Design Process: Selecting a Paint Color in 6 Steps

Photo by Dayoris Custom via Hometalk.comSelecting the perfect paint color can be one of the most intimidating design dilemmas.  Your walls are usually the largest surface of a space. That means the color you choose will have a major impact on the overall feeling of the room. Paint is available in an infinite amount of colors and that can be overwhelming, especially if you are trying to decide if oil based paint or eco-friendly house paint is right for you.  It is easiest to select a color by process of elimination.  Here are some helpful hints for narrowing down all of the options to find the best color for your room.

1. Follow the design process.  Begin planning your room by FIRST determining some of the major elements.  These selections have more limited options but will be the inspiration for your wall colors.  An area rug is usually the most difficult so that is where it begins.  This element grounds your space and sets the style.  Next, choose the furnishings and window treatments.  If they are in place, good options for paint colors will be easier to identify.

2. Bring your inspirations with you to the paint store. This will include small samples of your flooring or carpet, fabrics, tiles, cabinets, countertops, etc.  Color is influenced by other tones that surround it. This is called “simultaneous contrast”.  When different colors are placed next to each other, they automatically appear different.  You may have experienced a color that initially seems to be a tan color but once on the wall may ultimately appear to be a shade of green or pink instead.  That is because the other values in the room may have strong undertones that influence the color that on the wall.  Consider starting with the background color within one of your fabrics.  This will allow the pattern to stand out.

3. Color is also influenced by your lighting.  The lighting in every room is different.  The amount of sunlight, tinted windows, lampshades and the type of bulbs in the lamps will all cast different hues and change the value of a paint color.  Paint stores or your local house painters can do their best to help you narrow down your choices by offering ways for you to view colors under different simulated lighting conditions.  But, nothing will take the place of seeing colors in your particular room. Gather paint chips that are possible selections, bring them home and evaluate them under your exact lighting.  Or, if you have a full fan deck of the colors, you can save a trip to the paint store and see this right at home.

4. Try it on.  Since walls are large, it is difficult to make a decision from a small chip on color strips.  Color usually seems more intense on large walls than a small sample.  When in doubt, go a shade lighter.  Most paint stores offer small pint sizes of their colors available for you to try.  Once you think you have the right color, purchasing one of these is one of the best forms of insurance that will make you confident in your selection.  DO NOT paint them directly on to your walls.  Simultaneous contrast will still influence the way it will look since it will still be surrounded by your current wall color.  Instead, invest in a 50 cent piece of large poster board.  Use the sample paint to cover every square inch (not leaving any white edges).  Then, begin to move it around the room. Place it behind your sofa. Put it flush against your trim so that you will see less of the existing paint color.  Then, keep on checking how it will appear from every angle ... next to the mantel, flush against your furniture or cabinets and backsplash and right beside your artwork.  This is the best way to see how it will look as it surrounds every element in the room. Last but not least, put it on the lowest point of a wall right next to your flooring.  Now live with it for a couple of days and evaluate the color as your lighting changes.

5. Tell a color story. Color is also influenced by the flow of tones and hues throughout the rest of your home.  This is referred to as your “color story”.  Especially with open floor plans, you must consider how the color will look from every vantage point.  That includes how it appears as you travel from one room to the next.  For example, if you are painting the kitchen and can see it from the great room, it will be important to visualize how the color on those walls will appear while sitting in both areas. Walk outside of the room and view your sample from a distance.

6. Wait and see. While you are painting, it is easy to start second guessing your choice of colors.  Don’t panic!  It is not until every inch of the current color is covered that you will have a true picture of how it will turn out.  Getting used to a new color may take a few days and if you have extra, be sure to save the paint for future projects.  Once your furnishings and accessories are added, it will all look beautiful together. After all, you have planned it that way!

Kass Wilson is the owner of Wallstreat Studio and is a Hometalk - - writer.  Read more articles like this one - - or get help with your home projects on

Get Free Quotes

Looking for a Pro? Call us at (866) 441-6648

Get Free Quotes
  • Service Needed
  • Zip Code
Get quotes from qualified local contractors