Designer Tips on How to Choose the Right Paint Colors for Your Home

At the beginning of the year, we start to think about refreshing our homes. In the dark, cold days of winter, we spend more time indoors and often feel more acutely the adverse effects of a home that does not feel restful or comforting.

There are many factors that go into making a home comfortable and visually a joy to retreat to at the end of the day.  “Color is a mood setter and it can make you feel great” said the famous designer Mario Buatta.

This blog post will give you some practical steps to help you choose the perfect paint colors for your walls …or ceilings.

Bedroom in greys and orange, chicago interior designer
A palette of soft grays punctuated with accents of tangerine, looks warm and welcoming in this Guest bedroom.  Design by TDF Interiors

Tip #1     Do not rely on the small paint swatches you can get at paint stores

The choices are endless even if you have decided on gray or beige!  I use Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams and Farrow and Ball fan decks of paint colors to help me isolate a range of colors I am considering.  It is easier to see the differences between shades of one color, for example a turquoise blue as opposed to a lavender blue, when they are grouped this way.  Once I have identified the range I am looking for in a certain hue, I pull out larger samples.

Small squares of color look much different on a larger scale. A pale color may bleach out and look white in a bright room and a dark color can look a lot more intense when all the walls are painted in it.

You can order larger swatches online or, even better, purchase a sample pot and paint a piece of white card with two or three of your top choices.

Bold botanical artwork against dark teal wall color
This design by famous Interior Designer Nina Campbell displays a bold modern painting against a deep teal paint color

Tip #2    Do not hold up the paint swatch to the old color of your wall.

There is a lot of science and psychology behind how we see color.  Without going into too much detail, colors look different next to other colors.  To give you an example, if you put a red color next to a beige or taupe, it may look more green.  That is because green is the complement of red (the bright contrasts of Christmas) and the eye wants to see a color’s complement to find a kind of equilibrium.  This can cause any paint color, particularly neutrals like beiges and grays, to shift when placed next to different colors.

So, put a large piece of white copy paper behind the paint swatch or hold it up to your paint trim if it is white.

Dining room with walls painted in two colors, interior design, chicago north shore
In this dining room two different grays with warm undertones of purple from Benjamin Moore’s Color Stories collection, were used for walls and trim.  Design by TDF Interiors.

Tip #3   How to combine colors with the same undertones

The key to working out how colors change when placed next to each other is to understand undertones.  After many in home paint consultations, I have come to realize that many people do not understand the significance of undertones in choosing a color. It is often thought that all greens go together and so on.

All colors have undertones of other colors which affect how it will harmonize with other colors, whether in your choice of wood finishes, fabrics or other paint finishes.

Award winning Master bedroom design in pale blue, lavender and grey. Luxury bedroom design Lake Forest, North Shore Chicago
Shades of turquoise blue and neutrals with warm undertones envelope this master bedroom
Award winning Master bedroom design in pale blue, lavender and grey. Luxury bedroom design Lake Forest, North Shore Chicago
Blue can look cold in a bedroom but not this warm blue from Benjamin Moore’s Color Stories, which matched the wallpaper perfectly.

The undertone of the blue in this bedroom, Intuition from Benjamin Moore, is yellow which gives it a warm glow.  When selecting the white for the ceiling and trim, I selected a warm white and the beige carpet has the same undertone.  The rich combinations of soft gray and violet in the bedding and the velvet for the headboard all have similar undertones.

This creates an underlying harmony which is carried around the room, creating a feeling of peace and tranquility.

Undertones are especially important when selecting neutral colors like gray, beige or white.  There are many shades of white for a good reason!

Tip #4  Consider your paint colors under the right lighting

It is best to look at your paint swatches from a few feet away and under both daylight and electric light.  The kind of bulb you use in your downlighters, pendants and lamps can have a dramatic impact on how the color will look.  Color is not a physical reality; it is simply reflected light.

A cool light can be great in a kitchen or bathroom but it can look harsh and change a warm tone to a dull looking one.

Most people are choosing energy efficient LED lighting now but it is important to look for the color temperature, measured in kelvins, and the color rendition index (CRI), which should be on the packaging, to make sure that you get a light which will do justice to your chosen color scheme.

Ideally, look at your paint swatches under the lighting you will be using to make sure that the color looks the same.

Traditional Interior design living room for Lake Forest, IL in Chicago Area
The glow from this table lamp is perfect for the warm buttery tones of the wall color, sisal rug and fabrics chosen for this formal living room. Design by TDF Interiors

Good luck and do not hesitate to contact me if you need some professional assistance.