I was once asked in an interview, What’s the worst colour 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 colour.
How to Pick the Right Paint Colour
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 Colour 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 colour. So I researched and read everything I could get my hands on about colour, learned the meaning of neutralizing a colour and how to tone it down. Finally I settled on a corrective course of action. I knew then I had the right colour 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 colour 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 colours for a room is they often pick a colour 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 colour.
How to Pick the Right Paint Colour 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 colour will depend on its surroundings. A paint colour 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 colour – would you? It is one of Benjamin Moore’s most popular paint colours and people buy it by name hoping for a wonderful result. Some are not disappointed.
Image Sources: 1, 2
Selecting paint colours for your home:
Work with colours you love. Pick a background colour or secondary colour from an area rug, artwork you love, or perhaps a textile in the room. Remember that the colour will look much brighter on the wall. Loof 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 colour from your existing wall colour.
- 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 colour 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 colour by placing a larger white board behind your sample to block out the existing wall colour.
- Resist the urge to place more than one colour 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 colours is however still tricky. When the colour is right, everything looks more stylish, richer. When the colour is wrong, everything just seems to look wrong.
If you get stuck, I offer colour consultations and pack 150 of the most popular colours in large format samples. It will save you multiple trips back and forth to the paint store and give you the confidence in the colour before a mistake is made. Contact us about our colour consultation packages.
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6 responses to “How to Pick the Right Paint Colour – My Disastrous Mistake”
Great advice, Judith! Too many people choose a color from a 1″ chip in the lighting in the paint store and are shocked to discover what it looks like when there is a whole room of it!
Agreed, and sadly guilty! But the good news is I was a fast learner. Never made that mistake again!
I love your visual, Judith, about how two rooms painted with the same Revere Pewter color from Benjamin Moore look so different, in different lighting conditions.
And re: your early mistake that led you to learn all you could? It’s lucky you were able to have your painter repaint, right away! I could not have lived with that pink, either.
It definitely pays to hire a trained color professional like you are now when choosing paint colors. The right paint color makes or breaks a room.
It certainly does Leslie, and Pepto Bismol pink definitely broke that room, and me down to tears. It had to change! Pink, I’ve learned is a tricky colour. They all are really!
This is wonderful Judith. I love how you have shown Revere Pewter in 2 rooms. It really gets to your points in your blog.
Thank you Sheri! That is a lovely colour but can be a true chameleon in different settings. People often pick it because it is a popular one, not necessarily because it is the most flattering for their room.