You probably saw some really gorgeous paint palettes when you were out looking at homes, but I’m also betting there were a fair amount that were equally and painfully cringeworthy. You might have even said to yourself (or your agent) “who would think to mix these two colors?” or even “how is this paint color legal?” Sometimes they’re just that bad.
The sad truth, unfortunately, is that it’s really easy to fall into the cringeworthy category when it comes to picking out paint colors. Since you don’t know what the color will look like in your home until the project is totally done and the paint is dry, it’s all a bit of a guessing game.
Hiring a professional painter is one option, but even then it helps to have some basic understanding of how colors interact inside a home environment. That way you can have realistic expectations of the colors you’ve picked.
The ABCs of Interior Paint Colors
There’s a lot riding on your paint choices, for today and for tomorrow. You don’t want to be that seller who wonders why their bronze-colored sponge-painted living room isn’t attracting more buyers. Turn off HGTV and focus. Trendy painting techniques can be fun, but they also create a lot of work for you if you decide to repaint. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for them, just use them sparingly.
Instead, we’re going to focus on creating a timeless palette that not only makes sense in your space, but that will eventually make potential buyers walk in the door and say, “Wow.” Color conveys a deep stream of meaning, it can influence such varying perceptions as:
Scale of the room. In general, dark colors tend to shrink spaces, where light colors open them up. The more light you can get into your house, the better for your mental health and the more positively people will see the room.
Emotions associated with your home. Believe it or not, there is something to that whole “colors affect emotions” thing. In fact, they can even influence your behavior, something marketers have known for a while. If you want people to linger, you have to choose colors that won’t make them anxious or claustrophobic.
How the room is to be used. Again, if you can influence emotion with color, you can also sort of non-verbally indicate the room’s role in the home. Want to turn a nondescript dining room into a formal dining room with minimal effort? Deep, rich colors for the win.
The colors you choose to use inside your home say a lot about your space, how you think you’re going to use it and, frankly, tell a bit of a story about you or your family unit. This is probably why people who move from apartments into their first homes are often so eager to jump right into a painting frenzy.
Choosing Paint Colors You Won’t Regret
The whole point of this post is to give you enough information that you don’t make a heinous paint choice on your first go, but to do that, we need to talk a little bit about how colors work together. You see, there’s a certain harmony about color. You know about the different color groups: primary, secondary, so on. That’s elementary stuff. But when it comes to home colors, people rarely stop to ask themselves if colors they want to use actually work together.
For example, they may really like fuchsia and also orange. These are not colors that should ever be in the same building, let alone the same room. There’s no harmony there, only chaos. Lots and lots of chaos. Just say no. Instead, before you even go to the paint store, stop at an art or craft store and pick up a color wheel — the same kind that artists use — and play with it. They’re fun, plus they also can show you what colors work together.
With your fancy new color wheel in hand, you can pick color schemes that are:
Monochromatic. These are the easiest of all. Start with a single color, say, blue, then just follow the color wheel to the center and choose various saturations of the same color to make your palette. Typically, a middling hue is used for the wall color, a darker color as accent and a lighter color (or just white) as trim paint. It’s a classic look for any color on the wheel.
Complementary. Choose a color you like, then zip directly across the wheel to find its complement. Some of these work better than others. For example, red and green are great for the holiday season, but might be a bit much indoors. Now, if you’re painting the outside of your WWI-era cottage, that’s a whole different bag of pigment.
Analogous. One of the most subtle, but elegant configurations, analogous colors are colors that are literally right next to one another on the color wheel. These colors are similar, but different enough that it’s obvious. Blue, blue-green and green make a great combo for a relaxing spa-style bathroom, but I’ve even seen some wild stuff done with analogous shades of purple that really kind of took my breath away. Choose one as your primary and use the other two to support it.
Triadic. For the bold and adventurous, triadic color schemes can create very personal spaces. Although these colors harmonize, in theory, they can be potential sales killers later, so if you go with a triadic color-scheme, don’t be offended if your future Realtor suggests a paint job. Start at the main color you want in the space, then choose the two colors that are equal distance away from it. For example, a triadic purple color scheme would include green and orange. Again, one color should dominate and the others support.
