Choosing the right &*$#? paint color for your walls

Guest post by Julie F.
The Colours
By: Rocco LuciaCC BY 2.0

Apparently, there’s such a thing as a “color of the year.” A bunch of people at Pantone get paid to travel the world, tour private fashion and decoration events, and BAM!, they barf up a color. Actually, it might be a sect. There’s something so mysterious and incomprehensible going on there. It must be godly. They say it’s science; I think it’s bullshit.

This year, the color is Radiant Orchid. Last year, it was Emerald. So now, every time I see a room with a touch of bright green in it I think “Pffff, so 2013.”

If you don’t want to become one of those Pantone cultists and actually live with your colors more than 12 months, here’s a handful of advice from a girl who learned how to pick the right color through trials and errors.

First let’s go through some basics…

Neutral colors

NeutralNow, most of us struggling with color will naturally buy neutral furniture. It’s okay — it’s our comfort zone. And it’s good news, because it’s like having a blank canvas. Black, white, greys, and wood are usually considered as neutrals. It basically means it’s not a color and it can go with anything. So don’t be afraid of taking the big step and try out some colors from time to time. Worst case scenario you’ll go back to neutral. Go ahead: do not be afraid to make mistakes, it’s worth it!

(And you don’t have to make every shade of wood match in a single room to have a sense of flow between furniture. I don’t know why, it just is. Trust me, I’m a doctor.)

Complementary colors

Before mastering the art of rainbow decoration, it’s easier to start with complementary colors. Aka on the other side of the wheel of death. They call it a chromatic circle but it will trap your soul if you look too long at it. Turn away now while there is still time. Here’s how it work: You pick a color you love. That’s your main color. Then you look at the opposite side of the wheel — doesn’t have to be directly opposite — but somewhere there. That’s your secondary color. Bang! just like that.

Now color match simply made this way will most likely be hard to love. Color don’t have to be clownish. I used to be terrified about colors because every time I tried them out, I ended up living in a circus (which can be very nice, but not really my style).

There are four color directions

Once you’ve settled on a certain type of color there are four directions you can go with it: Lighter/darker and Earth tone/saturated. Let’s try some of them out on a boring, and now fabulous Sims 3 decor…

Bright and saturated.
Bright and saturated.
Earth tones and saturated.
Earth tones and saturated.
Dark blue
Dark blue
Pale and soft.
Pale and soft.

Now time to actually buy the right color. Not as easy as you thought…

Color displays are meant to trick you

They want you to think it’s easy choosing the right color and they direct you in a single direction. It’s a trap! Look at the entire display and you’ll notice your color of choice might be found in different places. For example, I want a bright pink for an art project. My first instinct will be to go under the red; you know pink is red mixed with white. Surprise! Check out under the purples too, because there are awesome pinks there as well. Same goes for blues, that can be found under traditional blues or cold greys. Be sure to scan the entire painting display when picking up chips.

Believe it or not, I found the most picky ones to be neutrals: beige, white and greys come in sooo many different tones that it’s super hard to even differentiate them from one another.

When in doubt, here are two tricks…

  1. Decide whether you want a cold or warm palette.
  2. Look at the darkest color on the paint chip and match this one with your other colors. Then go back on your light shade for the final pick.

About painting chips

Pick as many as you can before the guy at the stand starts looking at you with his funny eyes. Seriously, there is no limit to how many different painting chip one can take. It’s one of the few free things in the world, so enjoy it fully. Take everything that could work, is remotely near what you had in mind and even a little beyond, just to be sure. Than go back home with your stashed goods.

Once back home

Display your loot on a table and mark the colors you love best with an X on the back of the painting chip (or two if you really like it). You can process by marking those you love most and putting aside those you love less. Slowly, work your way into making a decision about every paint chip on your table. Then put the chips away and wait 24 to 48 hours. Repeat the exercise, with a different pen color. In the end, you should have narrowed it down to three or four colors.

To make a final decision, take the chips with you and go the place you want to paint. Check how they look on different walls, during different times of the day, in the shade and in the light.

If there is more than one color on you chip, fold it so only the color you chose shows up. It seems stupid, but the folding step is very important! Not being distracted by the other shades will help you make the choice that feels right. Otherwise if you are now unsure about a color you thought you liked, try a darker shade or lighter one.

