Color Selecting Secrets – Part 2!

In the last post I highlighted some of the common misconceptions and problems with color and light. In this post I’ll share with you some tips and secrets to help you on your way to evaluate and select your best colors. 

The first tip: Color, particularly paint, it is easily changed. So don’t sweat your choice. If you aren’t happy with your color choice after living with it for a while, buy some new paint and change it. Even if you hire someone to do the work, the cost to repaint a room is still much less than buying new carpet or furniture. Don’t feel confined to your original choice!

When you can’t choose, choose white. It’s a color too, but don’t believe there’s just one white. There are infinite variations as just the slightest drop of tint can turn a base white warm (drop of red or yellow) or cool (drop of blue). White provides a great backdrop for other colorful objects and can make spaces brighter and appear more spacious. White also unifies contemporary interiors. If you’re worried about a sterile feel, add color through art, carpets, curtains, flooring or upholstery.

If you’re not feeling white, choose black or gray. Black of course is the absence of reflected color (or conversely it absorbs all color). Most black or gray paint still starts with a base of white and lots of tint is added. These tints can give blacks/grays a very slight hue of either blue or red (cool or warm). Finding a pure black or gray is a bit more difficult, but some manufacturers do sell them if you inquire.  

When using a bold color, think accent wall, not entire room. Instead of painting an entire room sunset orange, only paint one wall such as the entry or wall opposite the entry of the room. Too much of a strong color can be distracting, uncomfortable and reflect odd colors on furniture and carpets. One strong wall can be a focal point that invites.

Neutral sells. If you’re gearing up to rent or sell, white or off-white can’t be beat. Everyone has their own favorite color and if yours is not your potential buyer’s favorite, you could lose an opportunity. If you spend a few dollars to paint over some bold colors with white or off-white that might make others feel more comfortable to spend their money.

Painting light over dark or dark over light requires multiple coats. The fewer coats you use, the more the old color will bleed through, giving the new color a slight cast. Don’t skimp on paint when the color difference is profound. In some cases you might need 2-3 coats of primer and 3-4 top coats to fully hide previous mistakes or experiments.

Texture and color can work together. Either through wall paper or specialty paints, texture adds interest and depth to colors. Grass paper or sanded paints can significantly change the feeling of a space compared to flat paint of the same color. Faux finishes can also enforce architectural styles but are usually best left to professionals to implement.

Ceilings and moldings subtly tinted with the wall color can make a room feel more connected and larger than having stark contrasts between wall and trim. Exceptions can include more period-specific rooms or complex moldings.

Keep in mind architectural styles and interior trim.  Federal, Victorian, Spanish, Art Deco and Postmodern styles all have their own established color palates. Deviate from the norm too much and spaces might not look quite right.  Not that you can’t experiment, but when in doubt keep your choices within the norms of the style of your home.

Use continuity between rooms. Have you ever seen a house where one room is red, another yellow and the next green? The owners probably picked colors they liked without regard to how they’re perceived as one traverses through. Keeping colors either in the same family or subtly complementing each other makes spaces feel connected and coherent.

Surface finish influences color. Flat, flat-enamel (my favorite), eggshell, satin, semi-gloss and gloss are not only paint finishes but can also describe fabrics, wood, metals and stone surfaces. It is hard to see the colors of a highly reflective surface; they also reflect nearby colors. That’s why trim features are usually semi-glossy to help define space and are usually white or light in color. Flat finishes represent colors best with usually the more expensive (and usually more pigment laden) paint yielding more accurate and saturated colors. Eggshell is a good compromise in sheen, durability as well as color clarity.

Color selection is always a difficult issue since there so many variables not withstanding our own personal preferences. And actually some designers have made careers out of selecting colors for clients. For most of us, however, color selection is just one exciting part of the design process. Through experience and access to various designer resources, paint fan decks, samples and manufacturer’s representatives the process can be quite straightforward and satisfying.


Designers are well versed in how to coordinate colors throughout a space or an entire home, both interior and exterior, as well as understand how to use color to implement and accomplish design goals. These goals can include creating drama, brightening some spaces while making others more intimate or even just complementing your existing art and furnishings. But to begin your journey, try to apply some of the tips and secrets above to select your palate and avoid some common mistakes. And when you run into a road block don’t hesitate to ask us for help.


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2 Responses to Color Selecting Secrets – Part 2!

  1. Jeni Quigg says:

    Do you like the new more earth friendly paints? Pros/cons?

  2. David says:

    Great question and a good topic for a post all by itself. The short answer: Sometimes. Availability, cost and paint options (sheen, color matching, etc.) remain obstacles that are slowly disappearing. (I still question why ALL interior paint aren’t low odor and zero VOC! If some can do it why can’t they all do it).

    At the recent PCBC I did come across one manufacturer that I’m interesting in specifying/trying out: Dunn-Edwards ENSO Low Odor / Zero VOC Interior Paint which is readily available in the Bay Area. As with anything – old habits and trusted products are hard to change. So many people buy the same paint they like, have used and that has performed well for them (including myself). But the industry is definitely changing and moving to “greener” paint. Designers and contractors have an obligation to move the industry in that direction. And thanks for a great idea for a future post!

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