How to Choose a Paint Color for Your Home
Putting a new paint color on the walls is one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to transform a room. But where do you start if you haven’t already picked out a color? An interior designer or color consultant can help you hone in on the general color you want, such as yellow, gray, white or green. A pro can also advise you on the specific paint color to choose.
But before you commit, it’s worth considering which colors you truly love. We interviewed three interior designers for their best tips on how to identify these colors. Their practical suggestions will have you feeling more color-confident in no time.
Visit Your Closet
Whatever you do, don’t just head straight to the paint store to browse through the paint chips, or you risk being majorly overwhelmed. Of course, if you’ve already done this, you’re not alone. “People will actually hire a painter without knowing what colors they want to use yet,” says D.C.-based interior designer Kelly Porter. “Even before you go to the paint store, you really want to narrow down the colors. Even before you pick up the swatches.”
But how do you narrow down a color in the first place? Designer Keith Wardlaw of Plus Modern Design in Kansas City, Missouri, suggests examining your wardrobe. “I tell clients, No. 1, to look in their closet and see what colors they wear often,” he says. “They’re going to gravitate toward certain colors that look well on them. Obviously, what better way to look great in the interior than if you paint what you look great in?”
Browsing your wardrobe can also help you come up with ideas for accent colors. For instance, if you tend to wear a lot of blue and often pair it with khaki, tan leather shoes and silver jewelry, perhaps those colors could be a theme for your home. You could translate that theme to your living room with blue walls, soft leather furnishings, and gray (or silver) for other accents.
Unearth Your Happy Memories
Porter, the D.C. designer, holds color workshops in which she gives a questionnaire about personal associations with particular colors. “What color was your room growing up?” she asks. “What color makes you the happiest?”
Inspiration can come from anywhere. “Maybe your grandmother’s kitchen was yellow, and you have great memories of traveling with her. Maybe you saw this great shade of blue when you were traveling in the Caribbean, and it calms you,” she says.
If no colors come to mind from your memories, try getting out a photo book from one of your favorite trips and seeing if any colors speak to you. As you go about your days, visiting restaurants, shops and even other people’s homes, pay attention to which colors you’re most drawn to.
There are no real rules about color, Porter says. One of her clients painted her bedroom a bright red — generally considered to be an invigorating rather than soothing color. While red may cause many people to feel alert when it’s time to be sleepy, “it was very calming to her,” she says. “You really have to know what moves you and not be influenced by what other people like and what other people say.”
Envision the Feeling You Want
So you’ve decided to paint your room blue. How do you narrow down which blue? It can be helpful to think about the feeling that you want to create in the room, Wardlaw says. If you’re seeking a cozier feel, choose a blue on the darker end. If you’re going for a more serene vibe, a lighter, perhaps sea blue may be better.
As you’re drawn to shades of blue, pay attention to whether you prefer blues that tend toward lavender, green or pure hues. Knowing the undertones of the shade you’re selecting is useful for coordinating with trim and accessories. A good designer will be able to identify these undertones and help you select a paint that works with your furnishings.
You’ll also want to keep in mind whether your paint color should have cool or warm undertones — and again, a designer can be invaluable in helping you identify these subtleties. If you’re starting from a blank slate, a cool gray or a warm gray might suit you equally. But if you already have furniture and accessories in warmer hues, you may want to choose a warmer tone that complements what you already have.
Browse photos on Houzz for general color and style ideas, and “tone and value inspiration — meaning light or dark or medium,” advises designer Carl Mattison of Atlanta-based Carl Mattison Design. But keep in mind that the way colors read on your computer screen or mobile device probably won’t be the way they read in your room, where they’ll be affected by the amount of light and even the landscaping that the light is coming through.
If you fall in love with a color online, go out and select a swatch and bring it home before committing. Even color chips won’t be exactly how the paint color will appear, so it’s important that you actually test out the paint on your walls.
Narrow Down Your Options to No More Than Four Colors
Once you’ve settled on a general color, your designer can save you a lot of time by suggesting a few excellent paint color choices and helping you choose the best option among them. However, if you like to be more involved in the selection process, you might head to the paint store and pick out several chips and bring them home. Then it’s time to winnow them down.
“Say you come home with eight shades of blue,” Porter says. “Lay all the swatches out and compare them to each other. You will start to see the subtle differences between each color. Some of the blues lean toward green or aqua. Some are a denim shade. Some have a funky undertone that you just don’t like at all.”
Narrow down the options to three or four colors. You can tack the color chips to the wall of the room you’ll be painting, or use a sheet of paper as a neutral background. Keep in mind as you make your comparisons that the paint chips will appear a bit darker on a light background, and lighter on a dark background, Porter says. “Often, after comparing the paint chips to each other, it will be pretty clear which color is going to work,” she says.
If you still aren’t comfortable with the color options, you could consider taking away all but one option and looking at each color individually. Also, this may sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget: As you assess colors, consider how each option will look with the elements of your room already in place (and that you’re not willing to change).
Put Paint Samples Right on the Wall
Once you’ve chosen your three or four final colors, it’s time to test them. All three of our experts agree: It’s better to paint the wall than those sample boards the paint store sells. This is not just because it’s more economical. “You need to paint at least a 1-by-1-foot square on all four walls,” Wardlaw says. “You paint on the wall because that’s exactly where it’s going. You’re painting over a previous color. I feel a board doesn’t saturate in the same way.” Mattison recommends painting an even larger area — at least 3 feet by 3 feet — for each sample color.
Porter advises placing the paint samples side by side on the wall. “They should still be lined up because one would still need to compare and choose based on the process of elimination,” she says. Again, if this is overwhelming for your eye, you could consider looking at them apart.
It’s also important to make sure the sample can you purchase has the finish that you’re planning to use (matte, eggshell, satin, high gloss) because that can also change the way a color reads. Many stores sell the sample-size cans only in the matte finish. You may want to consider buying a full quart to get the true effect.
Look at the samples on the wall at various times of day, and try different types of lighting (various wattages) to see how that may change the colors. Live with the colors for a few days. When a clear winner emerges, you’re ready to paint the walls.