Being the creative creature I am, I tend to obsess over color, and specifically the coordination of colors. In my constant search for the most gorgeous color combos for my client’s homes, there is always the element of selecting great paint colors. Easier said than done, my friend! After years of working by trial and error, I’ve developed my unique process to select the perfect paint colors for my client’s homes. I know it works great because my client’s consistently love the end results! I’m sharing my process with you so you can spare yourself hours of agonizing over dozens of tiny paint swatches and avoid horrible, costly color mistake do-overs. If you’ve ever tried selecting paint colors for your home, you know what I’m talking about! Before I reveal my process, you’ll need to come to terms with the mysterious nature of wall paint colors. This is what makes selecting a paint color tricky and why I’ve developed my process the way I did.
What’s so mysterious (or some may say annoying! Lol!) about paint colors, you ask? Before selecting paint colors for clients, I always prep them with this unavoidable fact: the same paint color will often look different in different environments. Each room has different light and different colors in the floor, furniture, rugs, window treatments, etc., that will affect the look of the wall paint color.
After selecting literally thousands of paint colors, I’m still amazed at the fact that a color I l adored and which worked so well for one client’s home looks so different and won’t work for another. Colors will also appear to change depending on the time of day. For example, a light gray color can look white in the bright daylight but at night will totally look gray. I told you they were tricky!
Now, please indulge me while I take a moment to vent over those tiny paint store paper color samples, which I find completely useless!! They are WAY too small to get a good grasp of a color. I think the paint color companies give them out just to make people crazy…who can possibly decide on an entire room color based on a 1” square? Also, keep in mind, the colors often end up looking different on paper then when up on the walls. They also tend to look lighter on the paper samples. To make matters even more complicated, colors in general are sometimes seen differently by each individual person…remember the blue dress/gold dress photo recently? One person will swear they see a blue dress while another is convinced it’s gold. Colors are very personal, individual, and change depending on their surroundings…crazy, I know, but true!
So now that I’ve given my shpiel about the mystery of wall paint colors and vented about tiny samples, (thank you for indulging me!) you can see why I’ve created my process they way I did. My process takes a bit of time to implement, but it produces almost perfect results! I’m very proud to say, I’ve never had a room do-over ☺
Lara’s Perfect Paint Color Selection Process:
1 My first step is meeting with clients to discuss their paint preferences for each area. Together we narrow down the options based on their taste, ideas, and my suggestions. I bring with me my LARGE paper paint sample kit with the full range of colors. My go to paints are from Benjamin Moore. If you’re working with a designer or architect, they can order large paper samples for free for you, which I do for the initial viewing and selection. The large paper samples are great to take with you to match everything else you’ll be doing in the room and for future reference.
2 Choose your base color. Your base color will be your backdrop in the main living areas of your home. This is the paint color that will tie your rooms together. The base can be ANY color … typically people choose a neutral but you don’t have to! One simple way to create a cohesive feel is to use a consistent paint color on the walls of connecting spaces. Avoid a choppy feel in your interior by choosing a flow-through color, paying attention to sight lines, working with accessories and more.
3 If at all possible, bring all of these items into the room(s) you will be painting! The best way to get an accurate sense of what the color will look like in your rooms is to select it in that specific room. If you are changing a large surface, like the floor, or have a dark color on the walls already, you might want to wait to select the new paint colors until after those are removed. I once tried to select the paint color for clients who had a large orange tiled floor. We were going to change the tile, but when we started to look at paint colors, the floor was not pulled up yet so any colors we looked at took on an orange cast. However, once we pulled up the tile, we could see the paint colors much more accurately.
4 Next, using the large paper color samples, select at least 2-3 paint color options per room that you like best and that work well with your other items going in that room or area. Remember, the colors tend to look darker on the paper samples and often a bit different when up on the walls. Make a list of the rooms with the 2-3 options you select for each room. For large open areas, like kitchens that open onto the family room, etc., I typically keep the same color flowing from one area to the other.
5 Purchase the small sample sized containers of the paint color options you selected for each room. For an entire house, it seems like a lot of samples, and sometimes it definitely is, but it’s way less expensive if you end up hating a color and have to paint an entire room over! Get a bunch of the little sponge paint brushes, they fit neatly in the sample can and can be washed and re-used a couple of times before they wear out.
6 Using a sharpie marker, label each can with the room it’s selected for to easily keep track of them.
7 Apply the paint colors to the walls in their selected rooms/areas. Please don’t rush this part, it takes a while and is the most important part so leave plenty of time to do it properly. Make sure to mix the paint thoroughly before applying, if you don’t, the color won’t be accurate. Brush on a nice LARGE square of the paint on the wall, a little square or strip won’t do! You need to be able to stand back and really see it, so make it big!! Also, do this on at least 2 different walls in the room, because remember, it can look different where the shadows and light sources fall differently around the room.
8 Apply 2 coats to your paint swatches on the walls. I know this is a pain, but the sample paints are not made at full strength, so you may notice as they are going up on the walls that they look a bit thin and your current paint shows through them. This is because they ARE thin. They need 2, sometimes even 3 coats to see them at full strength and accurately. If you are putting up a sample over a dark colored wall, you’ll need to get a little primer and prime a few spots on the walls first to cover up the dark color before applying your wall sample. Let each coat dry before adding another one. The paint dries fairly quickly so by the time you finish putting up all the first ones, you can go back for the second coat.
9 label all the samples you put up underneath each one with the color name and number so you know which ones are which! This seems like a no brainer, but I’ve seen when people forget to label them and it’s not a pretty scene!
10 Live with the color samples up on your walls for at least a day and look at them in both the daytime and in the night. If you need alternate options, or like a color but prefer it in the lighter/darker version, buy the sample and repeat the process above. If you love a color but just want it a tad lighter or darker and you don’t see that exact shade on the sample chart, the paint store can make it for you at 50% lighter or darker. This changes the shade just a little bit. I’ve done this many times for clients and it works like a charm ☺.
One final thought….
you may be wondering about painting the samples on boards. I know some designers like sample boards, and it might work out ok for them, but I personally don’t like them. I find the boards not as accurate as putting paint directly up on your walls. Plus, when they’re on your actual walls, in different spots around your room, you can really live with them for a bit and see how they look anytime of day or night in multiple areas. It is the most accurate way to see the colors without actually painting the room fully. Additionally, it not only costs more to make up a whole bunch of sample boards, it’s an incredibly wasteful method. Unless you plan on always re-using the boards, but even so, they will eventually need to be tossed in the trash.
So now you know my tried and true method for selecting the perfect paint color for clients. It truly is a process! Although it takes a few days, it’s well worth the effort and comfort in the end knowing you are not relying on blind faith and prayers that your color choice will look good. Please let me know if you try my method and how it turns out! I’d love to hear about it or any painting experience you think this could’ve helped you with. Please share it in the comments section below!