Tetradic. Much like the triadic color scheme, tetradic color schemes can be really loud if done incorrectly, so do so with caution. Instead of there being three colors spaced equally around the color wheel, this scheme uses four. So, if your main color was blue, you’d also use yellow-green, orange, and red-violet. Definitely not for every home or for the faint of heart.
To be honest, most people choose one color and then a different color (often white, black or deep brown) as a trim color. And this works, too. It does. As long as you know what that color is going to look like when it’s dry. This is an important caution, because what the paint looks like at the store, what it looks like when you pour it in the tray, even what it looks like when you paint it on the wall — that’s not what it’ll look like dry.
It’ll be close, but as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes. Sometimes close means the difference between your dreams and your nightmares.
Try Your Paint Before You Buy
Oh, my, but there is a way to try the paint on before you buy it. It’s not a secret, it’s not easy, there’s no refund if you don’t like it, but you’ll have saved yourself a lot of effort and sadness if you use this one simple trick.
When you’re at the paint counter with your paint chip, and you’re really excited about your paint color, ask the person behind the counter to mix up two samples. One of the color you want from the chip, and another of the color that’s just below it. That second color is a slightly less saturated version of the one you chose, so it’s very similar, but you’ll notice a difference in any well-lit room.
If you’re looking at ultra light colors, do the opposite. Choose the color that’s slightly more saturated. Those ghostly paints have a bad habit of all looking white at the end of the process, instead of having a hint of pink or blue or whatever, unless they’re placed in just the right color scheme.
Over the weekend, paint a fairly large area of the room you want to do with both paints. A two-foot-by-two-foot space is good, a four-foot-by-four-foot space is even better. This gives you a really good feel for what that paint is going to look like in your space with your lighting. The lighting in the paint or home improvement store is never a great one to pick paint by.
Harmony Throughout the Home
One last very important point to note that might have been better mentioned sooner is how your color choices should also harmonize with existing materials that are expensive or difficult to remove, like carpets, tile, countertops, tubs and the like.
Let’s say you bought a super cool, mostly restored ranch style house from the 1950s. There’s a lot going on there, but it’s mostly pastel. You’ve got one bathroom that’s pastel green, another that’s pastel blue. This is not the place to break out the burgundies. One of two things will have to happen, either you have to find a way to bridge from pastels to the richer color families, or you need to pick a different color.
Bridging these color gaps usually requires making small steps in the right direction until you’re at your destination, so you’re going to be putting in a lot of effort to make those two choices work. But gutting both bathrooms isn’t really an option, either. So, choose a color that makes sense for the room. A cool gray is often a great companion to these colors, depending on the countertops.
But you don’t just want to think of harmony in terms of one room, you want to sort of make the whole house feel like it was painted with intention and a plan, so that as you move between spaces, some elements from one room travel with you to the next. There needs to be some kind of continuity, be it color, tone, design elements or a mix of these to pull the whole house together.
If your house opens into a back garden or outdoor kitchen, moving those elements outside or the outside elements in also makes a lot of sense. The main point: avoid jarring changes between rooms because it is jarring — to you, your family members, your visitors and one of these days, a potential buyer.
You Don’t Have to Go It Alone
I know, you opened this article hoping for some quick and dirty paint advice that ended with you choosing Seafoam Green because it’s soothing to puppies and instead ended up with a mini education in interior design. Even though there’s a lot of info here, it’s really not as complicated as it sounds. But if the thought of designing a plan for your whole home at once is too overwhelming, help is just around the corner.
Open up HomeKeepr and check out your local Interior Designers and Painters. Either can help you choose paint colors that will harmonize with what’s already in your home and, since they were recommended by your Realtor, you know you can trust them to be absolute professionals.
Your house should be your home — and reflect a bit of yourself — but sometimes it’s better to use your walls as a backdrop to all the amazing furniture and art that you’ll fill your rooms with instead of turning them into an art project in and of themselves.