Seeking Advice on Color Choices for New Apartment
July 23, 2004 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Interior decorating ideas? I'm moving into a new place next month, and my new landlords will paint the place however I want if I supply the paint. Naturally, after looking at off-white walls for the past decade, I'd love to take full advantage of this opportunity to put some color into my new place. Trouble is, I have only very vague notions of what I want to do, not having had much of an opportunity to Turnerize my own space in the past. I kind of like the idea of using midtone or darker paints for at least some of the rooms, or for accent walls in those rooms. Anyone with good taste care to share some of the stuff they like?

Almost forgot -- it doesn't particularly have to match any of the furniture, as the furniture I have is rather crappy and I want to get rid of most of it anyway, starting with my home office furniture and my bookshelves, and get new stuff.
posted by kindall to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
After helping a friend paint the interior of their new house, I cannot recommend Devine Paints enough. Designed for the Northwest by a Portlander, they look absolutely beautiful on a wall.

Here are the Washington locations.
posted by karmaville at 3:09 PM on July 23, 2004

Do the rooms get a lot of light or none or just a little? Are the rooms big? What's your favorite color?

I'd go with lighter shades of color (any that you like, really) for livingroom and bedroom (and go bolder/brighter for kitchen and bathroom). Sands and taupes and sage and brown sugar and cognac and rust and pale greens usually always work (they're neutral-ish, but warm and not like the offwhites). It really depends on you--i know people that went with bright crayola colors and really liked it, but no one that visits does. Bordello and oldtime whorehouse colors are nice too. (I'd go to the place at different times of day with chips and see, or if you want, you can buy tiny cans and paint on boards and bring that in to put against the walls).

check out for colors, and poke thru (they have slide shows of rooms and decorating stuff)
posted by amberglow at 3:28 PM on July 23, 2004

My condo was stock beige for a few years, that blah colour all condos and apartments are initially painted.

Then we painted it a light sky blue, hoping that it would make the place feel cooler (temperatures here often hit mid-30s in the summer & we've full south exposure).

To sell, we repainted, this time bringing in a decorator to advise. Our walls are now a set of brownish colours, the darkest of which I'd label baby poop and the lightest banana baby poop.

Which, disgusting as it sounds, has turned out extremely well. The place feels more friendly now, more inviting and comfortable.

Whatever you do, keep your trim white. I've done coloured trim and it just looks plain ugly twice now. White can't go wrong. Ditto for doors.

The decorator cost all of $75 for a half-hour consult that turned out to involve two decorators and an hour. Good bang for the buck, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:16 PM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: I rather like medium to dark earthtones and saturated, although not necessarily fluorescently bright, colors.

The place won't get a lot of sunlight (the main balcony faces NE, toward, I might mention, Lake Samammish -- yes, you can see water from there).

Although I know you generally shouldn't use dark colors in a place that doesn't get much light, perhaps that means I should just use a shade lighter than I think I want. I'm also insisting on white ceilings (and will get the brightest ceiling white I can); usually they do the celiings in the same off-white they use for the walls. Bleh. Still, while I know dark colors can make rooms "feel" smaller, I'm not particularly concerned about it; the place is significantly bigger than I'm used to anyway.

I'm leaning toward a light yellow/orange for the kitchen and an aqua or blue for the bathroom, earthtones for the rest of the rooms (maybe tan, rust, and green for the various rooms).

Going to the place to might not be an option. They're going to start cleaning and painting the place pretty much immediately after the current tenants move out on the 31st. Here is the floorplan, however, and there are a few interior photos here. I might be able to get in to look at it next Sunday, the 1st, as I doubt the painters will be doing anything on a weekend. If I can, I will, but I want to have a fair idea of what I'm going to do before then.

Should have thought of BHG myself, there are some interesting photos there.

There's no trim, so I've got that covered. Although, I bet it would be pretty easy to put some in, so I might see if I can get permission to add some later. It would probably make a huge difference.
posted by kindall at 4:21 PM on July 23, 2004

Usually, the hardest color to pick is the one that goes in any wrap-around spaces - hallways that flow into kitchens that flow into living rooms, etc.

If you have a graphics program like photoshop and some photos of the new place, take some shots and try mocking up what it would look like with color on the walls.

I convinced my mother to paint her dining room walls a deep burgandy with the mockups I made. She was previously a pastels-and-white woman only; the final results are fabulous.

However, this approach may not be as successful for you, since you plan to get new furniture. But, it may be good if you have existing cabinetry to complement.

When I did my own place, a color I don't particularly like (a subtle, pastel orange) was the best solution for the area (the afore-mentioned wrap-around space). In my case, the tone complements highlights in the tile floor. It looks great, but is a color I would probably never use in any other context.

