How to Pick a Paint Color

July 12, 2017

How to Pick a Paint Color

Paint.  It’s often the first suggestion offered as the easiest, most affordable way to update your space.  I totally agree!!  But it’s also the thing that people often get really wrong.  Most people aren’t really sure how to pick a paint color.  Sometimes they don’t even know which color family to even start in!  Paint can definitely be tricky, and I’ve made my far share of mistakes. This post covers what I’ve learned from those mistakes, condensed into my best tips and tricks for how to pick a paint color, plus a free download to guide you along the way.  You can download the guide (including a flow chart!) by signing up below!

How to Pick a Paint Color

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How to Pick a Paint Color

Don’t Pick a Color Online

Let’s start with what NOT to do.  I’m sure you’ve seen tons of gorgeous pins on Pinterest talking about the “best” paint colors, or the “2017 Color of the Year”.  That’s all well and good, but as I’m going to share below, there are a lot factors that go into whether a color will work in your space or not.

Do you remember “Revere Pewter”?  The “perfect grey” from a few years ago?  Totally pink in my house.  I’m including beautiful paint colors to inspire you in the photos below, but there is no guarantee that they will work in your home.  Now lets get started figuring out what will!

How to Pick a Paint Color

Paint Color: Shoji White by Sherwin Williams

Design: Shuman Mabe Interiors

 Consider Location

Location may not have crossed your mind, but it’s really important!  The biggest reason is because of lighting.  If the room is on the south side of your house and gets a lot of natural light, you can use darker colors and/or cooler toned colors easier (more on this later).

If the room is open to other rooms, can you easily use a different paint color, or will there be an awkward start/stop line?  If it’s open to other spaces and you’re considering a bold color, will you tire of that color because you see it so often?

You can approach a paint color in a small windowless room (aka powder bath perhaps) differently than you would approach a paint color for an open concept living room with tons of southern windows.  Just make note of where your room is, what it’s connected to, and how much natural sun it gets.

How to Pick a Paint Color

Paint Color: Yours Truly by Benjamin Moore

Design: Orlando Soria

Color Scheme

Pick your paint color last friends.  Always.  EVERY color has an undertone, so if you decide you want a grey wall and you pick a beautiful shade at the paint store, paint your room, and then order curtains/rugs/pillows later, you could end up with a blue or purple room.  Your eye will interpret your paint color differently based on the colors of the  furnishings in the room.  Choose your furniture/rug/pillows/window treatments first, then bring in paint swatches and pick a paint color.

Some of you may not be sure even what color family to start in.  Do you pick a neutral?  A color?  Again, consider your furnishing.  If you have really neutral furniture, a colorful paint can be a really great accent, and it can still be subtle!  Colorful furniture does well with neutral paint colors, although I’ve seen color on color done really well.  Just look for contrast between your furniture and the paint.  You probably don’t want your sofa to blend into the wall color, regardless of the color you choose!

How to Pick a Paint Color

Paint Color: Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams

Design: Studio McGee

Consider the Undertones

As I mentioned, paint colors have undertones.  The grey paint you purchased can easily look blue, purple, or even green when you get it on your walls.  White can look yellow or pink.  Tan can lean yellow or orange.

Here’s a tip to get you started in the paint store: grab a handful of swatches in the color you’re considering, and line them up next to each other, preferable on a white background.  You should start noticing that of all those “grey” paint colors, one looks more green, one looks blue, one looks kind of purple and so on.  Maybe you actually want  a grayish green color, or maybe you want a “true grey”.

Pick a few of your favorites and take them home.  You need to see them with the undertones already in your home.  The carpet, trim, and lighting in the room can all change the look of the paint once it’s in your house.

Not sure of the undertones that work in your house?  Try finding the paint swatch for a color that’s already in your house that you love and use it to compare with other colors!

How High to Hang Curtains
Paint Color: Zen by Behr
Design: Happy Meets Home


Shades and Tints

You all learned about the primary colors when you were little, but color theory can get a little complicated.  Lets just mention this important point as it relates to painting your walls.  Look for shades (usually darkened with brown) or tints (usually lightened with white) of a bold bright color.

Because walls are usually such large amounts of space, colors are really intensified.  The paint swatch may look like a perfect minty green on the card and turn neon on the wall.  Paint on a swatch can look “muddy” or like it will be too brown, and end up being the perfect shade on the wall.  You can also sometimes find the perfect shade for the walls by going up one shade lighter than the color you think you like on the paint strip.

Did you know you can customize a color?  Maybe you’ve found the perfect undertones (for me it was Worldly Grey by SW), but it’s just a touch too dark for what you’re looking for.  The next shade lighter is too light!  (Shoji White)  I ran into this problem, and just asked the paint counter to lighten Worldly Grey by 25% to create the perfect in between color.

Paint just doesn’t look the same on a tiny swatch as it does on a large piece of wall, which leads to my next tip.

How to Pick a Paint Color

Paint Color: Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore

Design: Life on Virginia Street

Samples and Poster Board

Once you think you might be on the right track with a color, maybe you’re narrowed it down to 2 or 3 options, it’s time to get some samples.  Believe me, I know it’s annoying and time consuming to make so many trips to the paint store, but it will save you hours in repainting a color that you don’t like.

Buy some samples of the colors you’re thinking about.  Sheen matters to get the right color too.  At my Home Depot, I can buy samples in flat or satin finish, so I always go for the satin.  Usually I paint my living areas and bedrooms in eggshell, and satin has enough shine to be similar.

Paint a LARGE sample of the paint and look at it at different times of the day.  I like to use large poster board to do this.  Notice how the paint looks next to your doors and trim, your furniture, and during the day vs. nighttime and also during cloudy weather if you have it.

Yes, this step adds more time to the process, but it’s important!  When we moved into our house one of the rooms was a happy yellow during the day…and a pukey green at night.  Yuck.

While Painting

Ok, you’ve committed to a paint color, you’ve got one wall with a first coat on it…and you hate it.  Before you panic, just give it another coat and some time.  Here’s why.  The existing color on your wall will bleed through the first coat of the new color and affect how it looks.  Any walls touching the new color will also affect the new color.  It will be hard to get an accurate feel for the new color with the old color still on the wall.

Paint changes color as it dries.  You may think that this is not the color you picked, but just wait for it to dry.  The color will also look different in an empty room versus a room with all your “stuff” in it.

With all that being said (and I know it was a lot!), you may still have gotten the wrong color.  But, you now have some information from the wrong color to help you pick a new one (was it too bright?  too bold? wrong undertone?).

Get Help

If after all these tips and tricks you still are feeling overwhelmed and not quite sure how to pick a paint color, get some help!  Maybe you have a friend or family member who is really great at it, or maybe it’s time to bring in a professional.  I offer paint color selection as one of my Design Services, so please send me an email ([email protected]) or contact me through the form on my Design Services page.  I would love to help!

I really hope this post was helpful.  I know first hand that figuring out a paint color can be time consuming and frustrating.  If you have other questions please let me know!

And don’t forget to download your free How to Pick a Paint Color Guide, which includes flow chart to help walk you through some of these tips!

How to Pick a Paint Color

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How to Pick a Paint Color

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