Whoa, there we go! My exact shade of pink that I didn’t know I wanted before today.

What’s your recipe for choosing the right paint color?

Comments on Choosing the right &*$#? paint color for your walls

  1. I would also add to go one step beyond paint chips. Taking a paint chip home is great, then you can narrow it down based on the lighting in your house. After that, narrow the paint down to about 3 choices. Buy a sampler paint can in your top 3 colours (most paint manufacturers offer these) and paint a sample swatch of each on your wall. That way you get a larger idea of how the paint will actually look on your wall. Different wall substrates will slightly affect your paint, eggshell white will look different on wood as opposed to plaster as opposed to gypsum. You may love that grey chip, but when you paint it on the wall you see it has a more purple tone than you anticipated, etc.

    • Sampler paint cans for the win! I got my top two or three in these and painted big sections of the walls on each wall of the room the room (so you can see how it looks in different lights). I like to wait and look at the dried sections at different times of day as well to make sure that things look the same in the morning as the afternoon.

    • I actually painted my samples onto movable objects instead of the walls. I used old pieces of drywall and poster board, Then I could walk around the room at different times of day, in different lighting situations, and see how it would look under all conditions. It made a difference!

      • This is what we have been doing (by remote). While we’re apart Hubby and I have been talking a lot about ideas for the house and we’ve spent a lot of time trawling the internet for styles and colours we like and where we want them in the house. Once we’d narrowed it down I asked him to go buy some sample pots and a couple of sheets of drywall (which we’ll be using for a project we have planned), paint the dry wall and then move it around the room photographing it at different times of day. I also got him to add in some of the intended furniture and décor to the shots as well so I can see how it will look. We’ve pretty much got the guest room sorted through this method and it’s been a great project for us to work on online together. Having the painted dry wall pictures really helped me to make decisions. We’re definite on the guestroom and we’re starting again on the kitchen. And my husband is awesome, which I already knew, but doing this together has been a great bonding experience.

  2. I love painting rooms, it is hard work and a lot of prep, but the sense of satisfaction is totally worth it. I am in the throws of painting several rooms in my house and I love colour, in fact I just painted my tiny hallway a deep turquoise. Ever since I could paint my own room and now my own house I have chosen fun colours to paint with and as I start painting I panic about the colour every time and then I love it when it is done. I don’t know why I torture myself every time but I do, but in the end it makes me happy, especially when I get to paint over a colour that is awful. The tiny hallway was painted by the previous owner of this house and I described it as “Nude Bra” and my interior designer friend said that she calls it “Menopausal Pink”, but now it is turquoise and I have a sense of relief every time I look at it.

    • My house was last painted in the 80s with single-coat flat paint in peach and powder blue. I never thought that I’d love bright/light colours, but it turns out that’s what suits us and the house. I also worry when I first pick a colour because no one else seems to have my imagination, but when it’s done? Oh, the relief! (And the amazement + compliments)

    • I love your description of the hallway color! Our house was painted with the cheapest stuff possible – the walls and ceiling were a peachy off-white we called Pasty White Ass, and the trim was a dingy grey off-white (in gloss, of course!) that we called Dirty Dishwater. Of course when we repainted the ceiling to actual white, we had to change the name from Swiss Coffee to Tighty Whities (to cover our Pasty White Ass).

      My aunt is an interior decorator and tells me to pick the fabrics first and match the paint colors to them, because there are so many more choices in paint than fabric. I never do, though, because paint chips are just too much fun!

  3. I would also recommend looking at some images of finished rooms. These could be in the sample cards, magazines, online. Think about what you like about that.

    We painted our living room a fairly bright teal. The inspiration came from a magazine picture my mom found. Our wood is fairly orange but the teal is not so blue as to make it painful, but blue enough to make it all pop. It ends up feeling warm and inviting instead of overwhelming. We did one wall darker to accent our built in faux fireplace. It really works in our house as we have minimal lighting in that room so bright is good. We looked at SO many paint chips. Compared and debated.

