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How To Not Screw Up Paint Colors

Kate Spade NY

I get asked all the time really specific questions about paint colors. “I have an open floor plan, with this color floor, and this color furniture, and the pillows are this color—-so what color should I paint the bathroom?”

I really don’t know.  I’m not in your house.  But I can tell you what NOT to do.


Rhode Island School of Design

IF you are super challenged with these type of things then here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts.

Courtesy of Bubba Makes 3

Courtesy of Bubba Makes 3

If you are Candace Olsen or Nate Berkus (read Professionals or someone with a great eye for design) then you can disregard this post and do what you want…you’ll figure out a way to make it all work.


If you want a yellow room, don’t pick a yellow.

Do pick a white with a tint of yellow.  Same goes with all the other colors.  Blue? Pick a white with a hint of blue.   How do you do this?  Go to Lowes or Home Depot and pick up one of the “Whites” pamphlets. There’s like 70 “Whites” all with a hint of a different color. Once the white with the hint of yellow hits all four walls the color intensifies and it will look yellow–albeit a light yellow. This is called playing it safe. If you are terrible at picking paint colors and you want a bright yellow room and you are ok with something that looks like mustard exploded on your walls…that’s on you.

color-paint-swatch-yellow-smallIf you are determined to have a deeper yellow room (that isn’t mustard exploding off a hot dog) then do this–TEST A SAMPLE on the walls.  Be prepared to buy 4 (or more!) different sample colors (most paints now have small testers you can buy) and try them all.  Paint a 10(ish) inch size spot on inconspicuous places on the wall.


They didn’t really choose an inconspicuous spot-but you get the idea.

Know that whatever one you choose will end up being about 1-2 shades deeper/brighter once you paint the whole wall with it.

Also, if you buy the small testers–they only come in a FLAT finish/sheen.  If you are not planning on using flat paint and want a satin–the color will look different in the satin (or the semi-gloss etc…)…It will be brighter.  The more the sheen the brighter it will appear on the wall.  If you don’t know what the difference between Flat, Eggshell, Satin, Semi-Gloss, Hi-Gloss click here (Sherwin-Williams) or here (Apartment Therapy).

When you test the color keep in mind that the color will look completely different at night with incandescent lighting than it does during the day with sunlight.  Also, fluorescent lighting (like the kind in the paint store where you are picking the swatches) will make the color look completely different than incandescent lighting (regular old light bulbs).  COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.  Like two completely colors different.



If you look at a paint swatch the darkest color on the end will help give you a hint as to what the lighter shades on the swatch will lean towards.  So if you pick a grey and the darkest color on the paint swatch is deep purple–chances are when that grey goes on the wall it is going to have a purple undertone to it.  Or that soft beige?  Did you look at the bottom color?  It might look very orange once it hits the wall.  See below.  Look at the the lightest colors and then look at the deepest at the bottom of each strip to give you an indication of what direction it may take once it goes on the wall.different-colors_300

When picking colors for an entire house please for the love of Pete pick 3 or 4 colors that go together and stick with that. Say you pick green, grey, and khaki.  Make sure all the rooms are in this color family–they are a green, a brown, or a grey.

Courtesy of Joey and Janice Buy A House

Courtesy of Joey and Janice Buy A House

Bedrooms can break this rule.  You close the door.  It’s probably upstairs.  It’s ok.  BUT the bathroom that opens off the bedroom needs to match or at least coordinate with the bedroom.  Got it?

Consider how paint colors will flow from room-to-room; and if it’s a small home or you’re at all worried about it feeling chopped up or chaotic, it doesn’t usually hurt to err on the side of fewer colors within your whole house palette (even if there are some bold ones in there, just make sure they mix well together to avoid that random rainbow effect).  (From Young House Love–They have a great post called Bad Painting Decisions.  If you want to read more from Young House Love click here.)

Here’s a few random “facts” about color:

Red revs a room up, draws people together, and stimulates conversation.  Great for dining rooms.  However, dark red can create conflict.

Orange is excitement and energy.  No surprise there.  Maybe not a good color for your kid’s room…  How about an exercise room?

Yellow energizes and is uplifting. Great for kitchens.  Some studies have shown that yellow can also cause people to lose their temper and make babies cry more??  It stimulates nerves.  Maybe not a good color to use a lot of?

Light blue is considered calming, relaxing and serene.  Great for spaces where we relax.  Dark blue, however, can create feelings of sadness.

Green is refreshing and is a great stress relieving color.  It promotes comfort and togetherness.  Consider painting your entire house green??

Deep purple is dramatic and sophisticated.  Luxury and creativity.  Lavender and lilac are restful.

And if all else fails–you can always repaint.  Or hang wallpaper:)

If you liked this post check out The Paint Store , Decorating with COLOR!, and Why Wallpaper is the Coolest.


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