Picking a Paint Color You’ll Love

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hi there – I apologize for my unexpected absence last week. I was ill and I couldn’t even think about blogging or house projects…and you know it’s bad when I’m not thinking about house projects. I’m feeling much better (thanks for all your well wishes), and I’m ready to get back on the blogging wagon.

So let’s talk paint, shall we? If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you know how much I love paint. Like, I LOVE paint. I don’t just love it, I’m passionate about it. Some people are into cooking, or gardening, or astrophysics…I’m into paint. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know everything there is to know about the stuff, but I do know a thing or two (mostly learned through trial and error) so I thought I’d do a series of posts sharing what I know. I’ll do a post at the end of the series attempting to answer your highly intelligent questions. And I’m going to begin by talking about paint in the context of painting a room, rather than painting furniture. I’ll talk about furniture later, though.


The first step, obviously, is choosing a great paint color. After MUCH experience over the years with choosing colors I just can’t live with, I’ve learned to follow a few “rules”…for my own good:

1) Figure out what colors you love AND what colors you can actually live with. The two things may or may not be the same thing. I’ve tried repeatedly to paint rooms robin’s egg blue just because I love it so much…but I simply can’t live with it. For some reason, it just hits me as being too sweet and too pastel-y and too “energetic”. I’ve learned that I need to stick with more neutral, muted and serene colors to be happy. But that’s just me. You need to figure out what YOU respond to, and what makes YOU happy.

2)  Find a source of inspiration: fabric, sofa, pillow, drapes, a piece of furniture, a painting…whatever. It’s easiest to pick a great color for a room if you have at least one other decorative detail in the room to branch out from. For instance, let’s say your starting point is a patterned pillow (like this Simone pillow from Pottery Barn).


There are so many different colors to “pull” from this pillow, but it definitely gives you a “range” to work with.

I then pulling out my trusty paint cards (grab a bunch at your local store) and fan decks (you can buy them at Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams) and start holding up colors against the fabric. Many colors will obviously NOT match, but others will be possibilities. Once you’ve narrowed down the colors to several options that could work start analyzing those colors very closely against the fabric. Look at the undertones of the colors vs. the fabric. Do the colors lean more green or more yellow? Are they brighter or more muted?


IMG_3011  IMG_3013

3) Once you’re down to a handful of options, go to the store and invest in paint samples! I can’t stress this step enough. Colors will look so different in “real life” than they do on a card. You can paint the samples on the wall if you like, but I like to paint them on pieces of paper or poster board so A) they’re not permanent, and B) I can move them around to see them in different lights and in different parts of the room. It’s really important that you see the colors throughout the day, so you can make sure you like it as much in the morning light as you do in the evening light.

Other tips on choosing a paint color:

  • You’re generally better off choosing colors that are less “saturated” (or bright) and that have more gray in them. I don’t mean you have to choose a gray color, I just mean that less saturated colors are easier on the eye than brighter colors.
  • Be aware of other elements in the room, i.e. the color of the flooring, wood tones (I’ll talk about wood more later), and the color of adjacent rooms (I’ll also talk about that more).
  • Be aware of the size of the room, and the presence of or lack of natural light. For example, my bedroom gets plenty of natural light so I could go with a medium value on the walls (value: lightness and darkness). My master bath on the other hand has NO natural light, so while I painted it the same color as my bedroom, I had the color lightened to compensate for the lack of light. Amazingly, though, to the eye they look the same.


  • Walk into a paint store and choose a color on the spot.
  • Assume that great color in your friend’s house or on a blog will work for you. It very well might, but you stand the best chance of being happy if you at least get a sample first.

Can you think of anything I didn’t cover about choosing a great color for a room? I’ll talk about other aspects of painting later, but let me know if there’s anything else you want to know about choosing a color for a room.

Have a great Monday!


37 Suburbanites Said:

Jen - Balancing Beauty and Bedlam said...

So glad you're feeling better. I have just been pondering what colors to choose because I haven't painted in years ( I know....gasp) and want to redo a few rooms. It's a hard one, I tell you....so many great schemes to go with.

KEllwood said...

Funny story about choosing a paint color..bit.ly/d5CEEW

angela walker jewelry said...

