Tips and Advice

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How to Choose a Paint Color You Can Live With

See 4 tips and tricks that can help you commit to a color you’ll love

While many homeowners are attracted to bright colors, I often find my clients are most concerned with making sure the palette in their home feels “livable.” After all, a color you love in a stunning photo may not be a color you will love to see on your walls every day. With that in mind, here are some tips for choosing a paint color you’ll enjoy in real life.

1. Don’t buy paint on the spot.

It’s important when you begin the process of selecting a paint color to start with a wide palette of options.

When you go to a paint store, don’t worry about choosing the best possible color while you’re in the shop. Your goal should be to arm yourself with a variety of options so you can make the best possible choice later. This usually means pulling more swatches than you think you need — and even colors you don’t think you will want.

Choosing subtle colors, as opposed to bold and saturated hues, can be the trickiest, as the more subdued the tones in the paint, the harder they will be to see in a paint chip. For this reason it is wise to grab some paint chips that are similar to the color you think you want, but a bit off. Grab the paint chip that appeals to you at first glance, but also take two swatches on either side of it for variety.

When you look at these paint chips again at home, you may find that one you didn’t think you liked is actually the right one for your home.

2. Bring your own swatch.

When you go to the paint store, don’t go empty-handed. Bringing a piece of art or fabric as color inspiration can be useful, but something even simpler can help you see colors correctly: a white sheet of paper

In the store, a pale color may look virtually white, but in your home it will likely be contrasted by some bright white elements such as the ceiling, trim or even something as simple as a switch plate or lampshade, rendering the color much more noticeable.

Bringing something pure white — and also pure black if you have it (like a leather jacket or a jet black shirt) — will give you something to contrast against the paint swatches in the store to help you see the undertones more clearly.

For example, a “light” blue may seem lighter than the other blue shades on the same paint chip, but compared with a stark white it might suddenly look a lot more saturated.

As mentioned, it can also help to use another design element of the room as color inspiration. This wall treatment, for example, draws colors from the traditional rug. However, it’s usually recommended to choose colors that are a bit lighter or toned down from the true hues in the inspiration piece, lest they be too saturated for a full wall.

3. Try some space experiments.

Once you’ve taken many paint swatches home, that is when you can truly decide which colors will work. As you may know, colors can look quite different in your real-life lighting than in the bright fluorescent lighting of a store.

It’s also important to consider that colors will look different relative to other hues in the room, different positions (on a wall versus on the ceiling, for example) and at different times of the day.

Tape paint chips to the wall where they will be applied, and view them during the time of day you will be in the room the most (for example, in the morning or evening for your bedroom). Take your time to do this with individual color swatches on their own, so each color swatch isn’t visually competing with a rainbow of other options.

4. Go big and go home.

Another huge factor that can change how you perceive a paint color is the size of the swatch. No matter how carefully you look at it, a tiny paint store swatch will never fully show you what a color will look like on a full wall. For this reason, designers will often apply a “paint strike,” a large stroke of paint, directly to the wall to see how it will look in real life.

This is an effective technique for helping to compare a shortlist of colors once you’ve narrowed down your selection. It can also help you see how a single shade looks in different finishes if you’re debating between, say, eggshell or matte.

If you don’t want to have to live with messy walls for a while, you can also order large-format paint samples from many companies. It will cost you about $10 to $15 per “memo” swatch, but it can save you a lot of money in wasted paint if it means you don’t end up with the wrong color.

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