WFMW: Choosing Paint Colors

I’ve been having a blast helping a friend choose paint colors for her house and just last week had someone else message me for advice on the same subject.  I’m far from an expert, but when you do it a lot, you pick up a few helpful tips along the way. Best of all, you start to develop an eye.  A friend of David’s is a professional painter.  I listened in awe as he described one client who gets her house repainted every year before Christmas.  She can flip through the paint color stack one time and say, “this one and this one and this one” and every time it looks perfect.  I’m convinced our only connection must go all the way back to Eve. Then again, I kind of like the obsessing process.

I thought it might be a fun WFMW subject then you guys can chime in with your own advice and preferences.  After all, we all know that painting and decor has as much to do with personal style and taste as it does with anything else.  It goes without saying that everything here is opinion and biased by own experiences. :)

Let’s talk paint, first.  I am a huge fan of Benjamin Moore paint.  I love that it is thick, covers well, doesn’t splatter, and best of all, has very little odor.  Most paints leave me eating almost as much as I paint (food, not paint, just in case you were worried) …. I have no idea what they put in those paint fumes, but three strokes in, I’m starving.  Ben Moore? No such problem.  I usually buy the eggshell finish for walls and semi gloss for trim and have not had any trouble with washing walls even though they recommend going to a satin finish for bathrooms and kids bedrooms.  I’ll take a little wear and tear over gloss on the walls, and so far we’ve not had any issues.  The closest knock off I’ve found to Ben Moore is the Behr paint at Home Depot.  It’s thinner, has a little more smell, but it’s pretty similar.  I know lots of people like Sherwin Williams and I have no doubt it’s a good product.  But I’d have to park my painting project next to the grocery store, just saying.

And now, the fun part! I could just about get giddy in the paint chip aisle.  Seriously, if David ever wants to convince me to build another house, he’d be very wise to suggest it while we’re standing in that aisle.  I lose my head when I’m surrounded by all those possibilities and think anything would be fun.

But it can also be overwhelming, especially if you’re looking at a big project.  When we were building our house, I found it helpful to take my known (kitchen cabinets) and work around that.  You  can choose lots of colors or shades of colors, but it’s nice if they flow nicely.  You won’t be jolted walking into a room with lots of color if it relates well to the color next door.  The paint expert where we bought our paint showed me how to line the color chips up so we could see if they were all similarly warm or cool shades.  For example, a cool yellow won’t look as good next to warm tones. Don’t forget the trim color when you’re lining things up! Once I know the colors all belong together, I like to hold them so that I visualize the amounts of each color.  A teeny bit of the white, a little more of my secondary color, and the whole chip of the main color.

Here’s my lineup for the basement.  {You can see what it looks like on the walls here.  Well, kind of.  It’s pretty hard to take accurate color pictures in a basement.  The bathroom is a little richer in real life and the navy might be a little darker, but it’s pretty close.}  I loved this greige color for the main part.  I wanted something just a little bit warmer than grey since it was a basement, but I gravitate toward gray more than tan.  This color was the perfect in-between.

choosing paint colors (1 of 1)

Color names from L-R: van deucen blue HC-156, collingwood 859, white dove OC-17, ocean air 2123-50

David and I gravitate toward painted trim, but we prefer a white that is a little warmer, yet still looks crisp white.  Benjamin Moore’s white dove is perfect for us.  I always keep a chip of that so I can make sure I’m staying in the same tones.  If you prefer a crisper white, Decorator White may be what you’re looking for.

If you see a color you like, ask! It helps so much to see a color on the wall.  Even if you don’t use the same color, it can help you find a color that is similar with perhaps a tiny bit more of another tone you’re looking for.  I loved that for a long time Pottery Barn named the wall colors in their catalogs.  It was so much easier to visualize a room when you saw a picture of a room done in that color.  I think they’ve switched to Sherwin William colors …or at least they did the last time I checked.  Sadly, my catalogs have quit coming.  Probably because it’s been awhile since I made a purchase.  They were one of my favorite pieces in the mail just for the inspiration! I kind of think I could live in their stores!

Sometimes it’s worth the money to buy a sample! A wall of color can look so different from a 2 inch chip! After you do it for awhile, you’ll get better at seeing undertones.  I’m pretty sure David can spot pink undertones a half a mile away and I’m pretty sure he has an allergic reaction to lavender undertones in grays. :) He likes pink.  In a girls room.  Unrecognized pink undertones that get louder on the wall in our room? Not so much. :) We had a bit of a learning curve in Virginia until I figured out how to hold the color against other colors to see different tones pop out.

