How to Choose the Right Paint Color for Every Room
Feeling in the mood for a revamp? Painting a room or a single wall in your home is a simple DIY that promises to have a major impact in any space. When it comes to taking on a home renovation project, doing your due diligence is a must. From sampling chips to evaluating natural light, there are a number of essential dos and don’ts you should consider before you even walk into a paint shop.
Drawing inspiration from a selection of our favorite color-rich interiors, we’ve culled our tried-and-true tips to have you well on your way to the perfect paint color. These impeccably executed spaces promise to pique your paint interest, leaving you feeling inspired and ready to roll. Whether adding a flourish of Kelly green to an all-white kitchen space or bringing in an imaginative ceiling hue, the following thoughtful and spirited abodes are among our favorite examples of how to paint like a pro.
Before you even lift a paint palette, look around your home and take inventory of the permanent features of your home. Do you have dark stained-wood floors, exposed beams, or a brick fireplace? Are you planning to make any permanent changes in the near future? The hue and tone of all of these elements should be strongly considered before you move forward with your design.
It’s okay to walk into your design process knowing that you want a teal kitchen, but choosing your paint color should be the last step in your design process. First, find inspiration for your room—be it in a family painting or a textile you love. Select your fabrics, furniture, and major accents first, and then consider how they all come together. Is there a hint of yellow in your botanical-print fabric that you want to pull out? Is your stained-wood table darker than you realize? It’ll be too late to chime in on these details if painting was your first step.
To find colors that complement your chosen fabrics, finishes, and furniture, use a color wheel. The expression “opposites attract” is as true in color as it is in relationships: Hues opposite each other on the color wheel are complementary. So, blue complements orange, and red-orange complements blue-green.
If you’re seeing chartreuse everywhere lately, that’s a good sign it’s a color that’s on its way out. Though your walls can be repainted, it’s not something you’ll want to do once a year. So if you’re lusting after an on-trend color, use that in your accents and select a wall paint that’s more timeless and/or subtle.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when painting their homes is not considering adjacent rooms and how the room works as a whole. The colors in your home—especially on the same floor—should have a cohesive palette and should complement each other. Likewise, if you have accent walls, a painted staircase, or a statement-making ceiling, those should also all complement each other. Pull together swatches for each and ensure that they jibe.
Will you be choosing multiple paint colors for one room? Choose your boldest color first; then select the others with the first in mind. It’s more difficult to find complementary hues for bright, bold colors.
Before you begin thinking of colors, you should ask yourself how you use the space, as well as who uses the space. These are both important factors in color choice. Are you painting a workspace that needs to feel energizing? You may want to select a warm color, which has a stimulating effect, and perhaps a bright one—maybe even white. Are you designing a movie lounge or a bedroom that should have a calm vibe? Cool colors, which tend to recede, may be your ticket; you may even want a dark, moody color to create a nest-like effect.
Lighting is one of the most essential factors to consider when selecting a paint color. Natural daylight shows the truest color, so if you have big, bright windows, your paint should turn out true to the swatch. But be mindful of what time of day you tend to use each room—if you’re only using a room at night, that great natural light of yours won’t have any effect. Incandescent bulbs tend to bring out warm tones and yellows, and fluorescent lighting can cast a sharp blue tone, so test your swatches with the lights in your home before you commit.
Do you want to make a long, narrow space feel bigger and wider than it is? Select a lighter color for the longer walls and a slightly darker hue for the short walls to maximize the space. If you want to make an expansive space feel more cozy and intimate, however, use warm hues, such as browns, orange, or reds, that advance toward you to make the walls feel closer. Do you want to make a small room seem bigger? Use cool hues—such as blues, greens, and purples—which recede visually, to make the walls feel more distant.
Before you head to the store, make sure you’ve studied paint terminology. Hue is what we think of as color: red, green, blue. The value of a hue is how light or dark a paint is. The term saturation refers to how dominant the hue is. As you move from baby pink to scarlet red, the red hue becomes more dominant. Intensity refers to how brilliant a color is. Primary colors—yellow, blue, and red—are more intense than secondary colors—green, orange, and violet. Tertiary colors—yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-green, and yellow-green—are even less intense than secondary colors. When you’re speaking with those with whom you share your home, as well as whoever is mixing your paint, use these terms, which will help you find the color you’re envisioning.
The cardinal rule of painting is to test, test, test. If you don’t test your paint sample, you’ll very likely wind up wasting an afternoon or weekend spent painting—or the cost of a painter. Buy a sample pot of paint, and test your favorite swatches near all the sources of light in a room. Test them on a piece of wood or drywall, and hold them up to your flooring, your tile, and other permanent fixtures (remember those?) to see how they’ll compare. Testing only a white wall won’t give you a sense of how the color complements other elements of the room.