paint chip paralysis
July 23, 2012 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Our new house has awful walls, so we're getting it painted. Help me identify best practices and rules of thumb for choosing interior paint colors.

So, I know this much: Eggshell for the walls, gloss for the trim and cabinets. Same trim color throughout the house, if possible.

What about the kitchen? Should those walls be eggshell too, or glossy (and therefore easier to clean)?

I'm doing white trim throughout the house. If I want white walls, should it be the same white as the trim, or just a smidge off? Or a lot off? I'm trying to get away from the generic beige-wall/white-trim look.

Is there anything else I should think about? Please feel free to recommend design resources....

If it matters, it's a 60's ranch and our style leans towards the sort of casual/organic/modern. (We don't have an Ikea where we live, but we like a lot of the designs we see in the catalogue.)
posted by elizeh to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The very best advice I received, in addition to what you've outlined here, is to choose the color one chip duller than the one you've picked (on the paint array). That color is likely to be more interesting in more lights, and create the effect you were going for versus the color that originally jumped out at you. This has been true for us, even when we've chosen from neutral palates (grays, for example).

And yes, if you want white trim throughout, but want a white room, look for a "white neutral wall color"--that is, a color that on the wall "reads" with the clean-ness of white, but isn't exactly (ivories, pale dove colors, soft wheat colors). The trim runs the same white everywhere (but make sure that white trim has a base--cool or warm--that 'goes with' the temperature of the colors you've chosen. A cold blue-base white trim can make a light brown that also has a cool base look sort of lavender, for example).

We also found, for the aesthetic you mentioned, that "green" paints, like milk-paint/No VOC type brands offered color palates that were really fool proof with a lot of "interesting neutral" options.
posted by rumposinc at 12:14 PM on July 23, 2012

Get a rug, or curtains with multiple colours in that goes with your existing furniture for your room. Pick your paint colours to go with that item.

So, say you bought this rug, then your paint colours could be matched to the olive, gold, blue or beige in the rug as you please. And if the colour you like in the rug is too intense, match it on the paint strip, and then go a shade or two lighter. This also allows you to pick out colours for accent walls, and have multiple rooms painted in different colours that still go together (if you pick them all from the same item).

Painting rooms white is beyond my novice attempts at interior design, I use brilliant white for all my trim, and actual colours on all walls.
posted by plonkee at 12:18 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want semi-gloss, not actual gloss, for the surfaces you've mentioned using "glossy". I'm sure there's some interior application for high-gloss paints, but kitchen and trim are not it.

My best tip for picking paint colors is to put your chips up on in the actual room and live with them for a few days, in natural light. Chips look very different in a hardware store vs. in your actual house. I usually cut the different shades apart for this, so I can really think about that color on the walls and not how the whole card looks, and avoid getting distracted by colors that are completely unsuitable.
posted by Sara C. at 12:24 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Re matching to an item like a rug, drape fabric, etc -- you want to pick the third most prominent color in the item. So in the rug plonkee linked, you'd want the ice blue or that sort of buttery light brown shade. Or, if you were feeling daring, the olive or red. I wouldn't match from the beige background; it'll look like a hotel room.

Just remember to never ever EVER match a whole room to a picture on your computer screen. It's entirely possible that you'd get that rug delivered, and the red would be a burgundy rather than a tomato-ey red, or that the olive would really be dark brown. Or the beige would really be a cake batter yellow. Only attempt this match technique with items you already have. Computer screens are not calibrated to show colors precisely.

This advice brought to you by the lady who thought she was ordering a coral dress from Modcloth, only to have it arrive pumpkin orange.
posted by Sara C. at 12:39 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

When we bought our new house, we painted the entire thing before we moved in, because I could not stand the colors/wallpaper that were here.

I wish we had waited on some of the rooms. Rooms where we already had the furniture to go were fine. Having ceilings and trim done, fine. But we have no furniture/accessories for our dining and living rooms, and I had them painted anyway. I wish I had lived here a while and got a better feel for what I wanted. SO I guess my first advice is to not rush. Do rooms you're going to live in most, assuming you have the furniture for them. Wait on the others if you can.

My other advice is not to be afraid of color. I love color on the walls - I think it makes a room warmer. But I've seen a lot of rooms that are more neutral with color coming from furniture or accessories. That's fine too. Grey is huge right now, and is easy to accessorize with color if you get the right grey.

Buy the small samples and paint a bit before you do it all - colors are hard to pick from swatches.

Look at lots of rooms on pintrest; save things; eventually you'll get a feel for what you love.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:55 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I usually get sample pots of colour and paint two coats over white bristol board so I can really see what a colour looks like in a room. I usually paint with Benjamin Moore so white trim is easy. "Cloud White" if I want a warm white and "Oxford White" for a neutral or slightly coolish white. Either in a SEMI gloss, NOT gloss. There is a reason these colours are classic! If you are doing a truly white room I would do both trim and walls the same colour. I find that white just a hint off from the trim reminds me of how apartments are painted between renters.