Don’t be afraid of color whether it’s in large amounts or small pops.  Just think about what you want ahead of time and where you want the color.  My personal rule is, “you can always paint it again.” :) Things like flooring and furniture will likely hang out in your house for a long time.  But it’s not that hard to repaint a few walls (unless you’ve got a second story house with an open foyer) and you can change the look of the room after awhile if you don’t like it.  If the paint store isn’t too far away, I like to order enough paint for the first coat.  If the color only needs to be tweaked a tiny bit, you can sometimes get away with just one coat of the new color.

I still think grays are tricky.  The gray in our living room has far more blue essence on the wall than it does on the chip.  In fact, most people don’t believe me when I tell them that’s the color.  I like the color. It just surprises me.  But at least it didn’t shine lavender. 😉 Which leads me to the next tip.  Check the color in the room you’re planning to paint.  Not outside, and definitely not in the store under the fluorescent lights.  A room that has lots of light will not only look lighter, it may bring out hues you wouldn’t notice otherwise. A small room with few windows will appear darker and you might want to choose the same color in a lighter shade.  So grab those color chips and a good drink and sit in the room you’re going to paint.

You’ve probably heard all the old tips about light colors in small rooms and dark colors in big rooms.  They’re true.  But I think more importantly, you should think about how you want the rooms to feel.  Our house in Virginia had big rooms with high ceilings so I wanted warm colors. A rich gold, yellow in the kitchen that made you think of big, lazy breakfasts (even if they only happened Saturday mornings), a rich grown up blue in the living room, and a dark, red in a small bathroom that made the white towels and shower curtain look fresh and clean. It was warm and inviting.

Our house in Maryland is smaller with typical eight foot ceilings and the sun seems to hide a lot.  Plus, my mental capacity gets maxed out so much I found I craved white space. I chose a much more neutral, light color scheme and even painted some rooms a warm white, barely warmer than the trim color.  Surprisingly, it’s perfect!  I love the way I can add color pops in small accents. It’s easy to change the feel of the room with just a few things and seasonal decor really pops!  I love that it looks restful, clean, and inviting.

You can see the colors in our main floor sprinkled throughout all of our pictures.  Here’s the main floor line up. I wasn’t lying when I said I stayed very, very neutral.  The only wild child on the main floor is the front door. Zara’s room has pink in it, now, but I have no color chip because I mixed white with the pink color I bought. :)


From back to front: Ominous Cloud 5044 (this is a Clark and Kensington paint) used in the master bedroom, sea pearl OC-19 used on the kitchen walls and the bathroom walls and the base coat for Zara’s room, stonington gray HC-170 in our living room, and of course the white dove for the trim.

I think this is what is the most fun about creating a space.  Seeing the ways it evolves to hold it’s own personality.  It’s also why I love to visit other people’s homes and enjoy their tastes and beauty.  Our homes are really such a beautiful extension of ourselves and a tangible way we can share with others.

I’d love to hear what goes through your mind when you choose paint colors? Do you get your inspiration from colors you love in other places like the sparkling blues and sandy tans of the ocean or burnt rust and gold as the warm afternoon sun shines through red maple leaves? Or do you automatically think about the colors you love most in your closet?  Do you gravitate toward lots of color or neutrals? But even more, I’d love to hear if the process is fun for you or gives you a bellyache or does both. :) And if you’ve never had a chance to paint, what colors do you dream of painting? Maybe your color scheme will inspire someone else!  Happy Wednesday!




4 thoughts on “WFMW: Choosing Paint Colors

  1. Joanne Hershberger

    I so enjoyed reading through this and seeing how you put colors together. I love the neutral colors you’ve chosen. Your house looks so calm & relaxing- :)
    I’m thinking even though we have large open spaces and high ceilings that I do want the calm, neutral colors. I’m off to show Eric pictures ! Thanks so much, Michelle.

  2. Rachel H.

    I think David and Evangel would make a great team. He also can see the undertones instantly and is teaching me too. Paint is my favorite face lift EVER. It’s crazy what you can do with a gallon of paint. And so, yes, two years is about the max of me keeping something the same. Ha. Evangel never fusses, and actually just told me that’s one thing he really likes about me is how I keep changing things around the house, be it paint, or re-decorating by shopping the house etc. ok baby. I’ll take that.

  3. Dorcas

    Oh I love paint, and I really enjoyed this post. My favorite red paint is Behr’s Brick Red from Home Depot, and this is the second house we lived in that I’ve used it. It’s beautiful during the day, cozy in the evening and on rainy days. If you paint it over white paint, it’s too bright red for some reason, but if I mix paint colors I have in hand making a dark brown, red or blackish and paint that on the wall before the red, then the finished red wall pretty well matches the paint chip.

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