Choosing Colors For Your Home

How to choose colors without having a nervous breakdown!   

by Jan Riley


I get a lot of questions about choosing the right paint color. In fact I have noticed that color matters to virtually everyone!

For many folks this is a stressful and disappointing process of elimination. You can easily end up with a basement full of quarts or walls that are not quite the right color.

The scars of a color malfunction can follow you around for years!

Don't give up -Help is on the way.

Let me start by stating "There is NO perfect Paint color for every room" What works in your best friend's living room may not look great in your den. Three factors greatly contribute being able to successfully choose colors for your home.

Learn to use them and get the color you crave without having a nervous breakdown.

  1. Light
  2. Surrounding colors
  3. How you respond to it in your space.

Choosing one color for your room is hard because every time you look at it -it changes. Color is relative, which means it is affected by everything around it: light or lack of it and the surrounding colors (fabrics, flooring, trim, furniture etc.) and perhaps most importantly - how you feel about it.


Examine the light!

This is probably the hardest aspect in choosing the right shade or color. What type of light, how much and the time of day all play a large part in how you see the color in your space. Test your colors in a variety of situations and at different times of the day.

Try this exercise: Get a manila envelop and tape it to a wall that gets direct sunlight - notice how it appears golden and yellow. Now tape it up in a dark corner, walk around the room and view it from different angles, all of the sudden it looks tan, dirty and rather lifeless. This is because shadows tend to absorb color -especially in a flat paint. In a low light room, choose a brighter version of the color you are initially drawn to.

To add life to a neutral color, use an eggshell sheen - it reveals the color and reflects the light.


Surrounding Colors

Color looks different depending on whatever colors are next to it. No you are not hallucinating, it really does! Your eyes literally perceive the color differently. No wonder it's hard to visualize how a tiny scrap of color will look on a big wall.

Color changes with the light and with the other colors in your home. Color areas like the ceiling, carpet, flooring, furniture and fabrics can make a huge difference when the paint goes on.


Understanding Your Response To Color

You want color to make you feel a certain way. If it doesn't, trying to figure out what to do next is mystifying and extremely frustrating.

That's how you can choose a color that feels like soothing warm butter in the store but you end up with scary lemon drop on your walls, The problem may be not in the color; but how you respond to it in your space with your light.

Most likely you are responding to the effect that color is creating with your stuff rather that the specific shade itself. What effect are you trying to create?

Answer theses 3 questions before you look at colors- trust me it will help. (The answers will sound like you are describing feelings) The first thing to do is to get clear on your answers to these questions. Then you can evaluate whether the colors you are considering will help you achieve the effect you want.

  1. What effect are you trying to achieve in this space?
  2. How do you want this room to feel when you walk in?
  3. What do you want the color to say to you?

Give your self time. Don't rush your decision! This is the main reason most people end up with a color to kill themselves over rather than a color to die for. Seriously, if you have trouble choosing colors give yourself time to see how you feel about the colors you think you like.

Allow time to get samples, many if necessary, and live with them a few days, so you have an idea of what they look like in differing lights and weather conditions. Look at them with your stuff.

Rushing this part of the process is where most folks get the worst results. Remember: It takes less time to paint a sample than it does to repaint the entire room.

Go for effect not specific color. When I mention this to my clients they often give me a puzzled look and ask me "but what color should I choose?" The reason this concept is so important is because color looks different in every space and with different light. Decorating depends more on creating an effect that finding the perfect shade of blue. To successfully create an effect, focus on how you want to use the room and how you want it to feel when you're there.

Always test your paint colors in all types of light - bright, corner, filtered, day & evening. Give yourself a few days to live with the samples and see how you respond to them before you make the final decision. Now many national paint companies sell 4oz paint samples which is plenty to do a large swatch on the wall.

Don't worry if you can't choose the perfect color the first time - just examine the results and try again. Life is too short for boring walls! Tips:

  • Start small, use 2oz.acrylic craft paints to test a lot of colors, or shades of a single color. Then get your shade color matched into regular wall paint.
  • Check the shade. If a color seems too bright, try one that has more gray in it. If it fades out go towards a stronger color in that family.
  • Color too dark? Try it in a satin finish or better yet, a color wash - this can give you the richness of color with out the dark side effect.
  • Test first. Paint is cheap....sanity isn't!
  • Make a cheat sheet. Gather samples of existing paints, fabrics, use magazine photos for samples of your furniture and wood colors and staple them to one sheet of paper. Take it with you when you go to pick out colors.

Next: Planning Your Interior Design

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