How To: Choose a Wall Color & Not Screw It Up

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So many colors, so little time! One of the hardest things to do is to know where to begin when choosing colors to paint a room. To help clients, we employ our knowledge of how colors work to get the ball rolling.

  • Different Rooms, Different Purposes

  • Each room of your home has a different purpose: some are for sleeping, some for socializing, some for working - the list goes on. If you have a small apartment you may have different PARTS of one room for different activites. Either way, when choosing a color for a certain room or part of a room, it helps to recognize that these activities fall into two fundamental categories: some are expansive and stimulating and some contract and are calming.

    - Expansive activites are those that are social and outward, such as entertaining, cooking, dining, playing - these are the activities that create warmth and enliven the home.

    - Contracting activities are those that are concentrated and inward, such as studying, sleeping, working, or even some exercising - these activities are cool by nature and deepen the home.

    Ideally, there is a room for each activity and every room is by nature either expansive or contractive. Can you guess which they are?

    Expansive: Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room
    Contracting: Hallway, Study, Bedroom

  • Different Purposes, Different Colors
  • Colors affect our inner life and - when harmonious - they support it. Therefore, we look to match how a color works with how a room is working. Which colors do which? Simple.

    - Warm colors expand with their warmth - they stimulate.
    - Cool colors contract with their coolness - they calm.

    The warm colors consist of everything from browns, to yellows, to oranges, to reds and everything in between. The cool colors consist of the blues, greens, greys. Some warms have cool in them, such as a lavender or purple and some cools have warm in them, such as a lime green. You can mix these towards either pole. How about black and white? While not technically colors, white acts cool and black warms.

    So what goes with what?

    - Warm colors are for the expansive rooms where stimulation and activity take place: kitchen, living room and dining room.

    - Cool colors are for contracting rooms where concentration and calmness take place: hallway, study and bedroom.

    What if you do the opposite? Since we have placed the properties of these colors to line up with the main activites of each room, if you use opposing colors, you risk creating a conflicting environment for yourself. If you put stimulating colors in your bedroom, you may have trouble sleeping. If you put a cool color in your living room, you may feel awkward when entertaining. You may also notice that in keeping with all of this, restaurants almost universally choose warm colors and offices cool ones.

  • Different Colors, A Bigger Apartment
  • While this may seem a bit complicated, it is really very simple and a huge help when you are trying to place colors in your home and create a beautiful environment that feels bigger as you pass through it.

    Do you have to always follow these rules? No. Rules are made to be broken, and this will also help you to know what you are doing when you mix it up. If you do follow this lead, however, you won't screw it up.

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    Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.