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Color Me Crazy: A Guide to Picking Paint Colors

One of the most common questions I am asked as a designer: “How do I choose a paint color…there are so many options?” Since I enjoy the psychology and creativity behind design, I love answering this question.

Narrow Your Options

When narrowing down your paint color options, ask yourself these questions:

What Colors Don’t Go Well with the Other Elements in the Room?

An easy place to start narrowing your options is to eliminate colors that don’t go with the flooring, cabinets, countertop, and other elements in the room. For example—If you have cherry flooring, most of the time an orange usually makes the room overwhelmingly red.

What Do You Want to Feel?

One of the ways design impacts us is through how we experience a space. For example, spaces with lower ceilings tend to feel cozier and sometimes cramped if you yourself are tall. Likewise, paint color—a part of design—contributes to the overall feel of a space.

The list below generally characterizes how colors contribute to a space’s feel:

  • Brights: energetic
  • Pastels: playful, whimsical
  • Historics: mature
  • Lights: well-lit, open, airy
  • Darks: moody, enclosed
  • Grays: cool, calming
  • Browns: warm, cozy
  • Neutrals: clean, relaxing, ordered

Not sure what feel you want? Try taking ten minutes and looking through room photos. If you mark and review the photos you like, you’ll likely find a common feel throughout the photos. Houzz is a great resource for this. And to learn about current color trends – paint companies like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams publish their trending colors on a yearly basis.

What Colors Do You Like and Dislike?

Out of the colors that contribute to the feel of your space, you can easily rule out color families you don’t like right away (and by color families, I mean reds/pinks, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, purples, whites, grays, browns, and blacks). You may also notice the colors you are really excited by. These colors can always be brought into the space in some way.

What if you like a bright, energetic, neon green, but you want the room to be more calming? Many people want a color but are looking for a different feel than that color naturally exudes. In these situations “feel” is more important than the aesthetic and these bright colors can be added as non-contributing colors in accent pieces like a pillow, rug or a painting.

Choose Your Specific Color

After narrowing your choices, it’s time to choose a color.

Evaluate Lighting and Adjust Color Accordingly

Light quantity and type impacts how we perceive color and the overall tone of a room. Morning daylight and artificial lighting with a slightly yellow glow will make a room appear warmer. More light, especially daylight, makes colors appears brighter; less light will zap their intensity, making them appear darker and more gray.

The following guidelines can be used to narrow down your color selection:

  • Areas with Limited lighting: Choose lighter shades and more intensity (brighter)
  • Lots of lighting: Lighter and brighter colors are intensified, so choose colors with less intensity
  • Warm lighting: Choose colors with green, blue and purple undertones to counteract the warm glow
  • Cool lighting: Choose colors with red, orange, or yellow in them, like a yellow-green instead of a green, to offset cool lighting

Link Wall Colors to Other Finishes

Generally speaking, the more colors you link to one another, the more harmonious the room is. The simplest way to link colors is to use the same color. For example, a patterned rug may have multiple tones of gray, brown, and beige. Any of those colors could be matched and used for the wall color.

Not sure which color to match? Think about which color best contributes to the overall feel of the space.

Another way to link colors is to match the undertone. Let’s say there’s a medium-brown-colored floor in a living room. Medium brown has a warm, red undertone. Wall colors with warm undertones will go well with the floor because of the common undertone.

Ask a Designer or Decorator

Designers are constantly visualizing the end product: the space. They’ll have ideas about colors and can walk you through how your options impact the feel of your space. If you don’t have a designer or builder for your project yet, feel free to contact us. We’d love to talk with you about working together.

By Katie MacGillivray

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