What colors to paint my apartment?
October 17, 2020 7:13 AM   Subscribe

After living here for years, I finally get to choose paint colors for my currently all-white apartment! I am paralyzed with indecision! Please help!

First off, we have to use Benjamin Moore. Landlord's contractor sez so.

The whole common space (kitchen, dining, living) is one big room. When you walk in the front door, you are in the kitchen and immediately to your right is the dining room, then the living room. (Bedrooms are on the left, and I've already decided on a bedroom color.)

Ideally I'm thinking one color for the living room area, one color for the kitchen cabinets, and a third color in the middle dining area. But I can't begin to sort through all the options, much less imagine how they'd all look together. My only guidance for you is that I am very much not conservative in my decorating preferences, but also I find a lot of people choose colors that are too saturated when they get this freedom for the first time.

(FYI, the couch will be getting a new cover to coordinate with the new wall, so you don't have to take the orange beast into consideration.)
posted by showbiz_liz to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
When you paint your cabinets see if Benjamin Moore has a super glossy or enamel cabinet paint. Specifically tell them you are painting cabinets at the store. Otherwise the cabinets will pick up dirt and fingerprints easily and be a pain to clean. Same with doors, frames, and baseboards.
posted by xammerboy at 7:26 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

To be clear I am not buying or applying this paint, I just get to pick the colors that my landlord's painter will use. I was planning to mention glossy paint for the cabinets though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:30 AM on October 17

Have you tried this tool to test paint colors on your photos?

I think in your particular apartment (size, light) white actually might look best, with the possible exception of the kitchen cabinets.
posted by pinochiette at 7:38 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

OK so this is my ten-minute no-fee opinion. If you want more, I'll need floor plans and to know where north is.
I think you should paint the long wall on the left of the picture with your dining space one color, my intuition based on your artworks says pale sky blue, avoid too much purple/red in the blue.
You should paint the kitchen black or so dark gray that most people will think it's black. And then the wall you haven't shown, opposite the living room windows should be a bright color, almost like a work of art in its own right. Could be orange, if you are brave, or an ochre-tinted yellow for a more classic look.
Keep all the rest including panels and doors white, and also specify a bright white-white, without tones or with just a tiny hint of black in it.
If you can, get a new massive wood/butchers block kitchen counter. Oak is classic, bamboo is new.
posted by mumimor at 7:47 AM on October 17 [3 favorites]

OK so this is my ten-minute no-fee opinion. If you want more, I'll need floor plans and to know where north is.

I actually happen to have the floor plan! (Well, the floor plan for the unit downstairs - the window layout and closets differ slightly.) The living room windows face directly south.

Alas, the kitchen counter is staying the way it is. I am a lowly renter and consider myself lucky to be able to pick paint colors at all.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:53 AM on October 17

We have different tastes but I think I have advice.

I just went through this process and went with super-saturated colors - I knew I wanted jewel tones. I'm really happy with it, especially the sapphire blue of my living room. But I kept running into the problem that super-saturated colors aren't as popular as more neutral or washed-out colors, so I was finding a lot of paint palettes I liked that were not saturated enough.

I would look at the paint palettes put out by paint companies. These palettes are intended to be interesting and new, to attract customers, but to also be broadly appealing, also to attract customers. So, for example, Behr's "jewel tones" have the saturation toned down a bit. Frustrating for me, but maybe good for you.

You can look at Benjamin Moore's website, but I would also look at other companies because you can usually find similar colors in any brand.

If you feel paralyzed by indecision (which I did at first), it also helps a lot to browse interior design photos on pinterest. Save some of the images you like and then try to figure out what the images you like have in common. That's how I figured out that I wanted jewel tones.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:53 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

I would paint your kitchen cabinets bright white to match your appliances, and pick a light, bright color for the walls. I have a kitchen very similar to yours, and recently went with a light mint green (like the color of those after dinner mints) and it looks so cheerful in there. I also went with pale yellow for my bathroom, which makes me feel very happy in the mornings, and I probably would have loved in my kitchen, too. These vintage kitchens with no windows need a little cheer, is what I'm saying. I went with a black and white checkered tile when I replaced mine, if you want a suggestion there - it turned out awesome.

Just from looking at your decor, you seem to be a fan of earth tones, and I would not do blue with that orange couch! Maybe looks at other greens, brownish rose, etc. I would not do anything too bright in the rest of the house.
posted by backwards compatible at 7:53 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to mention - it seems like this year, "modern" earth tones are in style, so a lot of these palettes have some really nice combinations of earth tones and things that would go good with your wood furniture.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:55 AM on October 17

What a great apartment.