Just because something is your favorite color to wear or get a car in doesn't mean it's great for living in. And vice-versa.

Another thing to remember is that while the adage of "dark colors make small rooms look even smaller" rings true, sometimes this is an effect you want. I wanted my small music studio to look even smaller, so it's several muted shades of a dark blue (sponge paint to give an almost concrete look). It's very dramatic, cozy, and popular with guests.

One last tip - look at paint chips at home, in whatever light the walls will be subjected to! Flourescent lights in home improvement stores can distort colors.
posted by Sangre Azul at 4:22 PM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, and Karmaville: Thanks for the pointer, I'm going to try to get some samples of Devine colors tonight.
posted by kindall at 4:23 PM on July 23, 2004

I had a living room once that was mostly once a relatively dark green -- actually a little like the background here on Ask MeFi -- with a lighter green ceiling (the ceiling also came down a little bit, it was an older home like from the 50's or so). That was really neat and cozy.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:58 PM on July 23, 2004

I hear black is the new white.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:07 PM on July 23, 2004

I like deep, saturated colors and lots of drama. I have a deep scarlet dining room and deep teal walls in my hall. I think a lot depends on what kind of furniture you like. Arty, sculptural pieces look great against light backgrounds, I think, and period pieces, pale furniture, and funky pieces look good against dark backgrounds.
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Good wrap-ups taken from this site:

White - White (and its various incarnations such as off-white, beige, and eggshell), provides a can't-go-wrong foundation for any room. Yes, it's boring, but it also doesn't distract. It also makes a room look brighter and bigger. It's great for just about any room, especially bathrooms and kitchens. At its worst, white is: too plain.

Red - Bright and bold, red suggests vitality and aggressiveness. It can be a bit overwhelming for an entire room, but if you have a bedroom that you want to convey amorous vibes, it's a unique way to go. Deep, subtle shades of red such as burgundy and maroon are perfect for living rooms. At its worst, red is: too dramatic.

Yellow - Stimulating, sunny and cheerful, yellow is associated with intellect, power and creative energy. Bright yellows bring warmth and light into dark rooms, and pale yellows make small rooms seem larger. It's also a great kitchen color. At its worst, yellow is: disruptive.

Blue - Blue denotes harmony, peace, steadfastness and loyalty. While it's appropriate for any room, blue is an excellent bedroom color because it makes one feel comforted and serene. It can also soften rooms that are over-bright. At its worst, blue is: cold.

Orange - Orange combines the energy of red with the intellectual associations of yellow. Dominant and lively, it's a fun choice for bathrooms and work areas. Peachy oranges have a delicate effect, while brownish oranges (like terra cotta) give off warm, cozy vibes. Many living rooms are orange to give it that "den" feeling. At its worst, orange is: non-relaxing.

Green - Green is refreshing and pleasing to the eye. It makes dim apartments seem more vibrant by bringing a garden-like atmosphere indoors. With its varying shades, green works in just about any room. Just be sure not to go too dark. At its worst, green is: dull.

Violet - Strong and majestic, violet is a powerful accent color. Pastel violets take on the characteristics of red or blue depending on which is more prominent in the shade. (Lilac, for example, takes on blue's characteristics, while lavender takes on red's qualities.) At its worst, violet is: overpowering.

Black - You probably like heavy metal, S&M, or some combination thereof. Either way, it's way more than we want to know about you. So don't paint a room black. It'll freak people out. Black walls also tend to look dirty because dust shows up very clearly.

Deep "warm" colors give a room an intimate, cozy feel: red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow.

Light "cool" colors make a room seem more spacious and elegant: green, blue-green, blue, and blue-violet. White also has this effect.
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I have to say, I had an apartment in NYC with gorgeous plasterwork and molding, and fireplaces and built in floor to ceiling mirrors everywhere you looked - it was an amazing pre-war place. I painted all of the walls in the living room flat black, and it was the most gorgeous thing ever - very nice with lots of funky furniture and pictures frames with gilting on them. Lots of wow factor, although definitely not for everyone, and hard to carry off. At night it was like being inside of a big jewelry box.
posted by iconomy at 5:12 PM on July 23, 2004

I was lucky enough to move into an apartment that was already painted awesome colors. They look great, and are:

- a very deep, satin red in our south-facing dining room, which gets beautiful light, especially early and at sunset, when it's lit up a beautiful, fiery orange. Red is a great color to work with if you have hardwood floors; as a general rule, I vote that you let the hardwood colors suggest some of your wall colors.

- a pale, kind of boring yellow in our living room, which is both warm and restful on the eyes.

