How to Select the Perfect Wall Color

Assigning wall, ceiling and trim paint color is a fine, tricky art and regardless of the time a client perceives it takes me to do, it actually took me a decade to learn to do excellently well. Further, there is more to it than picking a swatch off a deck. One needs to anticipate what a paint color will actually DO once it’s up on the wall: how it will change when up on the wall given the directional natural  light in the room, the artificial light in the room, and also the other room, furniture and paint colors it sits near.  Color changes in different light. Color changes due to the color it sits near or next to. Scared yet? I don’t blame you!

I see no more common error in new clients homes then I do in “do it yourself” paint color selection. The results – when poor – can be anything from a glaringly bad color choice that is too hot, too sweet or too cool, to a completely missed undertone that makes what a DIY’er thought would read as neutral…but instead ends up looking too pink, too orange, too gray or too …well, wrong. And those are the better scenarios. At worst, poor room color choice can lead to homeowners literally chopping up their home into tiny little disjointed sections, the ultimate effect of which is that this same homeowners will have shrunk by a third their square footage…they will have made their home look and thus feel smaller. All with poor paint color choice!

Before assigning room color, I need to know where the room is going, what   fabrics are to come into the room? The flooring? Area rugs? These single elements all merge to do the dance of artful design. It takes a seasoned designer to know not only that color leads the eye, BUT to decide how and where one wants to lead the eye!

Given what my clients love and have shared with me as their goal for their living space, using color strategically, I must decide…

  • Am I trying to open up the architecture?
  • Am I trying to make the room feel smaller and more cozy?
  • Am I trying to frame a focal point or create one?
  • Am I trying to lift…or lower…a ceiling?
  • How am I trying to connect a particular room to another space so there is a sense of flow and space from room to room.

Beyond all this, I have to know where my clients like their “color.” Do it yourself’ers are the first ones to slap a favorite hue on the wall, only to have me discover with them that the place they REALLY most like and crave color in their interior is NOT on the wall. (They may prefer that favorite color on the upholstery, the draperies, the horizontal plane filled by accent pillows or the floor…all these vie for my attention as a designer when I develop a color plan for a space.)

There are clients who are in a hurry to take a professional paint recommendation and immediately have their painter put it on the wall. However, for my sensitive clients, I will provide them a choice or two so they can pick up sample jars to paint test swatches on the wall in order to view the wall color in different lights at different times of the day. Doing this extra step is a smart investment of time and budget.

DIY’ers, where paint selection is concerned, proceed with caution. Working with a designer is certainly not the right slope for you. However…correct color and  paint selection is a mighty slippery slope…the mistakes are far reaching and if not corrected, you will “pay” for them for a long time to come…more than you realize.