Editor’s note: last update 5/24/2021
Was choosing paint color last time so confusing that you defaulted to Landlord White?
Well, maybe but….
We all know painting the walls is a great solution for a tired looking room. A fresh coat 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 through your front door.
Even though, “Every day living soot” has obscured the original color…
We still hesitate to repaint our rooms.
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?
Aren’t we all sick of grey/taupe rooms yet?
Could one simply start with a favorite color? Sure, why not…but don’t think that the color of your favorite shirt is necessarily going to be the answer just because you really like it.
Watch Your Tone. As inspiration though, maybe the color of your favorite shirt will work after all. 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.
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.
Not for do-it-your-selfers. Though I have been selecting color for clients for years, even I wouldn’t get into hand mixing tones or tints myself. It can be too unnecessarily 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 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. Be sure to limit the rest of the color selections to varying tones of that color, maybe one other color for accent and the rest a good mix of light, medium and dark neutrals in your furnishings for that room. 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.
This is by no means a rule, but a suggestion that always works: 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 want your choices to have a “considered” look, pull a color from patterned drapery, upholstery or even a patterned rug if you love those colors.
So, back to the color deck of your choice…
Now that you are actually looking at color with a purpose…you might suddenly feel confronted by the VAST range of tints and tones of any one color. Who knew?
You know, a rose 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, you can still pick a color that will look like a rotting vegetable on your walls.
This is why you test your colors
I can’t emphasize too much how light will affect every color anywhere.
Here are the most common ways:
- What time of day are you looking at your color choices?
- From what direction does the light enter your room? North lighter is cooler than a Southern exposure, for example.
- Is it a sunny or a cloudy day?
- What about any reflections?
- Direct light or or indirect?
- Artificial light vs. natural light.
Case in point: I live is an apartment complex with windows only on the East side. I get a smidge of morning light only, as the adjacent apartment building blocks the rest. Consequently, even though I use a variety of lighting fixtures at various times of the day…..it pretty much always looks like “Cocktail Hour” in my home All. The. Time.
I’ve been known to leave my apartment wearing one navy and one black sock.
I did not intend this…sigh.
A single color is also influenced by every other color in its immediate vicinity. Always test your paint 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 a paint color.
Color Check. Generally, one starts the color selection process with a chip. Look for colors that most appeal to you and pick a favorite or two. Then choose a lighter and a darker version of each. Colors look brighter on the walls than they do on a tiny chip.
Half measures will avail you not much. Don’t stop at acquiring only a few measly chips. Many of the best paint companies offer their paint color selection in small sample sizes. Otherwise, buy quarts of the colors of interest. This is not the time to quibble about the expense.
One of the best methods 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 18″ by 20″ 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. You’ll also be able to see more readily how the color works with the rest of the proposed scheme and with your furnishings.
Another test drive. If you prefer 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.
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 paint 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. And obviously, you won’t be able to move the colors around to see how they look in different locations, with different lighting conditions.
A brilliant shortcut: Recently, I came across https://shop.samplize.com. “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 …”
Just do it. Pick your paint manufacturer (Farrow & Ball, Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, etc.), 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 some of the other sampling techniques I listed above for help with more complex paint color solutions.
Not done yet. You would think that armed with a little guidance and knowledge, your choices will no doubt be perfect and perfectly beautiful.
Maybe…but the right color in the wrong place will still look wrong.
Think Big Picture. It’s important that all of your paint color choices play well together even if they are in different rooms. 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.
The impression that your rooms are actually different countries in search of a continent to call their own is not optimum.
Where Does This Go? 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.
Here are some other ideas:
- The wall color of one room could be the ceiling color of another room.
- The ceiling color could be a pale tint of the wall color in that room or the accent color. Be sure that the accent color is referenced in other rooms too.
- While you might opt for different colors in several rooms, your hallways can tie the rooms together if you use the same neutral shade in each.
- Another method is to use only one color family. 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.
- If you are painting the entire residence; choose a trim and door color that works well with the color palette so the same color can be used throughout. This is the easiest way to ensure that every room “ties” together elegantly.
Paint color is a major player is creating the ambience you most want to live with. To that end, even choosing white must be a deliberate decision and is no longer the safe refuge of a default position.
New rules for old assumptions: A white ceiling doesn’t make a room look taller as much as it draws attention to itself. It’s very stark. If nothing else, use a little of the wall color mixed into deep ivory to give it the same hue or even a light cafe au lait tone.
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, as well as play up the graphic lines of the architecture.
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.
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 and rich paint color could be the foundation for creating a fascinating “destination” within your home. Use a paint finish with sheen to keep the dark color from looking “murky”.
Moldings, Trims And Doors: As with ceilings, toss out the notion that trims, moldings and doors always have to be white. Granted, if you have great moldings and doors, a creamy white is often a wonderful choice. However, remember that white will draw attention in a graphic way. Don’t hesitate to paint the doors and wall trims the same color as the walls, if you don’t want the extra detail or the doors and trims aren’t great. Use a satin finish for the trim, and washable matte for the walls. Another good idea is to paint the trims and doors a few shades lighter or darker than your wall color. The effect is sophisticated, without being jarring.