Design Dilemma: Choosing A Color from Paint Chips
What’s the hardest part of repainting a space? Choosing the paint color. Especially when you only have a two-inch paint chip sample to help you make a choice. Will “alpine white” be the right white for you, or will it be too green? Will “decorator’s white” seem too cool and stark or bright and modern? How will “celery” play off against your red couch or “putty” feel in a room that doesn’t get much light? There’s no way to really know until you’ve slapped a few coats of paint on a wall.
But you can help ease the color selection somewhat by following a few principles suggested by paint and color experts:
- Select your color under the same light in which it will be seen. The quality of light will have a dramatic influence on the way a color appears in the space. Needless to say, what a paint chip looks like under cold fluorescent bulbs at Home Depot will be completely different from how it will appear in warm natural light in your home.
- Watch out for color being reflected by buildings, trees and other nearby reflecting surfaces. This may be one of the factors least considered when people choose a paint color, but it makes a big difference. If light is being reflected by green trees, a red brick building or a white clapboard house across a street, the color on your walls will change, and sometimes quite dramatically. You’ll need to compensate for reflected light by choosing colors that may be warmer, cooler, more or less intense, depending on the reflected light.
- To get the color you really want, choose a color that is two shades more subdued and twice as dark as your preferred color. Colors tend to seem brighter and more intense on large expanses on the wall.
- Paint your test swatch on the wall opposite the windows. You’ll get a more accurate idea of the color.
- Paint a big test area. The bigger your test area, the more accurate your color choice will be. Go for an area of at least five feet wide from the floor to ceiling.
- Review the wall at different times of day as the light moves through the room. Consider when the room will get the most use and choose the shade and intensity of the color based on what times of day you’re most likely to occupy a room. For example, you might choose a less intense color for a room that gets a lot of afternoon light, or a deeper hue for Northern facing rooms that never see direct light.
- Recreate as many of the elements that will live in the room as possible. Once you’ve painted a section of your wall as a test, bring in the fabrics, carpets and other textiles that you hope to use in the room to see how they play off of your chosen color. If your room is to be made up mostly of neutrals, remove any bright furniture, textiles or upholstery that is likely to interfere with your perception of the color.
- Paint your test color over a primed white wall to see the truest paint color. Many people forget this step, but it makes a difference. Don’t paint your test wall directly over the blue currently on your walls or your new color will appear to have blue tones.
- If baseboards or crown molding will frame the wall color, paint them too. It will give you a better idea of what your final paint job will look like.
- Painting several color choices on one wall (as seen below) may help you discern how colors interact with each other, but won’t necessarily tell you how the colors are going to feel in a room. For that, you need a large expanse of painted wall without interference from other colors.
- Finally, take heart. If you don’t find the right color the first time around, you can console yourself with the fact that it’s only paint!