Finally if you want to memail me some room pictures I would be happy to suggest a few colours as a starting point. Good luck!
posted by saradarlin at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I paint walls in colors that flatter me, not the sofa. If I wouldn't wear the color as a blouse, I sure don't want it on my walls.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:28 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to get samples and paint at minimum a 2'x2' square, and hang it on the wall for 24 hours. How does it look in sunlight and artificial light?

Seriously, this is totally worth it.
posted by fshgrl at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Think about the color harmony of the house, not just the room. Especially if you like COLOR on the walls, you need to think about how rooms flow together visually.

Our kitchen is yellow, dining room green, bathroom is blue, guest bedroom turquoise and master bedroom is lavender. It works because the colors are the same intensity and the living room is a neutral. We also pick up the wall color of one room and mix it in as an accent in adjacent rooms. When you can see one room from another have color harmony (not matchy-match) makes the house look organized.
posted by 26.2 at 2:25 PM on July 23, 2012

I spent a fair amount of time looking at Design Seeds to get ideas of colors that would work well together, as most of my downstairs rooms open into each other.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:33 PM on July 23, 2012

Should those walls be eggshell too, or glossy (and therefore easier to clean)?

Eggshell finish has the same washability as the higher glosses. I'm currently demonstrating this in my kitchen, which gets plenty of splatters and cleans up easily with minimum effort. Higher glosses also tend to maximize any irregularites in the walls, since they catch and reflect the light from bumps and blemishes.

Same trim color throughout the house, if possible.

I found a color from Martin-Seynour Paints* called "Alabaster" about thirty years ago which I have used for all of my trim ever since. It has a hint of yellow ochre, a hint of red oxide and a hint of burnt umber, and it complements every color I've ever used against it (those colors include deep purples, reds, greens, blues, and the current set of neutrals). I buy it in semi-gloss latex enamel because it's easier to use. High gloss typically requires five or six coats and goes on like vegetable oil - hard to manage, runny and not fun to work with, IME.

*Martin-Seynour Paints are a high-end line manufactured by Sherwin-Williams and S-W can make it for you to try out and see if you like it. It's been a great investment for me.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:43 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Should I contrast warm undertones with cool, in terms of trim and wall? Or should they both be cool or both warm?
posted by elizeh at 6:16 PM on July 23, 2012

My favorite resource for anything home improvement related is Young House Love. They have a whole page of articles related specifically to painting. I used a lot of their tips when deciding on colors for the rooms in my house.

I brought home LOTS of paint chips. By "LOTS", I mean that I probably should have been banned from the paint store. I had decided on a basic color like "green" and then picked up 4 copies of every single chip that appealed to me. I got home and taped my four copies of each around the room in various locations with various types of lighting, as well as along the baseboards, and next to windows. I left them there for probably a week or more. Whenever I passed by at a different time of day, I would eliminate something and take it off the wall. I'd make sure to look at the samples at different types of lighting too.

I also used semi-gloss white for baseboards. I just color-matched the builder-default white, but Young House Love usually recommends an off-the-shelf white so that you don't have to worry about color matching in the future. I really didn't worry about matching cool or warm, but that's because I didn't think to do so... It's easier to use the same white across the house because a gallon of semi-gloss will last a long time if you're just doing baseboards.

Definitely agree with the above recommendation to go to design seeds for whole-house palette and harmony. My downstairs is white hallways with a red-orange living/dining room and a yellow-orange family room. Upstairs has an avocado green master bedroom across the hallway from a midtone sea blue office. Stuff kind of goes together without clashing.

(Also, if you see a picture of a room you like in a magazine or a blog somewhere, those are probably the colors you're most attracted to... they jump out at you for a reason... the Young House Love folks always tell you straight up what colors they use, so if it appeals to you, just copy it...)
posted by watch out for turtles at 9:08 PM on July 23, 2012

In the Benjamin Moore paint collection there are colors categorized as designer favorites, historical colors and America's colors. All of these mixtures contain pigments from each of the primary colors making them the most complex read to the eye, and subsequently, the best for matching any and all color elements in the decor.

This is exactly the difference between a generic apartment white and the whites that you'd see in a home magazine that look better. It also pretty much ensures that if you choose a bold color you won't end up with a glaring primary that clashes with everything including things that seemed to be the same color before you painted the whole room. These colors are richer and change with light picking up colors from the room around it well.

If you take in a chip to be matched (for instance if you decide to use one of the eco-paints, which are really nice) they should know how to do it. I usually mentioned that the batch should contain all pigments and that the complexity of the color was important to me to make sure the people matching it mixed it accurately.
posted by mrsjohnson at 6:32 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just painted the ceiling in my bedroom a darker grey than the walls, and it looks fantastic. I also painted the closets a *much* darker gray, and it makes them look a lot classier.

Also, if you're torn between a few colors, go to the paint store and buy a few of those tiny sample bottles, and try them out on a patch of wall.
posted by schmod at 10:43 AM on July 24, 2012

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