    One thing to consider is any wood/trim you may have. How does the paint look with that? It was carefully considered in our living room. In a bedroom at my mum’s? Not so much. Her house is mostly a taupe colour. I thought it looked fairly cream and we both picked out pale green for one bedroom. Oops! Turns out that the taupe against the green comes out looking like Neapolitan ice cream! It brings out some serious pinky undertones in the taupe that we didn’t realize were there.

    Definitely worth trying it on the wall. Especially if you are painting over another colour. We did a robin’s egg blue over pink. Took us more paint than anticipated to cover and we hadn’t expected to prime things. Primer is extra important for certain colours apparently, both to cover them and to get a bold look to them when finished. It can be worth talking to someone in a proper paint store, even if you buy your paint elsewhere, just to get professional advice.

  4. It took me ten months and fourteen samples to find the right pale grey for my living room. I desperately wanted one without any obvious undertones of blue, green, gold…I didn’t realize how much of an effect the crappy lighting in my apartment would have on the colors! Samples would look like milk chocolate or washed-out grapes, it was awful. I finally had Home Depot make me a sample of Farrow & Ball’s “Blackened” and it came out perfectly. My point being, if you are having trouble finding the right paint color, I would recommend adding/changing out the lights in your room as it makes a HUGE difference. In the end, taking the time I did and going through so many samples, as frustrating as it was, was SO worth it!

  5. I second the recommendation to buy the little tub of sample paint. You can paint a swatch bigger than the paint chip, so you get a better idea of how it will look in your room.

    • I think Better Homes and Gardens had the same info- mix a little gray or brown into whatever color you want to tone it down slightly and give it more depth.

  6. My bathroom is currently a patchwork of all colours in one form or another looking for an accent colour that goes with the god awful lino. Imagine a purple undertoned grey with a sort if beigey marbled effect. That’s also very textured.

    We’ve decided to go for a really deep grey to contrast against the white walls and the sink. I’m hoping to do the whole space eventually and swap the floor for something sandstone coloured. I’m a big fan of dark glamorous bathrooms

  7. This post came in the nick of time….My only problem is my love for lots of color and deep hate for beige…..We have 6 rooms to paint and right now it feels kind of all over the place….. .meh…..

  8. Has anyone tried out the Valspar. (I think) love it guarantee?
    The advert with the chameleons.

    How do they know that you didn’t love it, compared to just getting free paint for say a different room in your house?

    • I’m in the process of painting our new home with Valspar and here’s how it works: to get the Love it Guarantee, you have to take a picture of your wall with the paint you didn’t love, next to the paint you do, side-by-side. Then you submit the picture and the form for a rebate. My hunch is that there’s probably some limit on how many times you can claim the free paint though.

  9. You are so right about the color of the year! I mean I get that there are color trends, but it’s a lot of fuss for one color. (I always feel like I’m betraying my graphic design profession by thinking that. ha!)

    So, I don’t have fancy 3D simulation skills like Julie, but I do have some hard-earned Photoshop skills. If anyone here would like a virtual paint makeover, by all means drop me a line! I do them for fun on my blog and it’s a great way to visualize color when you aren’t such a visual person. There’s so much excellent advice on this site, I’d love to help a lady (or guy) out in return. 🙂

    However, digital renderings don’t replace a good old jar of sample paint. I agree wholeheartedly with that advice.

    Check out a virtual makeover here:

  10. Strangely, some of the best advice I got on picking colors came from Martha Stewart. She said to look in your hamper. Those are the clothes you wear, and you like those colors. If you have a print you love, look at that color combination, because someone already put it together and you love it.

  11. I use the oops method. I go to the back of the paint section, grab a can of mistint and go. Although I use to be worried about the right paint, now, I fly by the seat of my pants. I have always loved green. I have three different shades in my living room. Just go with your gut, if it’s not perfect just paint over it. I do always use VOC free and I love Valspar.

  12. There are thousands of colors on the paint displays, so I made the choices easier by deciding on basically which color I wanted, and then googling, “best Benjamin Moore green” or “best Benjamin Moore yellow” and seeing what designers recommend. Even with a sample, it’s hard to know how a color is going to look when it’s covering an entire room. So, I figure designers have figured out enough tried-and-true colors to have good recommendations. I ended up with Palladian Blue, Hancock Green, and Hawthorne Yellow…and they all look great!

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