Paint 101 – How to Choose Paint Colors
Have you ever stood in front of a paint swatch wall and wondered how on earth you can possibly pick the right color?
We all have. And it’s intimidating and scary…because who wants to spend time repainting? Not me!
I am a white walls girl so when we first moved into our home we painted every room white. But when we renovated our kitchen recently and picked out paint for the walls, I knew I wanted to go with a more creamy, warmer white to warm things up a bit. So I headed to Sherwin Williams and looked for a paint color that was still white, but warmer and a few shades darker than super white.
There are a few guidelines that make picking the right paint color much easier, so let’s jump right in.
PICK your Color Palette
Before you go to the paint store and confuse yourself looking at the endless paint colors, make sure you have set your color palette. You should at least know the 3-5 colors you want to use in your home (for all things, not just paint) so you have a starting point to work off of. I wrote a post all about how to choose your color palette right here. Go read that first!
Alright, now that you know your overall color story for your home, let’s move on.
If you look at a paint wall, you’ll notice there are different undertones to a single color. For example, the color gray has swatches with purple undertones, green undertones, and pink undertones. They are all gray, but different colors, or undertones, show through that alter the value of gray you see.
The best way to visually see the different undertones in a single color is to actually look at a paint wall with all the different values so you can compare. In the image above you can see many different shades of gray. The bottom row is the darkest color of each vertical stack that tells you what the undertone is for that vertical column. The reason this is important is because you want to choose a color with the right undertone for your space. Choosing the wrong gray (or whatever color you want) with the wrong undertone can make the walls look dirty or muddy and clash with the rest of your space. The goal is to find the undertone that compliments your overall space and everything in it.
So how do you know what undertone you should go with? Well, it starts with what undertones are already showing up in your room. Let’s use a kitchen as an example and say you’re trying to decide on the paint color for the walls. The backsplash is white subway tile, the countertops are a white quartz with some marbling and the cabinets are a light grey. The easiest way to identify the undertones in the backsplash, counters, and cabinets is to color match and hold up paint swatches in the color family and see if the white subway tile is a warm white, or a cool white, a yellowy white or a pinky white.
Do that for the counters and cabinets as well and take note what the undertones are in your kitchen. The general rule of thumb is that you want to match or compliment the curent undertones in your space. So if your cabinets are gray with pink undertones, your subway tile backsplash is white with pink undertones and your counters are white with yellowish undertones, then you should choose a wall color with pink undertones.
Contrast refers to the varying values of light and dark colors in your home. Contrast is good because it keeps things interesting and from looking too boring or similar. In order to achieve contrast in your home, you want to use both light and dark colors when picking out paint or other finishes and furniture. If we go back to the kitchen example, you wouldn’t want to do dark wood cabinets with dark black countertops and a dark backsplash because there is no contrast. Everything is all dark so there isn’t any variation in color and it would feel very heavy. A better option would be to choose a classic white quartz countertop to break up all the dark that’s going on.
Testing Paint Colors
Paint colors can look like totally different colors in different lights and different times of day. Alaina’s kitchen island for example, looks light grey in this photo, but during a different time of day in different light and angles it looks blue here. Crazy right?!
The only way to be absolutely sure what a color will look like is to observe it first hand. Paint a sample on your wall and see how it looks in the morning, afternoon, and evening. To get the best impression of your paint color and see the truest version, take a look at your paint sample at noon with the lights off and windows open.
There are tons of different paint brands out there and I’ve only tried just a few myself. We used Behr from Home Depot when we painted all the rooms white when we first moved in. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with the quality at all. It was runny and overall the finish wasn’t great.
For our trim and kitchen walls, we used Sherwin Williams paint and what a difference! It’s more expensive (especially the specific trim paint) but it went on so much better and the finish is amazing. Highly recommend Sherwin Williams!
There you have it, a guide to choosing paint colors.
Have you picked a paint color and regretted it later? What are some of your favorite paint colors?