I like the color, but it’s a little too….

…(fill in the blank).

If I had a nickel for every time I heard the above phrase, then I probably wouldn’t need to charge for our very own Nickel Tour (you’ve sent the unmarked bills our way, haven’t you?).  And since we’ve made a very public spectacle of our DIY renos on this house, then I guess that opens us up to the question, “How do you pick the right paint color?!”

Well, truth be told, it’s not a science.  And color is a very subjective topic.  One person’s glam is another person’s kitsch.  Obviously, if you like blue and your significant other likes red, then it’s a very difficult thing to compromise (but take my advice – don’t paint *both* colors on the walls as a form of compromise – you will probably regret it).  But most of the complaints I hear are, “Oh, this is the color I wanted, but it’s not the right tone…”  So I wanted to walk people through how J and I pick colors!  Hopefully it will help – and if it doesn’t, then see Rule #1 (Color is very subjective).

Tip #1: It is much easier to match a paint color to a fabric rather than the other way around. I wish I would follow my own advice sometimes, but this is pretty basic.  Have you ever painted a room and then tried to find accessories to “match”.  It never works!  So rather than making your first stop the paint store, make your first stop the Fabric Store or your local bedding chain.  Fall in love with a pillow, a fabric, a blanket, a curtain, and then tailor that love vertically to your walls.  Then you bring the pillow to the paint store and do your best match-matchy routine…

Tip #2:  At a minimum, you should bring home at least a dozen paint swatches from the store.  Sounds like a lot, right?  Well, it certainly is, but whether you have a fabric or don’t, there may be several dozen different types of “red” for example.  Is it Cranberry Red?  Fire Engine Red?  Brick Red?  You get the idea.  The only way you can really tell the difference is when you have all of those colors right next to each other and in your house’s lighting (see below).  When you pair the swatches next to each other, you will start to pick up on colors within the primary color without even realizing that it was there before.  For example, a red color could have a deeper purple tone to it or a brighter orange-y tone, but you will really only pick up on that if you see the colors in a lineup.

Tip #3: Don’t buy paint yet!  You need to take those swatches home, hang them on the wall to be painted, and live with it for a few days or even weeks.  I know it’s difficult, but better be safe than sorry.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are looking at those color swatches in your house:

  • The light in a room changes throughout the day depending upon sunlight, dusk, dawn, lights on, lights off, different bulbs, etc.  So give yourself enough time to view the room with those swatches in it at every single point in the day.  This may take some time, especially if you’re like me and you don’t see sunlight in your house all day except for the weekends!
  • The swatches are *almost* always done in a FLAT finish, so keep that in mind as most paints that you would want to put on your wall will have some sort of sheen to them (either Eggshell, Satin, Semi-Gloss, etc).
  • Look at the swatches side-by-side and you will start to see color variations that you didn’t notice in the store (this color is more red, more blue, more green, more yellow, etc).  Just remember that once you paint that color on the wall, that color variation will be intensified a lot!

Tip #4:  Narrow your color choices down to about three swatches.  Again, this may be difficult, but don’t settle for one color (you’ll see why in a moment).  If you can narrow it down to three, then the next tip is the kicker…

Tip #5:  Go back to the paint store and get samples!  Yes, they sell testers like the ones below:

Some of the multiple testers we used in our family room paint selection

And, oh my goodness, they are lifesavers!!  Some brands (like Glidden) actually sell them without you having to go up to the Paint Counter and asking for a sample.  But most times you have to go to the counter and ask for a sample in a color – and, yes, any brand, any color they can mix up for you.  They cost between $5-$10, depending upon the size and the brand, but it’s money well spent!

Tip #6:  Paint those testers and live with it:  So this is another time consuming step because you need to wait for paint to dry:

Our bathroom colors. We went with the color on the bottom.

But here’s the kicker.  This is where you will really start to see the color in its “natural habitat” so to speak!  I mean, really, you can start to see how the sheen will effect this color, what the colors look like next to each other, what they look like dry, how well do they paint, etc, etc.  Those piddly little color swatches just aren’t good enough for us indecisive people!!!  And you’re only out about $5/paint sample and you haven’t wasted an entire weekend tearing apart your rooms (or moving toilets as we did recently for our bathroom paint job).  And one amazing tip from one of my readers, Tran, is that you should absolutely paint your samples close to the “permanent” fixtures in your room (e.g. fireplace stone, window trim, sinks, floors, etc.).  You want to work *with* those items and not *against* them.  Even if you have pink bathroom tile and you absolutely hate it, work with it and it will lend itself to an overall more cohesive space.

Once you’ve decided, then it will be time to get yer paint on!

So there ya have it!  I hope this helps!  It’s an (almost) fullproof method of choosing a paint color that will work best for you.  Do you have any other tips for picking the right color?  Have we missed anything?  You’Tell Us!


16 thoughts on “I like the color, but it’s a little too….

    • Heheh! I’ve never had success with that! You can also donate paint if you have extra! I think Habitat for Humanity will take paints that you have extra of lying around. Check it out! Of course, I wouldn’t *buy* the paint simply to donate it…sheesh! What a bone-headed idea *that* would be (but I’d probably do it – haha!).

  1. your patience is inspiring! i always get the idea to paint something and rush out and buy a gallon that day… and thus i only have one room that i’m happy with. that’s also why i have a whole label on my blog called “i have issues with paint colors” 🙂

  2. Great post. I did all of the above and still ended up with the wrong color! After I painted my living room, and put all furniture and rugs into place, I realized that it didn’t go well with the couch and brick fireplace. So I would say, paint the samples near some items in your living room that are somewhat permanent or were a big investment.

    • OMG, Tran, you are SOOO right!!! I am going to add that to the post ASAP! Especially if you have something different like brick or stone or plaster, you *definitely* want to match up your colors to that. Great tip!

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  7. L –

    love the blog and enjoy seeing the pics as your guys progress.

    I recommend making the small investment in a color deck, or sometimes called a fan deck, of the brand of your choice. I have the entire Sherwin Williams color deck for easy reference.

    Some paint manufacturers, like SW, can even provide larger size samples (4 1/4″ x 3 5/8″).


  8. Great blog, and very helpful post. The only “critique” I have is Tip #1, “It is much easier to match a fabric to a paint color rather than the other way around,” sounds like you should be painting first and then matching a fabric to the paint you have already picked out. But, reading your explanation, it is clear that you mean the opposite. (I have actually found that it IS easier to paint first and then match textiles to the paint, but of course that doesn’t work if you already have a houseful of furniture.) I think you mean your tip to be, “It is much easier to match a paint color to a fabric, than the other way around.”

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