Thanks for the tips! Glad you are feeling better : )
Health and happiness,

Jessie said...

This was very informative. I have a hard time with choosing my paint. I admit I usually just look and buy without testing the paint in my rooms. I am going to be painting a lot in the next month or so since we our redoing our entire first level.

Funky Junk Interiors said...

I had the WORST time ever choosing the taupe for my entire house. I think I went through 4 (I'm sure this is it! gallons or so and ended up using them for undercoat LOL) I finally threw up my arms and just told the paint gal to wing it as I was fed up. She knew what I was after and came up with the perfect choice. Unreal. UN. REAL.

Cloverdale Paint - Canada Bamboo Beach. Brown undertone, not green, not pink. Brown. It goes with everything and I ended up repainting newly painted rooms just to match it all up.

I'm never moving. :P


Anonymous said...

Hey there, so glad you're feeling better! I agree w/ the undertone? of a paint being gray. I had an interior designer come and and go over paint colors w/ me and we chose a few. Then I went into the paint store and started looking and the colors that we chose had a yellow undertone to them that just wasn't going to work. I ended up w/ gray tones, like gray beige, brown grays, silver grays, etc. Agree too, much easier on the eyes and I think I will be able to do more with bringing in more colors for a 'pop' here and there like sherbets and blues. I did go on, didn't I, lol...

Chelsea said...

Great post, and good tips. :)

One thing I take into account when picking paint, too, is the temperature of a room (is that weird? haha). We have a basement that is usually pretty chilly, especially in the winter, and ended up choosing a more saturated brown/taupe color to make the space feel "warmer" than it actually was. I think it works? I'm not sure, but I'm pretty happy with it. :)

Centsational Girl said...

Yay, welcome back ! I so agree with all of your tips, especially #2 - a source of inspiration is a the best starting point !


Kelsey said...

Thanks so much for the paint advice! I ALWAYS just pick my color on the spot. I know its bad! I always have an idea in mind for what I'm after in a certain room and then I just look at swatches and pick a color. I'm usually not as happy with it though once its actually up on my walls. Great idea to paint the posterboard and live with it for a bit.

janet said...

I'm getting ready to take the big plunge...taking my living/dinette/kitchen area from paprika to Behr Premium Silver Sateen, a very nice pale grey. I plan on slipcovering my sofa in a cottage style cream denim and bring in color with throws, pillow and art....what do you think. We are also pretty sure we want to do board and batten on the walls also. Please tell me it will all be ok.....;-) I am so ready to calm my whole house down.

Ursula said...

You wrote; "I had the color lightened to compensate for the lack of light"

How do you lighten a color?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the post! i had the hardest time finding a color for my kitchen that has low natural lighting and an entire wall made of brick. i went with a beautiful color i think i found through you- silver sage. during the day my kitchen looks blue, and i am not a blue person. i tend to lean more towards yellows and browns, but i think i can live with the blue kitchen. at night you can see the green. weird.
glad you are feeling better!

momy4him said...

thanks for the post! i had the hardest time finding a color for my kitchen that has low natural lighting and an entire wall made of brick. i went with a beautiful color i think i found through you- silver sage. during the day my kitchen looks blue, and i am not a blue person. i tend to lean more towards yellows and browns, but i think i can live with the blue kitchen. at night you can see the green. weird.
glad you are feeling better!

Beth@The Stories of A to Z said...

Nope. I think you covered it. Objects/fabric you love as inspiration for color, samples to look at in different lights, don't just pick something all willy nilly. Couldn't have said it better myself! And...Nester tweeted about you and placed in you in 'the Tumblr' so you must have said something right.

Kristine at The Painted Hive said...

So glad you're better. I was just last week wondering about some paint colours for the external architraves of my house so will use some of your tips to help me. Thanks!

Jenny @ Anything Pretty said...

Hope you are feeling better! These are great tips and I am right there with you on the paint sample thing. That paired with my trusty paint deck totally made the difference in me being happy with paint color selection!

Laura PARING DOWN said...

I'm with Ursula...how do you lighten a paint color - how do you know how much to lighten it?

Laurie - Little Blue Chairs said...

Great post- I am a fellow paint lover myself. however, I am just starting my love affair. I am always up for learning new tricks and tips.

Melanie said...