OK, if this were my space, I would paint the three rooms in successively more saturated colors. The kitchen the lightest, the dining room slightly more rich, the living room with all those windows the richest and darkest color.

This is an incredibly old idea, leading your eye through a space by using varying hues. (And it also works the opposite way, using the darkest colors in the dimmest space and progressing lighter towards the windows.)

Whichever way you choose, you add depth and interest, the sense of a journey through the space. In my own small apartment, I took a deep breath and went with charcoal in my dim sleeping area and ranged all the way to a light pinky white in my brightest room. I love it!

And if you ever need a reminder of the power of paint, look at the bedroom in this apartment.
posted by minervous at 8:08 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

Earth color tints for your walls will easily harmonize with your furnishings since they are not on the pure hue color wheel and will not establish complement oppositional relationships with furnishings. Aim for a few shades paler than the small sized swatch since the final will be a large field of color.
posted by effluvia at 8:10 AM on October 17

I actually happen to have the floor plan!
What a lovely apartment, you are lucky.

Anyway, this confirms my first intuition. The sky blue should continue throughout the kitchen, turning round the corner to the fridge (maybe with an acrylic or glass backsplash behind the stove). It seems you use one wall to project movies on? Maybe bring all the artwork on to the sky blue and orange/yellow walls, and make sure the white wall is beautifully smooth and clean. Have mirrors between the windows too, like in Versailles, there was a reason they did this -- to reflect the reflected light once more. When you are not watching movies, have big plants along that wall, and perhaps mirrors in nice frames standing on the shelves, easy to remove, I personally love geraniums and orchids, but you decide. It's good for your indoor climate too.
The sofa could remain orange in this scenario, or go very dark (almost black) purple with accent cushions matching the other colors.

Other design suggestions: get a statement lamp over your dining table, I can't go to the US site, but an example is IKEA Grimsås. Put standing identical lamps next to the sofa and hammock, and when not cleaning don't use the ceiling lamp. Get cheap LED strips under the top cupboards in the kitchen.
posted by mumimor at 8:22 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

It seems you use one wall to project movies on?

I actually have a retractable screen (precisely because I wanted to be able to have art on all my walls), so that's not an issue!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:25 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

I live in a place with colors that are too saturated, and my partner loves it. So it's possile that too-saturated colors may work ok for you.

There's: pink with red trim, blue with dark blue trim, yellow and purple with green trim.

Kitchen cupboards each have a different 3" pepper painted onto them, kitchen door has a 3" lime on one side and a 3" zucchini on the other side.

NOTE: You can get the paint shop to mix any color you want. You don't have to stick to the inadequate colors they have already named. When we painted our house rainbow, we originally mixed red, yellow, and blue to get 31 shades of rainbow, and then we learned we could just tell them ratios and they would mix the colors to our specifications at no extra charge.
posted by aniola at 8:26 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

A tiny detail: in my apartment, which is in an old building, I asked the painter to make an edge of one inch of white towards the ceiling and around the doors and all panels. This makes the color stand out, and also hides irregularities in old buildings.

Theoretically, there are two main approaches to color in daylight spaces: either you go with the light, or against it (to compensate). I am a strong proponent of going with the light, since I find qualities in all the aspects. This is why I suggest you enhance the cave-like nature of your interior kitchen by using dark colors and directed light and then draw the attention to your brightly lit living room by using warm color and mirror effects there. The pale blue wall that connects the spaces will take on reflections from the different spaces and almost work like a natural living background.
Though your apartment is spacious and well-lit by NYC standards, it is still small enough that accent walls will work better than whole room color, IMO. Well, unless you were into very scenographic, controlled spaces, but although your art and furniture has great taste, you don't seem to be into making stagesets in your home.
posted by mumimor at 8:43 AM on October 17 [7 favorites]

I’ve also lived in my apartment for a long time and have decided to paint and I went back and forth in my head for so long until I finally went and got a truly massive pile of paint chips at the hardware store and once I got them into my house it took about 10 minutes to choose colors. So I suggest doing that, you may subconsciously know what you want already.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:01 AM on October 17 [3 favorites]

mumimor this all rules, thank you.

I am leaning against sky blue specifically because I attended UNC and will forever associate pale blue with RAH-RAH SCHOOL SPIRIT - it can never be a neutral color for me. But the general notions you're laying out are great.

