Overwhelmed by Color Swatches?

A guide to picking paint colors for your home

By Christine H.

Wall color is something that rarely stands out to us. In fact, sometimes that’s the point. However, it can have a major effect on the psychological impact of a room. According to the color scheme and how it’s handled, a room can feel cheap or posh, dramatic or cozy.

The color of your walls (and floor and ceiling) can either bring the whole room together, or throw the whole room off. It can affect how the room holds light, or how strained your eyes feel, and how good your furniture looks. It can make a room feel set apart from the rest of the house or seamlessly integrated into a progression from room to room.

If you get anxious about picking out colors for a room, here are some tips, from the experts, that can help you get started:

Making a Plan

To start out with you need to plan more than the wall colors themselves. Designing a room that’s thoughtful and coordinated-looking will include considering everything from the carpet on the floor to the color of the ceiling, including all furniture, curtains, decorations, wall hangings, and fabrics. So, it’s a good idea to have an overall plan first. For you, that process might consist of taking stock of what you have, creating a vision board, or finding your perfect statement piece. This article has some great tips for getting started on envisioning your dream home’s interior.

Remember that, all things considered, changing the colors of the walls is not a huge investment and it can be easily changed. It’s okay to experiment with something exciting! You can change it later if you hate it.

It’s about So Much More than Hue

Here’s the biggest secret about color psychology: the hue (i.e. “red” or “white”) is usually not as important as the shade, value, saturation, and finish. It’s easy to boil it down to simplistic terms and say that turquoise is soothing. But it’s not that straightforward. Depending on the value, saturation, and finish, it can look very different. It might look cartoonish, or gem-like, or retro.

Not only that, but it might look different according to how it’s paired. We’re always saying, aren’t we, that wearing certain colors “brings out the blue in your eyes?” It works the same with paint. A cherry red next to cobalt blue has a completely different effect from that same cherry red next to grey, and it’s not merely because of the blue or grey themselves, but also because of the tones that each shade brings out in the cherry red.

Lastly, you need to consider the finish of the color. Is it matte or gloss? Are you giving it an antiqued finish to create some texture and depth? There are numerous ways to alter the look of the paint that you chose.

Test, Test, Test

There’s a reason that they let you see paint colors inside of light boxes, and allow you to bring home samples. One color at the store can look like a completely different one once you bring it into your house. The lighting and contrast with other items in the room can create a whole new story. So, make the most of the samples stores give you. If you’re afraid to paint a sample color on your wall, put it on a posterboard instead and display it somewhere so that you can get a feel for how the color will be in your room. Move it to different sections of the room and test how it reacts with the natural light in different times of day.

Analogous Versus Complementary Color Schemes

There are two common approaches to picking color schemes: one uses analogous colors, which means that they’re next to each other on the color wheel (i.e., green and yellow.) This creates a more restful and calming impression, which is great for bedrooms. The other way to go is complementary, which opts for contrast by choosing colors opposite to each other on the color wheel (for example, orange and blue.) This contrast is dramatic and stimulating. What kind of color scheme and the boldness of the colors will depend on the function and mood that you want to create in the room, as this article explains.

There are, of course, other color families to choose from, but analogous and complementary are two of the most basic and popular models to use.

Don’t Be Afraid of Bold

Many beginners are afraid to start with a bold color, but you really shouldn’t be. The trick is to pick one that’s high-quality, give it a good finish, and don’t overwhelm the room with it. Coloring your walls doesn’t have to just be about one perfect color going everywhere. You might have one main color and a different one for accents (moldings, frames, etc.). You might even have the same color in different values and finishes in order to provide contrast. The ceiling doesn’t have to be the same color as the walls. You might even try out accent wallpaper to change things up.   

If you’re a beginner who doesn’t want to go bold on the walls, that’s fine! Go bold elsewhere instead. It’s easy to add dramatic pops of color with pieces of furniture, special decor, and even fabrics. This article, for example, has some great ideas for incorporating bold accents of color in your kitchen.

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