- a really nice, purply blue color in our bathroom, which is perfect with all the porcelain fixtures;

- and a sea-green color for our very tree-lined bedroom. I think the big lesson I learned from our apartment is, look at what color the lght will be coming in, look at the tones of your floors, and aim to make rooms either more restful or more exciting for the eyes, depending on their use. I really dig how our dining room is exciting and red, but our bedroom is like a big forest.
posted by josh at 5:14 PM on July 23, 2004

grab all the chips you can find in browns and tans/sand with red, and orange and green undertones (look at all the pale brick colors too) -- the floors look like light wood so maybe think about them with the colors too. You'd probably want to be a shade darker than the floors. (looks like a nice place, btw) Have fun! : >
posted by amberglow at 5:15 PM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: No wood floors, sadly. That's carpet. (Crappy photos, though.)
posted by kindall at 5:53 PM on July 23, 2004

Best answer: I recommend you paint in monochromes, and use accessories for highlights. Monochrome = colours from the same palette, ie. three shades of tan.

Monochrome will keep the place from feeling "chopped up," while the different values ("shades") will differentiate the living spaces. Make your display wall the darkest shade, paint the kitchen the lightest shade, paint other walls the middle shade, paint the trim white.

Monochrome also means that you can change the "feel" of the place substantially just by buying a new slipcover for the sofa and getting some new window coverings. Much easier than painting it all again!

My master bedroom is 12x12' and is painted a reasonably dark brown, far darker than I felt comfortable. It turned out great! It doesn't feel small, it just feels more liveable. Golden browns feel good.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:04 PM on July 23, 2004

When I bought my house a couple of years ago, I also had a tough time deciding how to paint it. After living in rather bland spaces I went a bit color crazy. Looking back I'm glad I colored it the way I did.

I did some mockups in Photoshop and stayed pretty close to my original plan. For the living room rather than the bright green, I used a mid-range gray, which helps hold everything together. The kitchen has not yet been painted and will wind up being red, black and white.

When looking from any room that could view another room or rooms, I tried to get the colors to go together. I also painted all of the trim a bright white, throughout the entire house for unity.
posted by the biscuit man at 6:09 PM on July 23, 2004

Er, are you sure you can't buy a place for that kind of monthly payment? $960/mo should be good for a $170k home.

rent vs buy (USA mortgage model)
posted by five fresh fish at 6:10 PM on July 23, 2004

By the way, I want to second and/or third Devine paints... you're also helping a good cause, because they employ developmentally challenged people wherever they can. They're headquartered in the town I live in, and are just a great company to work with.
posted by SpecialK at 6:14 PM on July 23, 2004

FFF, don't be a troll. Ever think it could be painful to someone to know they're throwing away a ton of money on rent because they can't save enough for a decent down payment plus all of the other costs (taxes, repairs, improvements) that won't put them in serious debt to the man? And have you ever examined what those $0 down mortgages do to your debt structure in a economy where inflation is picking up? I'm sure he's already thought of that. (And speaking of one who's in that situation, lemme just hand you a big batch of STFU sandwich.)
Not to mention that in urban areas on the west coast, $170k doesn't buy much in the way of a house... at least not in any neighborhood where I'd want to live. :-P
posted by SpecialK at 6:18 PM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: $960/mo should be good for a $170k home.

$170K is in fact just about where condos and townhomes start getting reasonably nice in Bellevue, but frankly I prefer the flexibility of renting at the moment. I probably wouldn't get anything with any kind of a water view for that kind of price, and my credit score's not good enough to get the low rates anyway.

Although rates are on their way up, so's my credit score, so I'll be revisiting the decision in a few years; meanwhile, I'll be saving up a down payment.
posted by kindall at 6:27 PM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: One thing that bothers me about the Devine paints is that they say you need two coats. Is this true?
posted by kindall at 6:40 PM on July 23, 2004

How in the hell can you even imagine that I was trolling for pain and fun? Take your hypersensitive sense of self-pity and stuff it up your ass sideways, SpecialK.

If someone else is doing the work, I wouldn't overly worry about the two coats. Having just painted my place (about the same size as yours) with two coats, I'd recommend finding a single-coat paint if you do it yourself!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: Well, painting it the way I want it doesn't really extend to two coats of paint, I don't think. They usually do only one coat and I'm going to be giving them enough more work as it is, with all these different colors and stuff. If I make them do two coats, I'd probably have to pay them, if only to assuage my guilt. So it looks like the Devine stuff is out for now. But I'll keep it in mind for when I buy; it sounds pretty neat. I still want to try to get their color swatches for idea purposes.

Anybody used the Ralph Lauren paints, with the speckles? Saw those at Home Depot, and they look pretty cool.
posted by kindall at 8:36 PM on July 23, 2004

Best answer: Dulux is your friend. The link goes to a tool that you can use to play with colour combinations in various settings, which I have found useful in the past. Once you have your colours, you can take them to any paint manufacturer and they will match them.

