians with a very specific style and a wonderful way with unexpected choices. While we all admire the boldness, most Home Design Civilians will find it challenging to pull off strong exotic color selections that can actually be lived with.
Case in point: Some years ago, I had this vision of a fabulous red orange bathroom so I took a flying leap and saturated the tiny space with something called Outrageous Orange. It was. Eventually, my good friend Jack casually mentioned that my water closet reminded him of a London phone booth.
This was not the response I hoped for.
The following is a fairly foolproof formula. Look for colors (light colors or those with “muscle”) that are either “grayed” down or even “browned” down somewhat to avoid the potential of a color coming on too strong. If you’re looking at a color chip select a shade or two darker than you want the wall to be.
The latest color trends are moving towards deep, dark and/or bold colors for all walls, if not just an accent wall. In this case, be sure to limit the rest of the color selection to varying tones of that color, maybe one other color for accent and the rest a good mix of light, medium and dark neutrals. It’s also a good idea to carry that bold wall color on smaller objects like pillows, or picked up in a fabric pattern so that the color choice relates as a whole.
For a more fool-proof solution and possibly one that has a longer shelf life, favor neutrals or at least muted colors for walls and large pieces of upholstered furniture and rugs. Save bright/strong colors for pillows, artwork, towels, pottery etc. If you have patterned drapery or upholstery, or even a patterned rug, you can also pull a color from the design and use a tone of that.
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.
You must paint samples of your colors before you commit.
Paint big samples on your walls so you can 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. Another solution is to go to the local art supply store and get sheets of white foam core (app. 16”x20”). Paint two coats all the way to the edges of the boards. You can move these samples around the room to see how light affects your selection at various times of day and in various locations as well as see how the colors will 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, be sure to use the same color for doors and trims to ensure continuity.
Benjamin Moore and Pratt & Lambert both make a selection of colors in small sample sizes. Simply choose from their color charts for the smaller test bottles to be the most cost effective. 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.
Paint color is the cheapest and most effective design tool you have. It’s well worth the extra time and trouble to get it right.