Five Things You Must Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Paint Scheme

updated Jul 17, 2020
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(Image credit: Kathryn Bacalis)

Paint is a risky game, fraught with too lemon-y yellows, dingy whites, and boring neutrals. Before you rush out with visions of gallons of Marsala in your head, take a step back and really consider the room you’re planning to paint. Run through this list of very important questions before you choose…

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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

QUESTION #1: What do I want my home to feel like?

When you walk through the front door, do you want a calm haven, or a place that perks you up the minute you get home? If you need a serene environment, think about neutral or cool monochromatic color schemes that comfort you. If you want your eye to bounce around the room, and give you energy, then lean towards warmer colors, or colors that oppose each other on the color wheel. Above, the blues and greens in Alan’s speakeasy-inspired den say “this is a low-key and intimate hideaway where I put retreat in my own little world….”

QUESTION #2: What are any existing room elements?

Likely, your paint color isn’t the only hue in your space. Be sure it’s one that harmonizes with any existing or planned elements. Consider your paint color in relationship to your furniture, fabrics, and accessories, as well as trim, flooring, and other surfaces such as brick, countertops, and fixtures. For example, if your wood has a warm yellow-orange tone to it (as in the room above), you probably won’t want to paint the walls orange too. Consider a cooler tone — like blue — instead to balance it out.

(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

QUESTION #3: How is the room situated?

Ask yourself if you know everything there is to know about the room’s context. Does the room face the north or south? Does it get morning light or afternoon light? Is there a lot of natural light, or do nearby buildings block the sun all day long? All these factors will change the look of a color on the wall, at different times of the day and you’ll need to take them all into account. Above, although Tim’s bedroom above has a window, it’s not the brightest of spaces (even though it’s daytime). Here, he embraces the fact and painted the room a deep saturated color that enfolds the occupant and says, “go ahead, sleep right here.”

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

QUESTION #4: How Will the Room Be Used?

Is this a room for sleeping, taking a shower, or being creative? The color of the walls will have implications for each of these activities. You might not want to sleep in the room above, with its chartreuse walls, but it might be a great place to get some work done. Or, you might not want to put on makeup in a green bathroom — it might make your skin look, well, green. Again, it’s all up to you, but color does have an impact.

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

QUESTION #5: What Finish Do I Need?

Finish is just as important as the color of your paint. Not as fun, certainly, but it still deserves consideration. Get to know the properties of eggshell, flat, semi-gloss, etc.. and figure out what will work best in the space you plan to paint. It will depend on a number of things, including the texture of your walls, how often you’ll need to clean them, and whether you want to to absorb or reflect light.

Answering these questions will help you on your way to choosing the best paint color(s) for your space. After that, it’s all about testing, testing, and more testing…