I think you should paint the long wall on the left... And then the wall you haven't shown... Keep all the rest including panels and doors white.

Am I right in thinking that you meant that the walls opposite the blue wall and the wall with the windows should all remain white?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:02 AM on October 17

I am leaning against sky blue specifically because I attended UNC and will forever associate pale blue with RAH-RAH SCHOOL SPIRIT - it can never be a neutral color for me. But the general notions you're laying out are great.
HAHA, that is also in the nature of colors, they carry emotions. Two alternative suggestions for that long wall: a green like the color of hay, or a very, very light milk chocolate brown. I am not a fan of the latter, but I actually have it in my study, because it was the right thing to do. It is great with most graphic art. I am planning to match it with a very rich sapphire blue velvet curtain, but I haven't found the right color of velvet yet. As for the green, I love green and I have a forest green kitchen, but for some reason it seems to be difficult to get right. (Your kitchen would look good in the classic British racing green, too, and then with the hay green or milk chocolate for the walls).

Am I right in thinking that you meant that the walls opposite the blue wall and the wall with the windows should all remain white?
Yes, and also they and the panelling should be a brighter white than is normal in the US, either pure white or just touched with a tiny bit of pure black. The brightness will cover irregularities in an old building and help with reflection.
posted by mumimor at 9:16 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

Sorry for repeating my points. I'm a teacher, and didactical redundancy has been whipped into my soul.
posted by mumimor at 9:21 AM on October 17 [5 favorites]

Coordinate wall colors with the things you cannot change -- the flooring and the major appliances, the doors and the window trim, the ceiling. Are the metal features silver or gold, antique or shiny, or are they black or dark bronze?

Coordinate wall colors in an open-concept space. Use darker and lighter shades of the same color (paint color chips, usually one or two bookmarks with six to eight shades ranging from lightest to darkest).
Natural light will change the overall color from morning to night and from summer to winter.
I have two bathrooms with the same color (Valspar "Coconut Milk" 2007-10C)and they look different due to the different artificial lighting. We now have it in our common rooms because of its chameleon qualities.

A subtle way to shift wall color from area to area is by changing from semi-gloss to satin to matte/flat sheen. Use the same color or one shade off. Think ties with tone-on-tone details.
If you specify a matte/flat sheen on the entire space you can gradually add accents with the same color in satin or semi-gloss. A stencil here, a stripe there, until it pleases you. I did this in a stairwell with a pale grey satin base (Valspar "White Pepper" 4001-1A) and then detailing with a semi-gloss one shade darker (Valspar "Winter Calm" 4001-1B).
Note that unless you have a quart of the same paint used that day, it may not match (which is why I pour all my paint into a five-gallon bucket and mix before painting a room). Also paint fades with time, so walls eventually need repainting, not just touch-ups.

I use neutrals in open spaces with easily changed accent colors for pillows and throws. I use bolder colors on bedroom and bathroom walls (small spaces, easier to repaint). I am currently loving a turquoise in the bedrooms (Valspar "Sea Seeker" 5004-7C). The interior doors are neutral white (Valspar "Swiss Coffee" 7002-16).
I am using a seaside theme based on the pamphlets at Lowes paint department, which is a process I highly recommend.

One source I am using for color codes to match across brands is My Perfect Color. It has given me some help with hex codes, RGB codes and LRV codes.
Be specific about identifying colors since the same or a similar name may be used by several brands. Valspar and Benjamin Moore both have a "Swiss Coffee."
posted by TrishaU at 9:24 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

Here is the My Perfect Color example if you find paint colors and want a close match across brands.
I like Valspar "Sea Seeker" 5004-7C. The color codes on the Valspar website are RGB - 147, 197, 201; LRV - 48; and HEX - #93C5C9.
In the Benjamin Moore Williamsburg Collection, "Chesapeake Blue" CW-595 looks like a close match. The Benjamin Moore website does not include the color codes, but My Perfect Color has them as RGB - 150, 193, 197; LRV - 48.71; and HEX - #96C1C5.
Note that some brands do an excellent job matching paint colors from various sources, not just other paint companies.
posted by TrishaU at 9:50 AM on October 17

This blog from a painting business in Toronto may give you some ideas. They use Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams paint. It has not been updated in a few years, but you can see some recent photos in the gallery on their website. Also, gray is trending and they have a post with lots of photos with different grays on walls, including some nice Benjamin Moore ones.
posted by gudrun at 10:56 AM on October 17

I love color and picking colors. The light matters a lot. Rooms facing north are very different than facing south. You may want the bedroom to be muted, but the living room to be livelier, or not. Some rooms need something bright, others can be moody. Low-contrast rooms are calmer; you can have a lot of colors that are similar intensity, or a room with lots of contrast. How do you want the rooms to feel?

I would either not paint the kitchen cabinets, or paint them white, cream or gray. Paint on that chipboard-with-a-thin-vinyl-cover cabinets doesn't always look great. But I would paint the kitchen walls some lively energetic color.

Behr has a color visualizer; any color you like can be replicated. Other sites let you play with color. Get on pinterest, look at lots of rooms. You pick a starting point, like deep rich, vibrant colors, or calm serene and go from there.
posted by theora55 at 3:12 PM on October 17 [1 favorite]

I just told the big orange home store the brand and color I wanted for a sample and they could mix from thar. Samples were like $3, definitely recommended to test colors.

Also, I noticed that the hinges on your fridge are on the inconvenient side and wanted to put in a plug for switching them. I finally did mine recently and it’s so much easier to cook now. Your fridge appears to be designed to do this (most are) and it takes maybe half an hour, I bet YouTube could walk you through it. The only catch is having the right drivers - I had to borrow a socket wrench from a friend. Replacement door handles can be had online pretty cheaply, too.
posted by momus_window at 7:03 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]

I would either not paint the kitchen cabinets, or paint them white, cream or gray. Paint on that chipboard-with-a-thin-vinyl-cover cabinets doesn't always look great. But I would paint the kitchen walls some lively energetic color.
Posted by theora55

This. I was not happy with my first coat of paint on my interior doors (not hung yet) and the inside of my exterior doors now look weird. I switched from a brush/square sponge to brush/4-inch roller and got the results I wanted.
It is not easy to work on cabinets, particularly if you are covering a semi-gloss surface. Cabinets are hard -- bending and standing on step stools, stippling into the details, taking off hardware or covering it up, the choice of removing the doors. By contrast, layers of paint on a wall don't seem to be a deterrent to a good outcome, as long as you do the preparation right.
posted by TrishaU at 6:47 AM on October 18 [1 favorite]

Also, I noticed that the hinges on your fridge are on the inconvenient side and wanted to put in a plug for switching them.

I'm actually about to get a new fridge and the landlord said he'll make sure it's installed right-side-round. So I don't even have to do it myself, hurrah!
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:39 AM on October 18

I think for me picking wall colors has to do with how I physically and emotionally respond to the color, so I have a set of saturated colors I adore. When I look at one of these colors I want to crawl inside it and live there. I wonder if there are colors that you respond to like this, that make you feel joyous and excited to look at? Or calm and cozy, if you prefer those feelings? If so, that might guide you part way to choosing your apartment colors.

Once you narrow down to a few colors you're choosing among, it's a good idea to buy a sample sized can of each color and paint it onto a cheap canvas board, like 10 x 12". Then you can tape up the sample cards on different walls in your place and see the way the color looks in your space at different times of day. Or, for a short cut, I think Benjamin Moore will sell you an 8" square paint chip of each color if you pretend you are an interior designer on their website. It's much easier to see the color how it would look in situ with those than it is with regular tiny paint chips.

Some Ben Moore colors I've used in my apartment and still love:

Bonfire, a deep/bright red. I have it in a darkish room and it looks great, with white trim and white shelves.

Salmon peach, I see it as a pink and it's more saturated-looking in person, I have it in a room with great light, but it looks good at night too

Palladian Blue, this is a complex color that can look grey, green or blue depending on the light. I like it because it feels like sky blue but without looking like a baby's room. It also does a cool thing where it seems like the color is floating in front of or in back of the plane of the wall, so it opens up the space.

Clearspring green, a historic-house type of color. It's hard to find a good green, greens are tricky, but this is one esp. if you like old houses.

(I hope the links work; sorry i don't know how to shorten them.)
If I were painting your apartment I'd probably pick three of these colors and put each in the room they seem to belong in. The only thing I wouldn't do is put the pink and the blue next to each other in the living/dining rooms.

In general I recommend a light/bright/energetic color for a kitchen, with the cabinets painted white. Good luck, have fun!
posted by secretary bird at 4:26 PM on October 19

« Older How (much) do people in the UK pay for cars?   |   Hot water heater - too late to maintain? Replace? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments