I’ve lived in my house for over twenty-four years and have painted every single room multiple times. By multiple, I mean 40, Yes, I have kept track and I have painted rooms an even 40 times in my house over the years and that includes ceilings, too. My bedroom alone is on its seventh color. So I’m something of an expert on picking paint colors–because I have made a LOT of mistakes.
I like to paint and I like change so that’s part of my problem, but I’ve also re-painted rooms a few months, weeks, or even days later because the color wasn’t what I expected. The Big Bird Yellow that I used in my hall bath once comes to mind. I think that lasted an entire weekend. In my living room, I tried the hugely popular Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams that is all the rage on Pinterest and decorating boards, blogs, and forums. I thought I would love it too, but I was wrong. It was a cold baby blue and I just couldn’t live with it.
I was looking for an elusive muted blue-gray color and sampled eight different paints, finally settling on the Sea Salt. I knew almost from the minute the room was finished and put back together that it was a big mistake. Eight months later, I went a completely different route and repainted the room in Benjamin Moore’s Rockport Gray.
In the scheme of things, paint is relatively inexpensive. However, the cost can really add up as you try color after color on your walls trying to get it right. The frustrations can add up, too.
Here’s what I’ve learned about choosing paint colors over the years. First of all, do not trust the Internet. In general, choosing a color based on how it looks online is not a good idea. I only did this once with good results. The Rockport Gray that replaced the Sea Salt in my living room is an example. I saw it on a blog, loved it, went out and bought two gallons, painted my room, and have been happy with it ever since. That almost never happens, at least to me.
How a color looks online is often very deceiving. You don’t know if the photo you’re looking at was edited, and you don’t know the lighting of the room where the photo was taken. I belong to a Facebook decorating site where members routinely asked for opinions about paint colors. Posting a photo of several smallish paint samples on a wall and asking, “Which one do you like?” is kind of pointless.
Everyone who responds to these help-me-pick-a-paint-color questions has an opinion, but it’s only an opinion and not based on reality. Colors can, and often do, looks completely different from one computer or phone screen to another. People don’t see color the same way anyway. Also, people from the Internet won’t be living with your paint choice. YOU will.
I had heard and read great reviews of Repose Gray. Maybe you have it and love it. I loved it too on Pinterest. In my house, though, it had a decidedly lavender undertone. You may not see this undertone at all–because of your phone or computer screen or because of the way you “see” it–but in my reality it looked lavender.
It’s also important to remember that color is affected by what is around it. That’s another reason why asking online for opinions on paint swatches on a wall doesn’t make a lot of sense when the colors of the existing furniture and fabric aren’t even visible in the photo.
I found out the hard way how color can change when the surroundings change. I always thought my trim was a bright white but when I went from very dark walls to white walls, my trim suddenly looked dingy. Another can of worms opened. Another trip to the paint store, this time for a whiter trim paint.
There’s really no other way you’ll know for sure if a color will work for you until you test the actual paint on the wall. It doesn’t matter if the color looks great in your best friend’s house or if 72 out of 85 people surveyed like this color in their homes. You just have to try it for yourself.
But, do not trust tiny little test swatches.
What I recommend:
- Gather all the paint chips you want from the paint store. Bring them home and look at them in the room you want to paint.
- Pick a few contenders and go back and have test quarts mixed.
- Paint HUGE samples (3 feet by 3 feet at least) of each color in different parts of your room and in the corners of the room. This will give you an idea on how the color looks when it reflects back on itself, which it’s going to do anyway when the whole room is painted.
- Don’t test different colors close to each other. Let’s say you are testing three colors. Maybe Sample A looks too green compared to Sample B, and Sample C looks too gray compared to A&B. Okay. But two of the colors won’t be there once you make your choice. Test the colors as far apart as you can and evaluate each one on its own.
- Once you’ve chosen your color and started painting, don’t rush to judgment if it isn’t looking the way you thought it would. Sometimes your eye has to adjust. I started painting a room once and went to bed hating it. The next morning I loved it. I still loved it even when I wanted a change seven years later and painted over it.
Choosing a paint color strikes fear in the heart of many. There are just too many choices, too many variables, too much room for error. But if you take your time and test your colors, you’ll know when you’ve hit on a winner.