Tricks of the Trade to Make Picking Paint Way Less Scary

Color is scary. Picking paint is the decision my clients agonize over the most. It’s understandable – the color you choose will set the tone for the whole room. It feels like a permanent decision because of the work involved in repainting if it turns out you hate the color. But choosing the right color doesn’t have to be scary. I have 5 tricks that will make picking paint a breeze!

Know Your Colors  

It’s time to state thinking thinking in terms of mood instead of color. What mood do you want to set for the room? How will you be using the space? What impression do you want to give guests? Answering these questions will guide your color decisions.

Color psychology is a great tool for picking out paint. Having a basic understanding of how colors affect you is important in choosing the right hue for your space. If you want a relaxing, inviting family room, green tones are the way to go. Want a lively, appetite-stimulating dining room? Red is the color for you. Looking to create a home office that will promote creativity? Blue is your best bet.

For an in-depth look at all of the colors of the rainbow, including what each color represents and the best rooms to use them, I like HGTV’s Color Guides.


The Poster Board Trick  

Once you know the best color for the space, play with different tones and shades until you find the perfect hue.

This is usually the point when people go out, buy a couple sample cans, paint a few swatches on the wall, and try to decide which they like best. Unfortunately painting small swatches on one wall tells you little about the color and virtually nothing about how it will look throughout the whole space. Keep in mind that color is going to look dramatically different throughout the day because of changes in lighting. Where the color is located in the room also affects how it appears.

The best way to select paint is using the poster board trick. Once you’ve narrowed the field down to your final 2 -3 options, paint them onto white poster boards, one board with each color (be sure to fully cover the board with paint). Next, hang each board on the wall at least one foot apart from each other. Leave them for 24 hours, checking throughout the day to get a feel for the brightness (or dullness) of the color. After 24 hours, move the boards to a different wall in the room and repeat the process. Continue doing this until you have seen the colors in each corner of the room, in all different lighting. Now there is no guessing what the color will look like once it’s up! It’s much easier to pick out paint when you know exactly what you are getting.

Once the main wall color has been selected, picking out the trim paint is a breeze! A neutral tone is the most common option. Beige or white will make the wall color pop and add interest to any detail work.

Coordinating Compliments  

Painted wood furniture is a trendy and fun way to add more color to your space. Finding the right paint for your piece is easy. Using compliments of your wall color will ensure a cohesive look throughout the space. There are several ways to select complimentary colors, as shown in the chart below.


Direct Compliments
If you want to keep it simple with two main colors in the space, use the direct compliment of your wall color. This will be the color that is on the direct opposite side of the color wheel from the main color (ex: purple and yellow). Keep in mind this is a bold choice as using opposite colors creates the most dramatic visual combination.

Split Compliments
My personal favorite for choosing accent colors is using the split complimentary system. This is when the two colors on either side of the direct compliment are used. So, if I have yellow-green walls, my accent colors would be pink and purple. Using split complimentary is great for interiors as it creates an interesting color palate that is not over stimulating.

Triad Compliments
For a space with two accent colors, you can use the triad system, which is selecting colors that are equidistant apart of the color wheel. For example, if your wall color is blue, the complimentary colors would be yellow and red. This is a great choice when using softer, pale tones.

Finding the Right Finish  

Just as important as picking the right color, finding the right finish can feel overwhelming. There are so many different options to choose from, how do you know which one to go with?

Luckily, most paint manufacturers provide handy charts letting you know which finish is best depending on where and how the paint is being applied. There are generally four different finishes to choose from: flat/matte, satin/eggshell, semi-gloss, and gloss. The rules on where and when to use each one are pretty straightforward.

Flat or Matte
This is the most common choice for the majority of rooms in the home. It goes on smoothly and hides imperfections in the wall. This is a great finish for areas that don’t require frequent scrubbing, like the living room, bedrooms, and offices.

Satin or Eggshell
This is an easy to maintain, long-lasting finish that is perfect for high-traffic areas like the entryway, stairway, and playroom. It holds up to frequent wiping down and is easy to clean.

Available in mildew resistant formulas, this has a subtle shine and is great for high moisture areas such as the kitchen and the bathroom. This finish is washable, which makes cleaning up food splatters a breeze. Keep in mind, this option can highlight blemishes in the wall so be sure to apply it to a smooth surface.

This shiny paint is perfect for highlighting details in trim and woodwork. It is also the most durable of the finishes and holds up to hard scrubbing. It’s a perfect finish for something like the fireplace surround as it highlights the interesting details while making it easy to wipe away the soot.

Don’t Forget the Ceiling  

The ceiling is often forgotten yet it’s an important part of creating a complete design.

The most common solution is to paint it bright white, which is a great choice to offset a deep, bold wall color. However painting the ceiling with a color can create a bit of interest and actually make the room feel bigger.

To make the room feel larger, paint the ceiling a shade lighter than the walls. A good rule of thumb here is 80% white mixed with 20% of the wall color. This is especially good for rooms with vaulted or angular ceilings.

For a more dramatic statement, go with a darker ceiling. This creates a sense of intimacy that is perfect for the dining room or the bedroom. When going with a darker color, use a high gloss finish. This will allow the ceiling to reflect light down onto the space, making the room feel more inviting and less like a cave.

Still feel stuck picking paint? Leave me a comment with your questions, and I’ll be happy to help you with your paint problems!

2 Comments on “Tricks of the Trade to Make Picking Paint Way Less Scary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *