How To Choose Terrific Home Paint Colors You Will Love

Choosing paint color for your home can be very confusing. Where do you start to figure out what color, which shade and where it should go? Here is the ultimate step-by-clear-step guide for selecting perfect paint colors for every room.

room with peeling paint
Distressed paint finishes are a certain look. Is it yours?

It’s time to Paint

Painting the walls is one of the best solutions for blah looking rooms.

A fresh coat of paint does wonders to give a new lease on looks in the most cost effective way. More importantly perhaps, the right paint color can raise your spirits considerably every time you walk into the room.

Still, we hesitate to repaint our homes. Even though, “Every day living soot” has obscured the original color.

Why do we wait to paint?

We wait because we usually don’t have a plan, a guide or a clue about how to actually select the perfect paint color.

these are only the first questions

  • What color(s)?
  • Will looking at trending paint colors give me a clue?
  • What paint colors are best for home interiors?
  • What color goes where?
  • Which finish?
  • Is it time for a whole new paint color scheme?
Besides, aren’t we all a bit tired of grey/taupe rooms by now?

how do you decide on ANY color?

You can always find opinions and surveys. The truth is though, no opinion or trend report will work for you UNLESS you happen to especially like those colors. Choosing paint colors for your home that you will actually love is PERSONAL.

However, there are specific and logical ways to narrow down your search for PERFECT COLORS for every room.

Key points to remember

great home design is a very disciplined art form

  • Smart choices are the ones you can justify as logical answers asked “why did you choose that?” In other words, smart choices aren’t a random “happy accident”.
  • Use an anchor as a starting point for all of your color choices. Rooms that look “pulled together” and “considered” are grown from a foundational color to which the rest of the color scheme will relate.
This is why your paint colors are (usually) the last decisions you make.

why you need an anchor for your room design too

An ANCHOR IDEA as a foundation for the rest of your decorating decisions is invaluable. Otherwise, WHEN you ask yourself, “Where am I going with this theme/style/selection?”, you won’t have a good SUPPORTING answer for WHY.

Think of the design of your home as a new construction project. Every new building begins with laying the foundation before the walls are erected. In the same way, you build from the ground up before the walls. the starting point is the foundation, before the walls. Your design scheme could crumble without proper supports (reasons) for your choices!

colorful rug shown where one could pull colors for overall scheme
This rug is a great anchor for the developing color scheme. A lighter tone of the darker blues in the rug was used for the sofa. Other rug colors will work well for pillows & accessories, etc. too.

How do you decide what color to use as the anchor?

The “Anchor” in a room is usually the biggest or most dominant piece. Pull a color from patterned drapery, upholstery or a rug, as your primary color, along with one or two secondary colors. It works best if you choose the darker colors available in your selected anchor. Your color scheme will have a more grounded feel as a whole.

In a living room, for example, you could pull your colors from a great rug OR use your sofa as a color baseline. If you use your rug as an anchor, then your sofa will be a color (or similar shade) pulled from the rug to coordinate with it. The one or two secondary colors from the rug can be your guides for chairs that are part of the same seating composition as the sofa. The drapery, pillows and assorted accessories can use these colors or shades/tones of them. You get the idea, I’m sure.

The end game is for your rooms look “considered” and “pulled together”. This is how you get there.

neutral paint color and colorful accessories
Neutral wall, sofa and rug colors are a great foil for colorful art and accessories.

A classic color solution that always works

Favor neutrals or at least muted colors for walls and large pieces of upholstered furniture and/or rugs. Save bright/strong colors for pillows, artwork, towels, pottery etc. It will be much easier to “fluff up” a room with new colors from different accessories seasonally, or any time you feel like it.

paint chips to chose best home paint options
A rose (color) by any other name…

Unlimited color Choices

There’s an immense range of shades, tones and intensities for every color under the sun to choose from. However, choosing colors that will look terrific with the furnishings you already have, will naturally limit your selections.

you won’t have Even if you’re starting from scratch with new everything, you still won’t have limitless options for your fabrics, rugs, finishes, etc.

Can you simply start with a favorite color?

Sure, why not. Not every room and situation has furnishings to coordinate with. If the color of your favorite shirt inspires you, FABULOUS!

However, your favorite shirt color isn’t necessarily going to be the Right Answer, just because you really like it.

Just remember that while the small scale of a shirt allows for a bright, wild and crazy color. The same color on your eight foot-by-whatever long walls could eventually give you a headache.

Orange paint room at home
An orange painted HOME ROOM is a very personal choice

Oh, but you love that color

There is an excellent work-around you can use for a win/win solution. If the your beloved color can be found somewhat “browned or grayed down” to create its own neutral you are on the right track. You can then lighten or darken your new shade to taste. Pratt & Lambert has an especially impressive color deck for “neutralized” colors like this.

man and woman painting room

Mixing your own paint color is not for Do-It-Your-Selfers 

I have been selecting client paint colors for years, but I still wouldn’t get into hand mixing tones or tints myself. It can be too complicated, confusing and time consuming.

