I was once asked in an interview, What’s the worst color disaster you have ever encountered? 

Oh I cringe when I have to admit that I didn’t just encounter this disaster… I was the perpetrator! Here it goes. This was MY mistake, years before I ever became a designer, that taught me a great deal about how to pick the right paint color.

How to Pick the Right Paint Color

It was the 1980’s when everyone was in love with muted pastels. I had hired a painter to transform my first career girl apartment thinking I was doing the grown up thing, just like Mary Tyler Moore – right? (Are you with me here, or did I just date myself?) If any of you remember the 80’s, it was an era of dusty rose interiors, Dynasty league shoulder pads, and we were all wondering who shot J.R. Ewing. (Oh I definitely dated myself now!)

A Terrible Color Mistake

I wanted to personalize my apartment and establish myself as a girl with a career and a stylish apartment. Busy with my then corporate day job, I hired a painter to paint the entire living room and dining room as I was off busy at my office job. At the end of the day, eager to see my new place, I hurried home to see the transformation. When I walked in, it was a horror! What was supposed to be an on-trend brush with dusty rose, was instead a very clear, loud, off-any trend bubble gum pink! Not a word of exaggeration. To be clear, it was Barbie doll pink! PEPTO BISMOL pink! 

I didn’t have to think about it for more than a minute. It was clear I could not live with this hideous color. So I researched and read everything I could get my hands on about color, learned the meaning of neutralizing a color and how to tone it down. Finally I settled on a corrective course of action. I knew then I had the right color and with confidence I called the painter back to repaint my apartment. He came. He painted. I loved it!

Repainting After a Mistake

It cost so much to repaint though that I vowed then to learn everything I could about hues, tones, tints, and neutralizing a color so I would never make that mistake again. And I never did!

So, lesson learned. The hard way. 

Don’t Use the Paint Chip

One of the most common mistakes people make when selecting colors for a room is they often pick a color they like from the paint chip, just like I did back then. As many learn, it doesn’t translate well on the wall like they had anticipated. You may be surprised to hear neutrals are the toughest because off white, beiges and greys all have an undertone and it takes a trained eye to read them accurately.

How to Sample Paint Properly

Another common mistake is not sampling paint properly. You need to have a large enough sample, and to place that sample properly. 11” x 17” is a good size. Many paint stores carry supplies to make up a test board and will mix a sample pot of your chosen paint color.

How to Pick the Right Paint Color Using Paint Swatches

Paint and pigments are a matter of physics and the science of optics.  People will often choose from a small swatch laid on a table. It can completely transform when held on a vertical plane as the light refracts and reflects off it differently. Also, selecting the correct color will depend on its surroundings. A paint color in a room will read very differently depending on whether the room it is facing north, south, east, or west. Context is everything. For example. you probably wouldn’t guess that these next two rooms are painted with exactly the same paint color – would you? It is one of Benjamin Moore’s most popular paint colors and people buy it by name hoping for a wonderful result. Some are not disappointed. 

how to pick the right paint colour

Image Sources: 1, 2


Selecting paint colours for your home:

Work with colors you love. Pick a background color or secondary color from an area rug, artwork you love, or perhaps a textile in the room. Remember that the color will look much brighter on the wall. Look for a hue that is more subtle or grayed than you think you want.

Select a paint chip or several that appear close to what you are looking for.

Paint a sample board of each of the colours you have selected (my professional sample boards are 11″ x 14″).

Consider the sample boards one at a time by placing them in front of a white board or panel (poster board works well). This allows you to isolate the color from your existing wall color.

Pro Tips:

  • Remember to hold the sample vertically if you are going to be using it to paint on the wall (as opposed to ceiling or floor). The color can appear very different on a horizontal plane than it will when held vertically. Just take a look at a paint chip right now and test this. Place it flat on a table, then hold it vertically.
  • Remember to isolate the color by placing a larger white board behind your sample to block out the existing wall color.
  • Resist the urge to place more than one color together to compare (side by side, for example). This will just confuse you. Look at them one at a time until you see which you prefer.

Selecting colors is however still tricky. When the color is right, everything looks more stylish, richer. When the color is wrong, everything just seems to look wrong.

If you get stuck, I offer color consultations and pack 150 of the most popular colors in large format samples. It will save you multiple trips back and forth to the paint store and give you the confidence in the color before a mistake is made. Contact us about our color consultation packages.

Save these notes for next time with this Pin:

pin this: pick the right paint color