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Some tips for selecting paint colors

Updated: Apr 5

  1. If you like a color, find that color on the neutral palate, NOT on the color palate. This is because the color will be much more intense on the wall and the color from the neutral palate will give you the color you want without overwhelming the space.

  2. Understand undertones. Colors have undertones that must work in your space with the other colors you select. If you thought you picked a gray but it looks green, blue, or pinkish on your walls, this is the undertone coming through. To find undertones, hold the paint chip against a pure white background like typing paper or poster board. What you might find is that a color you thought was white will show itself as a cloudy gray. Every color has an undertone but some colors can present more neutral than others. Finding undertones is particularly important when analyzing shades of white.

  3. Look at the paint's name. Seriously. Might sound silly, but a color name can give you an idea of that color in words. Taking heed of these descriptions means you don't have to rely on your eyes which can be deceiving. Like a wine bottle that tells you the contents gives hints of vanilla and blackberry, you can taste the flavors better after reading the words and then you don't have to be a connoisseur. A color that includes words like mist, vapor, coast, or sea tells you it is a cool color while words like roast, leather, antique, or fawn are going to be warm colors.

  4. Don't mix cool and warm neutrals. Cools are blues and grays, like cloudy skies. Warm colors are earthy tones like reds, browns, and yellows. Like being inside a toaster oven. Or visiting Arizona. You can, however, mix cools and warms outside of the neutrals. Some good examples of mixing warms and cools are blue and orange (Go Broncos!), yellow and purple (like a gorgeous Colorado sunset), red and green (a bouquet of red roses), and turquoise and brown.

  5. Monochromatic color schemes can be some of the easiest to implement and make for elegant and composed spaces. I also call these "tone-on-tone". Mixing cream, ivory, tan, and white for example is a way to do a color scheme without actually doing a color.

  6. Designers tend to pick cool colors because they are sophisticated, calming, and look great in photos. However, homeowners tend to like warm colors because they are friendly, inviting, and flattering. Neither is right or wrong, just something I've noticed.

  7. Black is a fantastic color for decorating. Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern styles use a lot of black and it's been back in style recently. However, I advise keeping the black to small areas like hardware and other accents because it is hard to keep looking nice.

  8. This is probably obvious but look to nature and art for color inspiration. There are plenty of pre-made color palettes everywhere you go, you may borrow them!

  9. Generally speaking, in rooms where sunshine is warm and abundant like south and west-facing rooms coordinate beautifully with cool colors. North-facing rooms with cool light will be able to handle warmer colors like reds and yellows. There are plenty of exceptions to this too. Maybe you want to energize a warm color with a warm light or further chill out a cool color in a cool-toned light.

  10. Light is different in different locations. I grew up in the midwest where the sky can be overcast for much of the winter. When I did projects in Los Angeles, one of the first things I noticed was the quality of the light. Smog aside, the sunlight in Los Angeles is a warm, white light with a pinky-orange tinge in the afternoon. #beautiful.

  11. Test the color on the wall. Test it. I am telling you. This cannot be expressed enough. It's a small cost to pay to make sure you love your color. Putting the color on the wall allows you to see the color in your space, with your light. It allows you to observe the color over the day and week when you are in different moods.

  12. When it comes to color, quantity matters. A punch of red or a bit of purple differs from a red or purple room. Furthermore, every color has its place and no color should be off limits.

  13. Don't just pick your favorite colors and put them on the walls and think they'll look good. Just because you like blue doesn't mean your walls should be blue. Look at the room as a whole. Maybe your pillows or glassware should be blue instead? Homeowners tend to want to pick a paint color right away during a remodel but paint color is the LAST thing professional designers select. Paint color is selected AFTER flooring, furniture, cabinets, and other finishes are selected because there are so many more choices in paint color, you can't get backed into a bad spot this way. The wall paint brings everything else together.

  14. Skip the trends. Who cares if brass-toned metals are in? If you like stainless, then go with that. Brass colors are hard to coordinate and can be frustrating to design with. The manu's of the faucets do a different bronze than the lighting manu's and the door hardware does another. It doesn't work. Sometimes I get asked, can you mix metals? Certainly! It must be done with intention though. Think of it like jewelry.

  15. Light reflectance value or LFV. What is THAT? LRV refers to the percentage of light a paint will reflect. This number can be found in the paint specs. Now you know.

  16. If color frustrates or scares you, please know that you are not alone. I have over 20 years of experience selecting colors as a designer, taking art classes, asking questions, and learning from the interior designers and architects I work with. I only recently got comfortable enough with color to speak about it confidently and clearly. Anybody can pick paint colors like anybody can play basketball, but only some are experts.

  17. Now let's talk sheen. Eggshell is a solid choice for walls, you can't go wrong. Trim should be satin or semi-gloss. In general, you want to keep 1-2 levels of sheen between your walls and your trim. By levels I mean flat or matte is the least shiny, then eggshell, then satin, then semi-gloss, then gloss. You can identify satin in the wild because it sheens exactly like a satin ribbon, lit but diffused. Matte walls look cool but can be hard to keep clean, so not good for families with kids but could be just the thing to bring a designerly touch to a retired couple's forever home.

  18. On gray. I have to bring it up because it is so popular right now. Gray is a beautiful neutral and is a good alternative to the even more boring beige. My walls are Sherwin Alpaca Gray and I love them because they coordinate with all the blues, burgundies, whites, pinks, and greens I have everywhere else. This color has a slight violet undertone which works perfect in my house that gets a lot of south and west light and is full of houseplants. My trim is Snowbound which according to my local Sherwin store, is the most popular white in my neighborhood. They don't have to look up the code to make it. Makes sense. We like snow in Colorado. Fresh, soft, clean powdery snow.

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