How to choose paint colors for your home. Whether you’re painting the interior or exterior of your home, here is some practical advice from an experienced interior designer.
My uncle Roger worked in interior design for over 22 years. He was part of a team that worked all across North America, decorating houses of all different types and styles.
In the past 14 years, he’s lived in three very different locations: Idaho, Maine, and New Mexico, where he recently retired. His homes are always modest, yet beautiful tributes to the local culture and climate. The photos in this blog post are from those three homes.
Here is Uncle Roger’s advice on choosing paint colors for your home.
How To Pick Paint Colors For Your Home
- Enjoy the process of painting your environment. It’s an easy way to freshen and change rooms and make them personal.
- While the internet has dramatically changed the way we do things, it is wholly inadequate when it comes to color. Screens are not all created equal in how they display color. Don’t use the internet to pick out a new sofa, draperies, or rugs. And don’t use them to pick out paint.
- Don’t decide to paint a room because of some image you saw online.
- The best way to really see color is to compare it to paint chips of similar colors. For example, if you pick out a beige paint chip, then compare it to a paint chip that has more yellow in it, suddenly the beige might look too gray. Or if you put a greenish tone next to the beige, it might look pink. If you keep doing comparisons, eventually you will have studied the color for long enough to finally find the exact shade you want.
- Use restraint when choosing paint colors. It gets tedious if every room is a different color. The space will feel choppy and you will grow tired of it.
If you are totally flummoxed seek help and advice from those you trust or have experience in interior design.
Location and Climate in Color Choice
Where you live is as important as the colors you use.
- If you live somewhere that is cloudy in the winter, don’t pick gray colors. They will make for a very drab environment in the cloudy season. Instead, use peach and yellow tones that will brighten up rooms in the winter.
- If you live in a warm climate I would avoid reds and oranges, as they are “hot” colors and won’t make you feel good when the temperature rises.
- Likewise, if you have a cold winter season, blues, teals, and grays are going to make it feel cool.
Colors in an Open Concept Home
Many contemporary homes are very open and flow from one room into another so you don’t have a place to start and stop a paint color. Here are a couple of painting options for an open-concept space.
- Use complementary colors. Colors that are quite close in depth of color and in the same color family provide a nice flow as you go from one room to the next. The colors will flow together as you move through the space.
- Change the color on an inside or outside corner that runs floor to ceiling.
- If you have high ceilings, and the ceilings change in height from room to room, another look is to have all the walls painted in the same off-white and paint the ceiling a different color to give the space some interest. This technique defines a room by doing a bold look on the ceiling.
I made this suggestion to a friend who had a large upstairs hallway with ten-foot ceilings and lots of windows. The walls and trim were off-white, and the floors were wood. She painted the hallway ceiling aubergine and it was fantastic.
Using Dark Colors
If you haven’t done much painting it can feel daunting to use dark colors because it is a commitment and you want it to turn out well. Don’t be afraid of dark colors. They can add interest and drama to a room.
- Dark colors are ideal for bathrooms because they usually have good lighting, so it won’t feel too dark. Even a bathroom that doesn’t have windows is fine because it has bright lights.
- It’s important to leave the ceiling white (or very light-colored) to keep the room from closing in. Don’t paint the ceiling the same dark color as well or the room will become cave-like.
- A dark color is great in a room with lots of windows. It will pull your attention to the view and draw you to the outdoors.
I had the experience of seeing two bedrooms in the same home across the hall from one another that were identical in size and layout. One was a black-painted teenager’s room and the other a wheat-colored guest room. Both felt equally spacious, but the black room was quite dramatic.
There is something to be said for simple off-white walls. We are conditioned to seeing off-white in rental units so when we finally purchase our own home we want to get into color.
- Off-white expands the size of a home and provides clarity and continuity.
- You don’t get tired of off-white, it is easy to live with.
- It’s easy to change other design elements to give a refreshed look.
I worked with a client who had purchased a small old Victorian home. She was a very detailed and sensitive individual who decided to paint each room a different off-white based on its light and what direction it faced. North facing rooms had more yellow-toned whites and south, sunny rooms a cooler and slightly darker whites. In the end, she used eight different off-whites!
Testing With Paint Samples
Once you have decided on a color, it is important to test the color in the lighting of your space. Most paint stores have fluorescent lighting which will make colors look totally different from how they will appear in your home.
When applying paint samples:
- Paint near the baseboard or next to the door or window trim.
- Paint an area at least one-foot square. You want it to be large enough to hold up your hand and block out the existing color, so you can only see the new sample.
- Always look at your roof color before you decide. I’m amazed when I pass by a home and there is no connection between the roof and siding color. Sometimes it really clashes!
- There are some neighborhood covenants that dictate what color you can paint your outside. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Always try to select a color that compliments your neighboring homes.
- There’s no need to draw attention to your home by painting it pink, purple, or mint green. Understated is never a bad thing on the outside. Let the architecture speak for the house, not the paint color.
- A personal peeve is when I see a house out in the country with grass, trees, a beautiful natural setting, and the house is painted green. Mother Nature has done an excellent job bringing together all the wonderful colors of the outdoors. Let it be. Use white, beige, rust, barn red, and yellow tones, just no greens!
- Don’t accent gutters or downspouts. You don’t want to draw attention to them.
- Off-whites, beiges, grays, and yellows complement brick or stone features and allow you to accent architectural details or elements like doors or windows with a bold color that adds nice interest.