You can much more easily find the right solutions in professional color decks. I usually use Benjamin Moore for quality and their HUGE range of color choices.

other thoughts to explore:

1. Natural Selection:

Nature’s colors are perfect. If the Hearth and Home Gods have blessed your space with lots of big windows with views of trees and other greenery, your rooms can become one with the great outdoors.

Try selecting colors that match those found just outside your window. A full-scale paint color fan deck is invaluable and well worth the investment.  Discover the perfect leaf greens, bark browns and a plethora of stone tones and shades of the good earth itself.

2. bold colors

Are deep, dark and/or bold colors an idea you have always wanted to try?

Unknown fact: Dark colors appear to recede

Your furniture, rugs and accessories will pop and come to life if they are a lighter color than the walls. You have just created a stunning backdrop.

You can also make limited use of varying tones of the same dark/bold color to help coordinate the overall scheme.

Assess carefully: too much of a good thing isn’t always wonderful.

Carry that bold wall color over to smaller objects like pillows, throws or even small accent chairs. In a perfect world, your color might have been picked up from a fabric or rug pattern already in the room. Either way, deliberately use your main color where you can, so that the color choice relates as a whole, and over all, looks “on-purpose”.

Avoid over-dramatization of an otherwise good idea. Use at most one other color for accent. to From here, a good mix of light, medium and dark neutrals in your furnishings will lend a great backdrop to your inspired color choice.

several paint brushes with different colors
You can’t be too careful in selecting the right color for several reasons

test your paint colors:

Now that you are actually looking at color with a purpose…you could feel overwhelmed by the VAST range of tints and tones of any one color.

And, as you know, a rose (color) by any other name, etc. This means you can mull over the right hue until your eyes are so feeble, it will no longer matter.

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

why Doesn’t the color i selected look the same as on my wall as on my paint chip?

Did you know that the light in a room will affect every color anywhere in it? This is to say, you can easily get a color you didn’t expect after you have painted.

Ask these questions:

  • What time of day are you looking at your color choices?
  • From what direction does the light enter your room?
  • Is it a sunny or a cloudy day?
  • What about any reflections?
  • Direct light or indirect?
  • Artificial light vs. natural light.

By the way, if you are curious to learn some of the basics of good lighting, check out this article.

READ>>> How To Create The Best Lighting Solutions For Your Home

color is influenced by other colors

Did you know that a single color can be 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 that paint store with the loud chartreuse walls, that it will look just the same on your walls at home.

In short, both circumstances can radically change your opinion of your 0f any color, once you see it in the intended environment.

wall of paint swatches
Have a couple of colors in mind before you look for the swatches

Should you pre-edit your potential paint color selection?


Decide in advance on colors that most appeal to you and pick a favorite or two.

choose a lighter and a darker version of each chip color because colors look brighter or darker on the walls then they do on a tiny chip. It depends on the lighting and the colors adjacent to where your new color will live.

Smart “before-you-get-there” editing helps ward off that “deer-caught-in-the-headlights” feeling later.

Half measures testing your colors will 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. This is not the time to quibble about the expense.

orange paint in can

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

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.

Painting a huge swath of paint color is spot on for being perfectly clear about how a particular color will look. BUT this “Big Swath Solution” could get very unwieldy if you want to test a few different colors.

AND obviously, you won’t be able to move the colors around to see how they look in different locations, with different lighting conditions.

There is a brilliant shortcut for color swatching

Recently, I came across this site.

SAMPLIZE is a peel-and-stick paint sample that you can apply RIGHT to your wall NO messy paint pots, NO poster boards, NO sloppy rollers …”

Pick your paint manufacturer (Farrow & Ball, Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, etc.). Then select your sample colors from their data base. For a nominal fee of $5.99 per swatch, you will be sent a 12″x12″ sheet of real painted color with a peel and stick back!

I think this is genius.

I’ve used SAMPLIZE for small spaces but have also painted larger pieces of foam core (art supply used for building architectural models) for help with more complex paint color solutions.

The right color in the wrong place will still look wrong

It’s important that all of your color choices play well together even if they are in different rooms. Think big picture. Don’t think of a color for just the room to be painted, think also how your color selection will relate to the rest of your home. The goal is to give your rooms a cohesive look as a unified environment.

You don’t want your rooms looking like different countries on different continents.

Color Continuity is important

One method of establishing continuity is to limit your color palette overall and reference only one or two of the colors used in the fabrics and/or rugs.

Use these same colors, or shades of these colors more than once by moving them around to different rooms. An example of this might be to use only four colors and a unifying trim/molding color through out a two bedroom, two bath residence.

Your paint color selection could look like this:

  • The ceiling color could be a pale tint of the wall color.
  • Or the ceiling color could be a pale tint of the accent color. Be sure that the accent color is referenced in other rooms too.
  • The wall color of one room could be the ceiling color of another room.
  • Your hallways can tie rooms of different colors together if you use the same neutral shade in each. 
  • Another method is to use one primary color family for adjacent rooms. Choose the lighter tones for the public spaces and the darker shades as you move back into the private areas.
  • A great thing to do in a room without crown molding, is to paint the walls and ceiling the same color. Choose a pale to medium tone of a neutral or otherwise muted color for this purpose. Without the distraction of a color shift, the walls will seem higher. It’s a seamless room without borders.
  • If you are painting the entire residence, choose a trim and door color that works well with your chosen color palette. The same color can then be used throughout. This is the easiest way to ensure that every room “ties” together elegantly.

Incidentally, there is some wisdom in using light colors in light spaces and darker ones in darker rooms.

Your colors won’t be fighting with the existing natural lighting.

white paint on paint rolle
Go for it!

Paint color creates ambience

Color will affect your spirits in an undeniable way. You can design the mood you want to live with, by choosing colors that have the effect you want for every area.

To that end, even choosing white must be a deliberate decision. It is no longer the safe refuge of a default position.

White paint color does not have magical properties

A white ceiling, for example, doesn’t make a room look taller as much as it draws attention to itself. It’s very stark and doesn’t really make sense unless white is also being used in significant amounts around the room. What does make the ceiling appear higher is color, used thoughtfully. Mix a little of the wall color into a soft off-white to give it the same hue, if you want to keep it light.

In other words, make that fifth wall work with your color scheme in a very effective way.

room with white paint ceiling in home
A white ceiling makes sense with white wainscoting

a white ceiling is a great choice, sometimes

In a room with modern architecture and minimal moldings it has its advantages. In this instance, if you want to use a strong paint color for your walls, a white ceiling with white door and window trims will look crisp and fresh. It will also play up the graphic lines of the architecture.

a small room is a NOT a bad thing you have to disguise

It’s a losing battle anyway. White paint will not make a room look bigger. It will just make it look brighter. Whereas a dark, rich paint color could be the basis for creating a fascinating “destination” within your home. It seems counter-intuitive, but dark colors appear to recede.

Use a paint finish with sheen to keep the dark color from looking “murky”, if you prefer.

This is why, when you want to look SVELTE, black clothing is the OBVIOUS choice.

green door, trim and wall
Matching trims and doors play nicely with adjacent wall color

What about paint colors for moldings, trims and doors?

As with ceilings, toss out the notion that trims, moldings and doors always have to be white. Though, if you do have great moldings and doors, a creamy white is often a wonderful choice. It’s just that it’s not the only wonderful choice on the menu.

Always remember that white will draw attention in a vivid way.

Don’t hesitate to paint the doors and trims the same color as the walls, especially when they aren’t great. Using a satin finish for trims and a matte finish for walls in the same color, is an elegant looking solution.

In smaller rooms, it’s better to minimize extra distractions like graphic white trims. Though small rooms aren’t a bad thing, it is very helpful to “blur the edges” with matching color.

You could also consider using a color that’s a few shades lighter or darker than your wall color. The effect is sophisticated, without being jarring.

Generally, a satin finish is good for the trims and doors, although high gloss finishes seem to be having their moment, again. A matte finish is fine for the walls.  If you are going to use a dark wall color, eggshell/pearl finishes have a sheen that tends to take the edge off a potentially murky look, as mentioned above.

It would be a good idea to test that effect before you commit, as always!

Over To You

I’d love to know what you think. Was there a tip that was especially helpful? Hopefully, you found a little inspiration and maybe even resolved a long standing quandary brilliantly!

Would You Like To Know More?

Choosing paint color for your home is a topic with many factors. I will be writing about how room color affects our mood in the near future. It’ll be another very useful tool to help you choose your colors wisely. Do let me know about other areas you would like me to cover.

Either way, please do tell me all in the comments below!

The original version of this article was published on, February 10, 2011. It can be viewed here

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Choosing paint color for your home can be very confusing.
Where do you start to figure out what color, which shade and where it should go? How do you know you have “it” out of thousands of paint color options? Here is the ultimate step-by-clear-step guide for selecting perfect paint colors for every room!

about the author

Cindy Bergersen is a professional design consultant turned full time writer about home design: what is it, how it woh9rks and how to make it work for anyone. 

Nearly 30 years experience as a design consultant to private clients in addition to consulting with clients for well known, high end furniture retailers proved to be invaluable training.

In 2010, Decoding Decor won a $1000 cash prize as one of four editors top pick for best content from Demand Media, the largest media content aggregate in the country, with access to over 45 million articles.

She is both passionate and committed to sharing her experience and knowledge to help anyone, to help themselves to a beautiful, comfortable home, without feeling confusion or overwhelm about where to start and how to proceed.

She lives in New York City with Olivia, The Cat. When not writing for the Library, she can be found cycling though Central, Riverside and Hudson River Parks, watching way too much film, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.