How to Choose a Paint Color

While vibrant colors may attract many homeowners, I often discover that my clients prioritize creating a "livable" color palette for their homes. It's important to consider that a color that looks appealing in a striking photograph may not necessarily be one you'll enjoy seeing on your walls day in and day out. Keeping this in mind, I've compiled some helpful tips for selecting a paint color that will bring you joy in real life.

1. Take Your Time with Paint Selection

When embarking on the task of choosing a paint color, it's crucial not to rush the decision-making process. Instead, start by exploring a wide range of options.

During your visit to a paint store, resist the temptation to select the perfect color on the spot. The key is to gather a diverse collection of swatches, providing yourself with ample choices for consideration. This often entails selecting more swatches than initially anticipated, including colors that may not seem appealing at first glance. By adopting this approach, you can ensure you have a comprehensive palette to assess and make an informed decision later on.

Selecting subtle colors, in contrast to vibrant and intense shades, can pose a challenge since the muted tones may be less noticeable on a paint chip. To navigate this, it is advisable to choose paint chips that are similar to the desired color, but slightly different. By selecting the paint chip that initially catches your eye and also grabbing two swatches on either side of it, you can ensure a range of options.

Once you bring these paint chips home, reassess them in your space. You may discover that a color you initially dismissed is actually the perfect fit for your home. The different lighting and surroundings can reveal nuances and qualities that may surprise you, ultimately helping you make the ideal choice.

2. Bring Your Own Swatch

Before heading to the paint store, it's recommended to bring along your own swatch. While bringing a piece of art or fabric as color inspiration can be helpful, even a plain white sheet of paper can serve the purpose of accurate color perception.

In the store, a pale color may appear almost white, but once you bring it into your home, it will likely be juxtaposed with bright white elements like the ceiling, trim, or even small details such as switch plates or lampshades. These contrasting elements will make the color more discernible and noticeable in your space. By comparing the paint swatches to a white background, you can better evaluate how the color will truly appear in your home.

To enhance your ability to discern undertones accurately, it's beneficial to bring contrasting items like pure white and pure black to the paint store. These could be items such as a white sheet of paper or a black leather jacket or shirt.

By placing the paint swatches next to these contrasting colors, you can better perceive the undertones present in the paint. For instance, a "light" blue shade may appear lighter than other blues on the paint chip, but when placed beside a stark white item, it might reveal a more pronounced saturation. This technique allows you to evaluate the true characteristics of the paint colors and make more informed decisions.

As previously suggested, drawing color inspiration from another design element in the room can be advantageous. When selecting paint colors, it is generally advisable to opt for shades that are slightly lighter or more subdued than the true hues found in the inspiration piece. This approach ensures that the colors chosen for the walls are not overly saturated, resulting in a more balanced and harmonious overall look.

3. Try Some Space Experiments

Once you have brought home a multitude of paint swatches, you can embark on the process of making a final decision on the colors that will work best for your space. It is crucial to keep in mind that colors can appear significantly different in your actual lighting conditions compared to the artificial, fluorescent lighting of a store.

Additionally, it is essential to consider that colors can vary depending on their interaction with other hues in the room, their placement (such as on the walls versus the ceiling), and the specific time of day. Taking all these factors into account will enable you to make a more informed and accurate choice for your paint colors.

To get a better sense of how the paint colors will look in your actual living space, try taping the paint chips directly to the walls where you plan to apply them. Take into consideration the specific time of day when you'll be spending the most time in that room, such as the morning or evening for a bedroom. It's important to focus on one color swatch at a time to avoid visual distractions from a multitude of options and allow each color to be evaluated individually. Take your time during this process to ensure you make a well-informed decision.

4. Go Big and Go Home

The size of the paint swatch can greatly influence your perception of a color. Even if you examine it closely, a small swatch from the paint store may not accurately represent how the color will appear on an entire wall. Designers often utilize a technique called a "paint strike," where they apply a large stroke of paint directly on the wall. This allows them to see the color in its true form and evaluate its appearance in real-life conditions.

