The empty cans are a good indication perfect paint colors were found.

How To Chose Terrific Home Paint Color 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? 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.

We all know painting the walls is a great solution for a tired looking room.

A fresh coat of paint does wonders to give a new lease on looks in the most cost effective way possible. In addition, 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? Because selecting the perfect paint color without a plan, a guide or a clue is daunting.

  • What color(s)?
  • What color goes where?
  • Which finish?
  • Is it time for a whole new paint color scheme?

AND…Aren’t we all sick of grey/taupe rooms by now?

So, where do you start to decide on ANY color?

  • Are there paint colors that are best for homes?
  • Will looking at trending paint colors give you a clue?

You can always find opinions and surveys. But in the end, 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.

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

Key points to remember

In reality, you need an anchor as well as a starting point for all of your color choices.

This is true for the rest of your decorating decisions too. You are best served to think of your home design as a structure. Like building a new home, you always start with the foundation and then build up from there. Your design scheme could crumble without proper supports for your choices!

This is why your paint colors are (usually) the last decisions you make.

There’s an unlimited range of shades, tones and intensities for every color under the sun. But, choosing colors that will look great with the furnishings you already have, will naturally limit your selections. Even if you’re starting from scratch with new everything, you won’t have limitless options for your fabrics, rugs and finishes.

paint chips to chose best home paint options

Not a rule, but a suggestion that always works

These are classic solutions:

  • If you want your color choices to have a “considered” look: And who wouldn’t? Pull a color from patterned drapery, upholstery or even a patterned rug if you love those colors.
  • It’s a safe bet to 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.

Can you simply start with a favorite color?

Sure, why not. Not every room and situation has furnishings to be considered. If the color of your favorite shirt inspires you, GREAT.

However, the color of your favorite shirt isn’t necessarily going to be the 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 room at home 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  “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.

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

Though I have been selecting client colors for years, 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.

Here are a few other thoughts to explore:

  • 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.
  • Are deep, dark and/or bold colors an idea you have always wanted to try? Go for it, but overload is easy.  You can make limited use of varying tones of that color to augment the overall scheme. Use at most one other color for accent to avoid over-dramatization of an otherwise good idea. From here, a good mix of light, medium and dark neutrals in your furnishings will lend a great backdrop to your inspired color choice.
    • It’s 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.

Speaking of “A touch too much”, you might want to head over here: READ>>>How To Avoid Over-Done But Under-Effective Decorating

This is why you 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.

How does that happen?

Did you know that the light in a room will affect every color anywhere? This is to say, here is an opportunity to 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 lighting your home in a beautiful way: READ>>> How To Create The Best Lighting Solutions For Your Home

A single color is also 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.

In short, both circumstances can radically change your opinion of any given color.

Should you pre-edit your potential paint color selection?

The short answer is Yes.

Generally, one starts the color selection process with a chip. Decide in advance on colors that most appeal to you and pick a favorite or two.

This before-you-get-there type of editing helps ward off that deer-caught-in-the-headlights feeling. Trust.

Then, chips in hand, choose a lighter and a darker version of each. 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.

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 of the colors of interest. This is not the time to quibble about the expense.

open coral paint color can with brush

Orange on a paint chip seems harmless; all over a twelve by fifteen foot room, much less so. Refer to orange room photo above. It’s stunning, for better or worse.

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.

This notion of 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.

Not to mention the obvious: 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 and 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 also combined with larger pieces of foam core (art supply used for building architectural models) for help with more complex paint color solutions.

Be advised. The right paint 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(s) to be repainted, 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.

One method of establishing continuity. 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 also be a pale tint of the wall color, or 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 in adjacent room. Choose the lighter tones for the public spaces and the darker shades as you move back into the private areas.
    • There is some wisdom in the notion of using light colors in light spaces and darker ones in darker rooms. You won’t be fighting with the existing natural lighting.
  • 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.

Paint color is a major player in creating the ambience you most want to live with.

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

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 a lot of white is being used in the furnishings. If nothing else, use a little of the wall color mixed into a soft/off white to give it the same hue.

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

This isn’t to say a white ceiling never has its place.

A white ceiling in a room with modern architecture and minimal moldings 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 be look crisp and fresh. It will also play up the graphic lines of the architecture.

By the way, stop thinking a small room is 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. Use a paint finish with sheen to keep the dark color from looking “murky”.

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 not the only wonderful choice on the menu.

Always remember that white will draw attention in a graphic way. Don’t hesitate to paint the doors and trims the same color as the walls. There is no reason to point out doors and trims that aren’t great.

Use a satin finish for the trims and doors. Washable matte is good for the walls.  If you are going to use a dark wall color, eggshell/pearl finishes have a sheen that will take the edge off a potential murky look,  as mentioned above.

Another good idea is to paint the trims and doors the same color.  Or a few shades lighter or darker than your wall color. The effect is sophisticated, without being jarring.

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!

What would you like to know?

Choosing paint color for your home is 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, let me know in the comments below!

Related topics

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


Cindy Bergersen

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. 

Drawing on her years of private design consultation and experience working with the public to help retail clients solve their design dilemmas as well as writing about home design for various publication, she has become know as a “Home Design Professor”. She is both passionate and committed to sharing her experience and knowledge to help those who want to know how to make the most of their homes without the without the confusion or overwhelm around where to start and how to proceed.

She lives in New York City with Olivia, The Cat. When not blogging she can be found cycling though Central, Riverside and Hudson River Parks, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.

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