I paint a lot too. Our new home was (mostly) painted by a painter because I just couldn't do it and move the 800 miles BUT I have been painting the laundry room, guest room (which is getting another color soon) and the bathroom. I almost paint as much as you:)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THAT FABRIC for the Pottery Barn pillow. I'm so glad you posted this. I have been looking for the perfect fabric for drapes for my front bedroom, and that is IT! I just got on the Pottery Barn website, and they sell it by the yard. I already ordered a swatch.

Thank you so very much.

Jill said...

So good that you are feeling better! Thank you for sharing this post. I have never painted my walls before and wouldn't have a clue where to begin.

Thank you!
~ Jill

Callie said...

I have two nagging questions:

#1 - Is it a decorating "no-no" to paint every room in your house the same neutral beige-y color? I really want to paint them all a little different, but the ease of painting them all them same is speaking to me (especially since we are doing it ourselves).

#2 - We just bought a house and every room has to be painted. When you walk in the front door, you are in the foyer, can see the living room, part of the hall and part of the dining room. Do all these walls that you can see from the front door need to be the same color? Or do they just need to "go"?

amadi_construction said...

Great post
In colour therapy, green is the colour of healing and growth. It’s calming and restful and brings balance to the soul......it’s also a lucky colour!

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

Glad you are feeling better!

This is great info and advice.

I always cringe when decorators give out the same paint color choice to everyone. You are so right, you have to take into account so many things! Too bad it isn't a one size fits all decision!

I tried out dozens of colors before settling on one finally for my walls...I am deep into painting right now, but I am very happy I took the time to pick the right one!

Nina Patricia @ The Adventures of Nina Patricia said...

yayyy, you are back. we missed you!
Great post...as always

Monica said...

Hi, I loved the article and I am so glad I came across your blog! I want to paint my house but I am so afraid. My furniture is a neutral beige color and I want my house to be warm and welcoming but I am so tired of my neutral/beige walls. HELP!!!

Shannon said...

YAY! I love talking about paint. I admit, I'm a tad paint obsessed myself. I've read on several design blogs that "warm golden" neutrals are out and "cool gray" neutrals are in. What do you think of this?
Glad you're feeling better and can't wait to see follow-up paint posts!

Shannon said...

YAY! I love talking about paint. I admit, I'm a tad paint obsessed myself. I've read on several design blogs that "warm golden" neutrals are out and "cool gray" neutrals are in. What do you think of this?
Glad you're feeling better and can't wait to see follow-up paint posts!

Dixie Sargent Redmond said...

As an artist, I love just about every color imaginable. I have to be very careful not to redecorate at the end of winter, because that's when tropical colors call to me. Your point about the color being one you can ****live with**** wacked me over the head. I love Robin's egg blue, too. But it seems like it looks best amongst things that are the color of a nest or a tree branch...thanks for sharing this color choosing perspective.

Sonica said...

What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!

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Brian said...

Our remodel was something that scared me but, then I found out that rta cabinets are a great option.

Marijke said...

We moved into our home a year ago. I didn't like the colors on the walls and wanted everything to look new so we painted our great room with cathedral ceiling 'lily' from SW. We did the adjoining kitchen the darker yellow on the strip. Now after a year I am tired of it. There isn't a ton of light. The high parts of the room look greenish with the shadows. It's hard to match stuff to. Anyway - so now I want to pick a color that will be there for years and we wont get tired of it. How do you do that for such high ceiling? At the highest point, it is 2 stories high and with the hassle of getting scaffolding to paint I don't want to have to do it again. We put in hardwood floor - they are medium brown with maybe a hint of red. And we have white trim. The colors we go with need to tie in with the kitchen and dining room as it is all open floor plan. And we need to get rid of that darker yellow too. Going to paint the kitchen cupboards antique white when we get around to it. Anyway - I guess I have rambled but any advice on high ceilings would be great. I guess I want something neutral but not so light it looks white and not too dark.

Valerie Casady said...

Moreover, it's truly efficient to make a collection of paint chips when setting up a room, but refrain from making conclusions until you've analyzed an entire room layout. Remember, patience is essential in deciding what color you’ll use for a particular room. :)

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Meredith Stalone said...

It was good be here. I should make a plan list for decorating our house if ever.

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