Using the "paint strike" technique is a useful way to compare a narrowed-down selection of colors. It allows you to see how different shades appear on the wall and helps in making decisions between finishes, such as eggshell or matte. However, if you prefer not to have messy walls during the decision-making process, many companies offer large-format paint samples that can be ordered. This option saves you money by avoiding the wastage of paint and provides a practical solution for testing colors on your walls.

5. Take Your Time

For certain individuals, repainting a room multiple times may not be a significant concern, as paint is relatively easy to correct if a mistake is made. However, for those who find the effort and expense of repainting to be burdensome, it is wise to invest time in thoroughly considering a color option before committing. Allowing yourself ample time to sit with the choice helps reduce the likelihood of being influenced by passing trends or impulsive decisions. By taking a thoughtful approach, you can make a more informed and lasting color selection for your space.

Take a moment to reflect on whether your current love for a particular color is based on genuine preference or a fleeting attraction. To gain clarity, review older saved photos to identify the hues that have consistently caught your attention over time.

If you believe you have found a favorite shade, carry a copy of the paint chip with you as you go about your daily activities. Whenever you visit a friend's house, dine in a cozy restaurant, or encounter any other inspiring space, hold up the paint chip next to nearby surfaces. Observe if the color appears lighter or darker, brighter or more subdued compared to the shades that naturally draw you in. This exercise will help you validate your color choice and ensure its compatibility with your personal preferences.

6. Make a Commitment

Once you've made your paint color selection and made the purchase, it's essential to stay committed. Keep in mind that the appearance of paint can significantly differ during the painting process. It is crucial not to pass judgment on the color until it has been properly applied with the necessary number of coats, typically at least two but often three or more, depending on the specific product and shade.

The wisest approach is to withhold judgment until the next day, allowing yourself ample time to adjust to the change in your space before drawing any conclusions. This is particularly important when working with darker shades, as they can visually diminish the size of the room, requiring a period of adjustment.

By giving yourself time to adapt and fully experience the painted space, you can make a more informed assessment of the color and its impact on your environment.

7. Get a Second Opinion

If you still have concerns about living with your color choice, enlisting the help of a design professional for a color consultation can provide valuable insight. Design professionals often come prepared with comprehensive paint-swatch decks encompassing a wide range of colors, essentially bringing the entire paint store to your home.

With their expertise and a thorough understanding of your space, a design professional can offer guidance and recommendations tailored to your specific needs and preferences. Their presence will ensure that you have access to a vast array of color options and the opportunity to explore various possibilities within the context of your home.

By collaborating with a design professional, you can gain confidence in your color selection and feel assured that you have made a choice that aligns with your vision and enhances your living environment.

Consider opting for a tried-and-true signature color from one of your favorite designers. While a color may appear different in a single photo compared to real life, choosing a designer's go-to hue provides the assurance that it consistently looks fantastic in various spaces.

For instance, Benjamin Moore's Classic Gray has been a go-to choice in numerous projects due to its exquisite yet understated nature, always delivering exceptional results. In the example below, you can see how another designer incorporated this color into their project. By selecting a renowned designer's preferred shade, you can trust that it will bring a touch of elegance and harmony to your own space.

8. Don’t Think About It

Experienced artists understand that prolonged contemplation can cloud our perception. When faced with the task of choosing a color, it's often beneficial to step back and take a break for a few days. Returning to your options with a fresh perspective can bring clarity to your decision-making process.

Once you revisit your choices, trust your instincts. At the end of the day, the most important factor is your personal preference. Whether it's a light, dark, soft, or vibrant hue, if a color truly resonates with you and feels livable, there's no need to settle for anything less. Select the color that feels right to you, and it will bring a sense of satisfaction and harmony to your space.

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