Removing the Pain from Paint Color Selection

Paint fan decks can be a real pain. I’m referring to those cumbersome booklets of mini paint swatches that sometimes contain more than 1700 different hues. It’s no wonder that selecting the best paint color for a particular space is the most frequent question I receive as an interior designer.

Here are a few tips:

First, consider the primary purpose of the space you plan to paint.

If it’s a guest bedroom or master bedroom, consider serene colors to create a relaxed sanctuary. Master bedroom walls, painted in a soothing grey-blue for instance, can evoke images of a thick ocean fog enveloping a deserted beach, lending a peaceful ambiance.

For kids’ bedrooms, a vivid wall color may make sense. For dining rooms, consider a warm shade containing gold or red hues. Colors impact many individual’s mood and behavior. Preferences vary by age, gender and cultural background. Consider those factors when weighing your paint color options.

Second, assess the overall room size, ceiling height, and amount of natural illumination. Window size and orientation matter. Those facing the afternoon sun yield the greatest amount of natural light.

For smaller rooms with a low ceiling and few windows, I advocate lighter walls to make the area appear more spacious, particularly in finished basements. The exception is a “man cave” dedicated to television watching or playing computer games.

Another important consideration is the floor, baseboard and window trim colors.

Be circumspect of color trends. Every year brings hype about the hot new colors promoted by different trade groups. It’s fine to pick a trendy color as long as you recognize that fads change quickly.

Instead, choose a dominant color palette that resonates with you. Or choose a hue from a favorite painting, upholstery fabric or area rug that you plan to use in that space.

Balance neutrals with vibrant colors. If you prefer neutral walls, choose bright upholstery patterns or area rugs. Conversely, if you paint your walls an electric blue or vivid tangerine, choose subdued hues for your sofa and window treatments. Then repeat those bright colors only as a tertiary color in the throw pillows, area rug or accessories.

Test the color. Paint swatches look vastly different under the fluorescent lights of your home improvement store than they will inside your home. Hedge your bets, and purchase several different samples of a color you are considering.

When applying these sample paints, proceed methodically. Judging a new color by painting over an existing paint color won’t work unless your walls are already white. Colors juxtaposed against one another significantly change how they are perceived, making it very difficult to assess the final result.

Let the paint sample remain for a day or two, viewing it during daylight and at night. Many colors change dramatically depending on the amount and type of illumination in a room.