Choosing color for a room or your home can be one of the most intimidating aspects of decorating. If I asked what your favorite color is, I’d get a quick and definitive answer. Yet when it comes to choosing a color to paint a wall or a fabric for a chair or even a pillow, we often melt into a puddle of indecision.
Too much choice is just as bad as too little - it’s hard to narrow our focus and settle on one clear direction. We find ourselves standing in front of the paint chip wall staring with glassy eyes at the rows upon rows of color choices. It’s beyond overwhelming. However, there are a few major things to consider that will help you refine your choice. *Designer Tips galore in this list!*
1. What are the colors in adjoining rooms?
One of the first things a designer will evaluate is – what colors are being used in rooms adjacent to the makeover room? Are they bold or neutral? Are there lots of doorways leading to rooms of varying colors (like a hallway), or is there just one adjoining room to consider (kitchen to dining room)? *Designer Tip* Pull in one of the colors from an adjoining room and use a variation of it – go lighter or darker so that there is contrast and interest, but still some continuity.
Decide if you want your home to have a more cohesive feel and have the rooms blend from one to the next OR would you like the makeover room to be more of a destination, stand-alone room. For continuity, use the same wall color or, as suggested above, a different tone of the same color. For a stand alone room that has minimal contact with other rooms, choose a color from the upholstery, art or other inspiration piece. (We have a couple of great articles on finding color inspiration. Try Decorating Inspiration or Renewing Your Creativity)
2. What is your color tolerance?
A critical decision to make is your tolerance for color. Do you find yourself consistently drawn to neutral rooms? Are you able to admire a friend’s home when they have bold accent walls and large patterned upholstery pieces but in your heart you’re thinking “It’s pretty but I could never live in this room”? Is your closet filled with black, khaki, white and beige? This would clearly indicate that you will likely focus your attention on the neutral tones on that paint color chip wall.
If, on the other hand, you use color in your upholstered pieces (I don’t mean shades of brown, tan or black), own brightly colored art and have items in your closet that are red, blue, orange or yellow, you’re a candidate for the bolder choices on the paint chip wall. As suggested above, begin narrowing your color options by working with an inspiration piece.
There is another scenario. Are you a basically neutral person trying to force yourself out of that pattern or a bold person trying to go conservative? Either way, you deserve kudos for trying to move out of your comfort zone. However, it makes your decision even more difficult, doesn’t it? If you’re trying to move out of your comfort zone, start small. Don’t go from all neutral to a bright red or yellow wall – the shock will blind you! Instead go from a creamy white wall to a light tan or light gold -key word being “light”. Introduce color in the accessories and smaller pieces in a room until you reach your saturation point.
3. How much natural light does the room receive?
The amount and type of light in the room has a huge influence on the colors chosen. The light will highlight or disguise the subtleties of the color’s undertones; it will make the color appear darker or lighter than you expect. The wall color will always appear darker on the window wall since it will be in shadow all the time while the wall that is opposite the window will have the color almost washed out. Which is the dominant wall and which color ‘interpretation’ do you prefer? *Designer Tip* One solution is to paint the wall that receives the natural light a stronger, darker color so it can hold its own against the light.
If your room receives little or no natural light, how are the lamps positioned in the room? Is there overhead lighting that is used often? Is the room totally enclosed like a powder room? If so, conventional wisdom is to choose light, bright colors to make the room seem bigger. However, I’m all for breaking that particular rule and choosing daring, bold colors to make a statement.
4. How do you want to feel in the room?
This is a really important question so give it some serious thought. Do you want to feel snuggly, warm, cozy and sheltered? Do you want to feel light, airy, spacious, open-to-the-world? Do you want sophisticated, elegant, casual, or whimsical? How about calm, soothing, relaxing or energetic and creative? Make a list of words that describe the feeling, the aura, the response you want when you and guests enter the space. Then think about what colors create that feeling for you.
A library inspires a subdued, calm feeling, a place for reflection and quiet activities and so lends itself very well to darker, rich colors.
5. What is the purpose of painting; what do you want to accomplish?
Are you painting to disguise a problem area or enhance a feature? Are you trying to make a space feel cozy and warm or light and airy? Do you just want to experiment with a fresh new color? Give the room a facelift? Visually push a wall back or pull it closer? Each of these goals can be achieved by the use of the right paint color. Decide on your goal and you’ll narrow your possible color options.
REMEMBER: We strongly recommend always painting a few test swatches before committing to a new wall color – especially if you’re moving from neutral to bold or vice versa. Paint a patch on the window wall (the shadowy wall) and the opposite wall and watch how the color changes throughout the day. Really, this will save you hours of painting and then repainting if you choose the wrong color. You can never have too many paint swatches! Cindy wrote more about it here.
Bonus Designer Tip:
Consider undertones. Consider them again. Cindy and I get lots and lots of reader dilemmas that center around color selection. In every response we address the issue of undertones. An undertone is the almost hidden color that forms the base or underlying tone in a color. Sometimes they are quite apparent and other times they are very subtle but become glaringly noticeable if used incorrectly.
Undertones generally fall into the warm or cool range. Warms obviously being anything with a yellow/red base and the cools being anything with a blue/green base. A successful room will have a consistent undertone throughout all the colors used. You can read more here.
Sometimes undertones are obvious.
Sometimes undertones are almost invisible.
If you’re having trouble seeing the undertone in a paint color or between two fabric choices, I find the technique of contrast particularly helpful. Lay 2 paint color strips or 2 solid color fabrics side by side and then introduce a third strip/fabric with an undertone that you CAN identify. The contrast will usually clarify the undertones.
Still Need Help?
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