Choosing Paint Colors

I get a lot of questions about how to choose the right paint color for a space. Truth is, I always return to the same basic steps and a few simple rules.Let me begin by saying that I do not believe that there is one and only one color that works in a space. In fact, I always give myself and the homeowners I work with three distinct and separate options. So before narrowing it down to that final choice I select (1) a warm neutral, (2) a cool neutral and (3) a color.
20121206_simply_baths_72If you’ve looked through magazines and browsed around online, you may have found yourself gravitating towards the same color palettes and you’ve probably entered the paint center with some idea of the color direction you’d like to go in. Now however, you’re standing in front of a rainbow sea of paint swatches. It’s overwhelming, I’m sure.Paint Swatches

Paint swatches do have one really helpful property though. I’m sure you’ve noticed that multiple shades exist on one swatch, with the darkest being at the bottom and the lightest at the top. Keep in mind that even if you are thinking of painting your room in the lightest spectrum on the swatch, the darkest, most saturated color at the bottom of the swatch is still a present tone within the paint. Making note of this will prevent you from painting your room what you think is a soft white when really it’s a peachy pink. Nothing is worse than seeing that first ray of sunshine illuminate your freshly painted space and suddenly realizing you didn’t create the tranquil retreat you had hoped for.

Sun and Cirrus Clouds --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Hey, so while we’re on the subject, natural light is an important consideration. Regardless of how much or how little sunlight a room receives I always make sure to view my options both inside the room and under good natural lighting. So take another look at those paint swatches once you’ve left the store and help yourself avoid the frustration and cost of repainting.

So I’ll breakdown the steps as simply as I can:

STEP ONE: First, I breeze through the swatches grabbing anything that catches my eye. – Anything:


STEP TWO: Then, I lay them all out either in the space or alongside my samples. Taking a quick snapshot view of my options, I allow myself to respond to my gut reactions, removing anything that immediately offends. Keep in mind that at this point I’m narrowing down swatches – NOT specific colors.


My goal is to be left with a warm neutral swatch:


A cool neutral:


And a color. This one is pulling out the green tones found in the floor tile sitting to the right of the swatch:


I’m always sure to leave just one swatch in each category, 3 swatches total. Doing so helps me to narrow it down while still giving me options. I find that it is much easier to chose between 3 distinctly different swatches than two that sit closely related. Again, I’m still not honing in on a specific color within the swatch, not yet.

So now I have my three options:


STEP THREE: The next decision is whether I want the space to feel warm & cozy (a warm-toned neutral),

Guest Bath

cool & tranquil (a cool-toned neutral)

Edgy & Contemporary Master Bathroom

or alive and vibrant (a saturated color).


When making this decision I’m not actually spending too much time looking at the swatches I’ve chosen, but rather thinking about the mood I want to create in the space. Thinking about mood enables me to narrow it to that one swatch.

STEP FOUR: And now, finally, I’m choosing a specific color from the swatch that remains. The only real choice to be made here is how dark or light I want the space to be. I want to be sure to counter-balance the weight of the other materials in the room. If the furniture or fixtures are dark and heavy, I might want to think about the lighter spectrum and vice-versa. Keep in mind that not everything in the space has to be a star player. Some elements are meant to play supporting roles.

The reality is, taking a systematic approach to color selection has never failed me and it took me far longer to write this post than choosing a color ever has. Best of luck – and let me know if you need any help!

– Rachel |

4 Steps to Choosing Paint Colors

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