It seems so simple, but picking a paint color is one of the biggest obstacles my clients have when updating their homes. Once they realize they're really picking an overall palette, they're positively paralyzed.
I've been part of the process in thousands of homes, and it really is easier than most people think. Answer a few questions, make a few quick decisions, and then narrow those decisions down to an ultimate choice. I usually give myself a week to make a final decision.
What Do You Like, and How Do You Want to Feel?
Flipping through magazines and websites can be a big help when you're looking for inspiration, but first, take a minute to answer two important questions that people often forget: What are your favorite colors, and how do you want to feel in your home?
Are you looking for a serene oasis from the world or a fun and funky vibe? Finding yourself on that spectrum and considering the colors most likely to take you there is where you want to start. We react to color on such a gut level that instinct will serve you well. If you're really having a tough time, head to the closet and note the colors of your favorite clothes. Check out the bedding and the art on the walls. You'll be surprised how quickly you see a pattern that resonates. Choose three colors to get started.
What Are the Elements You Can't Control?
Now, factor in the elements of the architecture and design that you can't change. Cabinets, carpet, floors and furniture are more permanent fixtures, and it's easier - and more affordable - to paint around those things rather than remodeling just to match the paint. Now, which of your three colors come off the list? Decide quickly, be brutal, and keep moving. You can do this!
Which Rooms Can You See from Other Rooms?
Even if you're not working with an open floor plan, you want to consider everything in your line of sight as you choose colors for particular rooms. This won't necessarily result in removing any of the colors from the list, but you may end up choosing a different tint or shade of the color you like for another room in your sight line.
Are You Ready to Commit? (You Still Get to Pick Three!)
Time to make a call. Start with your three main paint chips, and then choose one or two of its neighbors on either side to give you a spectrum of the colors you like. This will give you options for accent colors or for picking a broader whole-house color palette. The chips will look different in the store than they will at home, so head home and tape them up somewhere that gets some natural light, so you get a sense of how they look in all kinds of light. Remove the "non-contenders" as soon as you can until you're down to one chip for at least two of your three colors.
Can Your Choices Pass a Test?
This is a crucial part of the process. Pick up an eight-ounce sample of your chosen colors and brush some on every wall they're intended for. Depending on the light, one color will often look like two different shades when painted on different walls. Live with them for at least three days - viewing them morning, noon and night - again noting the difference in shades under different light sources, and start narrowing.
If you're still having trouble deciding, vow to eliminate one color a day. Remember, you can always change paint, and you've already chosen colors you actually like.
Do You Want a Different Look Between Upstairs and Downstairs?
If you're working with a two-story layout, you're no doubt trying to decide if you want a different color upstairs. Many of my clients do, often choosing warmer, cozier shades for their more private spaces. If possible, try to look for colors somewhere on the spectrum of your anchor color. But whatever you choose, just repeat the process upstairs.
Do You Have Any Neutral Nooks?
Stairwells that connect your two living areas, small hallways and the other nooks and crannies of the house where colors come together are often best left in a neutral shade to avoid clashing. For these spaces, look at shades of white, beige, or "greige," a taupey color that will work with just about anything. Believe it or not, our eyes want an occasional rest from color, and this is a great way to achieve that, and bring the colors you do use into more sharp relief.
Hopefully these questions will help you develop a palette that's a perfect reflection of your personality. If you have any of your own suggestions, please share them in the comments!