With regard to one/two coats - two coats is far preferable and you will be unlikely to get a good cover with only one, unless the colour underneath is very similar. Specialised, one-coat paints do not work anywhere near as well as a good two-coat cover. As with most things, the preparation takes as long as or longer than the actual painting, so the second coat is not as much extra work as you might think.
posted by dg at 9:35 PM on July 23, 2004

white + pictures.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:03 AM on July 24, 2004

Yes, you want two coats. If you're covering a dark color, you may want a coat or two of Kilz first. My then-girlfriend/now-wife, when she moved out of her old place, had to repaint her bedroom white from dark red. Took 2 coats of Kilz and 3 coats of white paint.

We recently repainted most of the rooms in my house. You need to bring color chips into the apartment to really evaluate what will work: we started painting the living room with a light blue that looked just a hair too dark when we started putting it up, so we added a bit of white on the spot (and then ran out, and had to match the custom color, which turned out not to be a problem). FWIW, we used a vivid melon green in the bathroom, a different pale dried-grass sort of green in the main bedroom, watery blue in the living room, and white everywhere else. It came out pretty nicely.

You've also got options on finish. Don't use anything less glossy than semi-gloss in the bathroom (for water impermeability). I've decided I like eggshell better than flat paint for other rooms as well, but hey, that's just me.

Kindall, you've got pretty good-sized rooms to work with, but not a lot of windows. I'd go with something fairly light in the living room--my hunch is that it would feel like a cave if you paint it dark, because the light won't reach the far end. Go nuts with the bedrooms.
posted by adamrice at 3:32 PM on July 24, 2004

If your ceiling is that white popcorn shit, you can purchase a can of spraypaint -- sorry, but I forget the name -- that works really well for covering up any accidently splots. Much to my surprise, it really works.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:47 PM on July 24, 2004

Response by poster: Well, since the labor is basically free, it's gonna be one coat. If I want two coats, I'll probably have to do the second coat myself. Not that that would suck entirely, but I'd like to avoid it if possible. So that basically limits me to colors that are not too dark, which is okay, as paints tend to go on darker than you might think anyway.

Right now the living room is looking like Behr 350F-4 Quiet Veranda with Behr 310F-4 Rye for accent walls, which will be the wall with the sliding door and the big wall opposite the fireplace. (350F-4 will also be used for the hallway and entryway, carrying through from the living room.)

Since the living room's main light source is in the northeast, that means a lot of the light will be indirect and therefore bluish in color. These two colors have a bit of reddish tint that should help warm things up a bit. They're a little darker than the standard apartment beige (Glidden 50YY 83/057 Swiss Coffee in this case), which I hope will make that big room feel a little more intimate, but I don't think they're dark enough to make it cave-like. There will be three 6' bookcases along the big wall, and I can put accent lights on top of them to give the room some more light if necessary. (And the ceiling will be an ultra-bright ceiling white, not Swiss Coffee -- yes, they usually paint the ceilings off-white, ugh -- which should also help.)

Having thought about it some more, I've decided that my best bet is slightly tinted versions of tans, browns, and beiges for the bedrooms. This will go well with the existing carpet and the doors and trim, while not making all the rooms look the same, and it also leaves me a lot of flexibility for choosing furnishings. So, the back (master) bedroom will lean toward green (i.e. sage-ish colors) and the front bedroom (office) will learn toward gray or taupe. I'm still working out what colors to use here, but I think I've got a grip on the problem.

For the kitchen, I'm planning to go with a light, warm yellow (e.g. Behr 330B-4 Cheerful Hue). A yellow like that plays nicely with the living room colors IMHO -- I could almost use it for the light color in the living room as well, but it's different enough to set off the room.

For the bathroom, I'm looking at probably a light blue or aquamarine. I found one in Dutch Boy I kind of like for that (8H-3 Green Carolina), but I'm going to see if Behr has a color that's close. For the bathroom especially, I will actually need to take the paint chips into the apartment and eyeball it before they start painting, and I have made an appointment to do so. Behr's samples are so much nicer than everyone else's, nice and big with rounded edges. The Dutch Boy, Glidden, and Parker swatches I gathered seem anemic by comparison. (Parker's don't even say Parker anywhere on them, which is Just. Plain. Stupid.) Behr's is also the only Web site I tried on which I could figure out how to link to a color sample.

I may or may not actually buy Behr paint. Actually, I've read reports that it is not that great despite its #1 ranking in Consumer Reports. The company has really, really impressive marketing, though.

Thanks, everyone, for the help and suggestions... man, paint has certainly got a lot more sophisticated since I worked in the Sears paint department back in high school. (Nineteen years ago. Jesus.)
posted by kindall at 2:43 AM on July 25, 2004

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