turquoise background red paint and brush

How To Choose WHERE To Paint Your Best Colors

Did you know that the right paint color in the wrong location will still look wrong? Where you paint your carefully chosen room colors is just as important as making those choices. This invaluable guide will help you decide where, when and WHY your colors will look best and complement the your whole home. Don’t start painting without it!

blue paint in can with roller

It’s never just about A single color in a single area

One of the hardest concepts to keep in mind when considering paint colors, especially if you only intend to paint a specified room, is that ALL rooms/areas are part of the whole residence.

That’s why it’s important that all of your color choices play well together, even if they are in different parts of your home. The goal is to give your rooms a cohesive look as a unified environment.

You don’t want to feel like you are traveling to a different country and back again as you move around your space.

Color Continuity Is Important 

One of the easiest ways to establish continuity is to use the same color for all the trims and doorways throughout your space.

Another method is to limit your color palette overall and reference only one or two of the colors used in the fabrics and/or rugs, per room.

Then 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 in your color palette and a unifying trim/molding color through out a two bedroom, two bath residence.

Your Paint Color locations 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.

dark teal room gold sofa
A beautiful case for bold color choices

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 location in your home.

To that end, even choosing white paint color should be a deliberate decision. It’s not really a safe-refuge-default-position because to “do white right” takes forethought and a bit of artistry.

You run the risk that your room(s) will be as interesting as a white refrigerator in a snow storm…

Choose your mood preference accordingly

While color preference is personal, color families do have their own universal effect.

  • Warm colors: These are the whole range from yellow through orange to red. They can add a feeling of comfort and stimulation but can also incur feelings of anger and hostility. Warm colors can also make you feel warm by association.
  • Cool colors: These cover the range from green through blue to purple. On the flip side of warm colors, cool colors can describe calmness and serenity, but can also nudge you over the edge into feelings of sadness or indifference. As with warm colors, cool colors have a certain psychological effect and can make you feel somehow “cooler”.
pink neon sign saying live color fully
Landlord white is for cowards

new rules about white and dark colors:

Try to forget the idea that “design rules” will always work for every situation. While you might not “make a mistake” per se, odds are good that a “safe design rule” could make you sorry. You may come to realize there are much more interesting choices to be made that will work wonders in an otherwise Blah environment.

Is there such a thing as a right “wrong choice” or a wrong “right choice”?

YES. I’m not a fan of “Design Rules”. Too often, they lend a sense of false hope that if you follow the “Rules”, you won’t go wrong…

If only that were true….

READ>>>When To Break Bad Design Rules For A More Beautiful Home

white room-walls, ceiling, floor
As interesting and “homey” as a white refrigerator in a snowstorm

White Paint Color Does Not Have Magical Properties

Rumor has it that:

  1. It makes ceiling appear higher!
  2. It lightens up a dark room!
  3. It makes a room appear bigger!

No, it doesn’t really doesn’t do any of those things.

A white ceiling 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.

You can make that Fifth Wall work with your color scheme in a truly effective way.

White paint doesn’t make a dark room lighter (as in lighting effect) either. Actually, in an inherently dark room, white paint looks seems like an unnatural act, somehow. It’s too strong without being effective. The same is true, (but somewhat less so) with using bright/light colors to change the condition of the natural lighting. It will, however, seem brighter (as in vivid).

Though it may seems like splitting hairs between Lighter or Brighter, there is a difference:

If you paint a dark room Orange, it will still be a dark room.

Shades of colors that work with the existing lighting conditions are your best bet. In other words, Bright Sunlight Yellow, in a dark room, won’t serve you as well as Mellow Old Gold.

A firm grip on the obvious is often useful. You could keep it simple and just turn on some lights.

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

Dining Room with white paint ceiling and white wainscote
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.

Small dark grey room
Dark wall color in a small room: Fabulous beats “small” any day

A small room is not a bad thing you have to disguise

It’s a losing battle anyway. Same as with dark rooms, white paint will not make a room look bigger, it will only make it brighter. 

What about dark paint colors? Don’t they cause a room to look smaller, closed in and generally “A Bad Thing”?

define “A bad thing”

What if that “small room” is richly gorgeous, quietly dramatic and comfortably enveloping, etc.?

A dark paint color could be the basis for creating a fascinating “destination” within your home. 

Sometimes it’s good to be BAD.

Though counter-intuitive, dark colors appear to recede. You probably haven’t noticed the ceiling color of most commercial spaces. That’s because they’ve been painted some blacker shade of dark and have apparently disappeared. Neat trick.

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

If you’d like to know more about how small rooms can be beautiful too:

READ>>How To Make The Most Of Tiny Rooms

orange stairway walls

Don’t miss An opportunity for a brilliant color solution

While committing to a dark/strong color for major rooms might not be to your taste for your main rooms, don’t over-look those areas that you just “pass through”, such as entry foyers, hallways, stairwells or even small powder rooms.

These are areas where a bold stroke looks genius. Strong color can be fascinating without being overwhelming or tiring because you aren’t settling in for an extended stay.

Make sure whatever unbridled move you make also can be related to the adjoining rooms. That fabulous color can be carried into adjacent areas in the form of pillows, throws, occasional chairs etc.

The keys to great home design are always continuity, repetition and relatedness.

Dark green door trim with white walls
White trim on white walls wouldn’t have had such a stunning effect

How to make smart color choices 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 not the ONLY wonderful choice on the menu.

green door, trim and wall
Matching wall color (matte finish) with doors and trims (satin finish) is elegant demarcation.

Don’t hesitate to paint the doors and trims the same color as the walls

This is especially good advice when they aren’t in great shape. Using a satin finish for trims/doors and a matte finish for walls in the same color, is an elegant looking solution.

In smaller rooms, it’s better to minimize the extra distraction of graphic white trims. White will always draw attention in a commanding way. Though small rooms aren’t a bad thing, it’s very helpful to “blur the edges” with matching color anyway.

For a little more definition, you could also consider using a trim color that’s a few shades lighter or darker than your wall color, in addition to a ceiling color that is a shade or two lighter than the walls.

What types of finishes should be used in various applications?

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 always, it’s a smart idea to test that effect before you commit!

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!

are there other topics you might be interested in?

Setting out to create the best version of beautiful home design, tailored especially for you, has a lot of potential questions built in. Please let me know. I’m here to help.

All photos courtesy of Unsplash unless otherwise noted.

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Did you know that the right paint color in the wrong location will still look wrong? Where you paint your carefully chosen room colors is just as important as making those choices. This invaluable guide will help you decide where, when and WHY your colors will look best and complement the your whole home. Don't start painting without it!

about the author

Cindy Bergersen is a professional design consultant turned full time writer about home design: what is it, how it works and how to make it work for anyone. Decades of experience as a design consultant to private clients, retail clients for well known, high end furniture retailers has proved to be invaluable training. 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 with Olivia, the cat. When not writing posts, she can be found cycling through city parks, watching a lot of film, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.


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