Painting: A Beginner's Guide to Choosing Interior Colors

urbanlane/stock.xchngSo, you have a white room, or a purple room, and you know you really have to do something about it. But every time you think about it, you get overwhelmed by the multitudes of paint colors available and put off the job for another weekend. This is why there are so many homes are sporting dull and lifeless shades of beige and off-white for years on end.  Remember, it’s just paint. Compared to other design elements in a space, it’s relatively inexpensive. If you make a mistake, you can always repaint.

Here are some quick tips to get you started:

  • Figure out the mood you want to set. Bright and cheery, or soft and serene?  Lots of the same color enhances its effect. Therefore, large spaces painted bright colors will be very, very bright and those painted in a muted tone will be very soft. Small spaces can handle bright, bold or dark colors surprisingly well, because the scale is limited.
  • Identify what colors you like. If you’ve determined in the previous point that you want a soft, serene space and now you’ve decided green is your color, you’ve quickly narrowed your potential choices considerably.  Likewise, you may find yourself searching for a bright and cheery lime green for a small space, or as an accent wall in a larger space.
  • This basic information may be all you need to head to the dreaded paint department and seek the advice of the store staff. Most paint stores have people who can help you with your choice, or at least point you in the direction of the colors and feeling you are looking for.  When in doubt, consult with an interior design consultant or painter.
  • All the major paint brand companies spend considerable money creating themed palettes of coordinated color choices.  From Colonial to Arts & Crafts to Modern country, there is a themed palette for every taste. These are great jumping off points.  DIY Resource:
  • All the major brands have web-based color selecting software that allows you to upload a photo of your room to “paint” the walls digitally, or they provide sample rooms for you to play with. This can be a great help as you try to visualize how an entire room will look painted in one specific color.
  • There’s an App for that. Benjamin Moore, Behr and Sherwin Williams all have smart phone color selector apps that allow you to snap and photo of any item and will match it with one of their paint colors. So, if you find a fabric or flower that is a color you love, you can likely find a close match on the go.  DIY Resource:
  • Look to nature for great color combinations. Nature is never wrong when it comes to how colors work together. A beautiful hydrangea is a combination of many colors, from muted pinks and browns to bright blues and greens. Even wet rocks on a beach might provide a wonderful inspiration for a color palette.
  • If you already own a piece of art, or a print that you love, there may be a color you can pick out of the artwork that will make for a great base on your wall. Be open to gaining inspiration from many sources.
  • Don’t hesitate to make more than one choice and experiment. Remember, the tiny paint chips we use are only printed facsimiles of the actual paint.  You should always purchase a sample pot, or pots, and paint a portion of your wall with the real thing.  Final paint selection should only be made after seeing it up on your wall at different times of the day, as natural and artificial lights will change the way the paint looks.
  • Have patience and don’t skip steps. Paint picked in the hardware store under florescent light will never look like it does in your home.

Have fun. You don’t need to go bold to make a big difference, but don’t hesitate to be bold if it suits you and those who live with you.

Linda Merrill is a writer.  Read more articles like this one or get help with your home projects on

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