cans of paint

How to choose a paint color

It seems that choosing a color to paint the walls is one of the most difficult for a lot of DIYers.  In my Interior Decorating short course we spend at least 8 hours learning about  colors. This is  the summary version  of part of that   but the best advice I can give is to hire a professional for a one hour consultation. The cost will be about the same as a gallon of good quality paint.  Could save you a lot of money. And remember – if the worst happens and the color is really bad, you can change it.

First of all it is important that you test the paint color in the room where it will used.  Purchase a tester -or a liter if necessary –  of the paints you have chosen and test them. This does NOT mean painting several colors on one wall. Your eye will see a blend of the colors, not each one individually.  Go to the dollar store and get some white poster boards and paint  one color on each. Keep them away from each other and  move them around the room, see what happens to the colors at night. 

How to choose the color:  Start with a color scheme.   The easiest way is to take  your scheme  from an  existing  one: the sofa fabric, a painting or a cushion for example. Don’t  try to re-invent the wheel;  people get paid a lot of money to design these color schemes.  Get paint samples and match the 3 basic colors in your ‘inspiration’ piece:   the background color, a mid tone and  the most vivid. Match the colors exactly. This is your color scheme.  Now look at the samples in terms of intensity.  If you change the intensity of one color, change the intensity of all 3 to the same degree.

The main color is the background color and  should appear on 60% of the surfaces in a room  ( walls, drapes, floors) – there is your wall color.  The mid tone color  should appear on 30%  ( large upholstered pieces; the occasional chair, the upholstered seat of the vanity,  the banding on the drapes. the bedskirt) and the accent color on 10% ( accessories- cushions, vases, coffee table accessories). 

These colors can appear in different forms:  various textures  or surfaces and prints. The values (intensity) can vary somewhat;  just stay on the color – no mixing blue-green and yellow-green for example.  If you are not familiar with a color wheel, go buy one at the art supply store and spend some time with it. 

The website will get  you started.

Some other things to consider when choosing a color scheme:  Have you ever been in a red  based room when the sun shines through the windows?  Or have you stood in a blue bedroom with a blizzard swirling outside?  The color of the room intensifies the feelings of heat and cold. So think about this a bit. If your bedroom faces north maybe blue is not the best color for it.  You might want to consider a warm color – in the reds, oranges, or  yellows side of the color wheel.  If your living room faces south you might want to forgo the terracotta based color scheme and choose something from the blue or green side of the color wheel.  I had occasion once to do some work in a white house. The walls, carpets, furniture, tables, chairs and even the piano were white.  There were no window treatments on the 12 foot high windows. On my initial visit to the house there was a Calgary blizzard happening and  I felt like I was standing outside.  It was the coldest feeling room I have ever been in.  

We put some valances and side treatments on the windows that helped a bit but the all white scheme was still very overpowering. 

If  you have read  my previous columns, you know a bit about contrast. High  contrast color schemes tend to make rooms seem smaller – your poor eyes jump from color to color . If your room is small, you might consider a color scheme of two colors in muted tones, or even a  monochromatic color scheme with lots of texture. 

Do you want the room to feel warm or cool? If cool, pick a main color from the cool side of the color wheel,  pick from the warm side for a warm room. This is a guideline. It is not written in stone and it is based on a 3 color scheme. Many contemporary spaces are 2 color schemes, but the same guidelines apply.  Hope this helps.

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