Never agonise over paint colours again. This quick guide will have you choosing colours with confidence in no time at all.
We’ve all been there – staring at a wall covered in little square samples of colour with absolutely no idea which one we like, which one is which or how any of them will look when painted on a whole wall.
After spending a fortune on tester pots it can feel like you’re no further forward with your decorating project and to top it all there are now unsightly blobs of colour dotted about the room.
You have a common case of colour overwhelm
But don't worry. In this article you’ll discover seven quick and easy steps to take you from feeling swamped by indecision to complete confidence in choosing the right colour, first time.
This is an important first step, so arm yourself with a pen and paper and take a good look around.
First look at all the fixed elements. These are the things that couldn’t easily be picked up or moved. They may include your flooring, curtains, a fireplace and any built-in furniture.
On your piece of paper make a note of the colour of each of these different elements. If your fireplace is brick or stone try and pick out the dominant colour. This may be red or orange if it’s brick. The stone may have a green or yellow tint to it. Slate usually has blue undertones.
Have a look at the wood in the room – is it pine with a yellow or orange tint to it or is it a darker walnut or oak?
Now do the same for any pieces of furniture you’re planning to keep. This will give you a really good idea of the existing colour palette you have to work with and will automatically start to narrow down your choices.
2. How much natural light does the room get?
Ask yourself the following questions:
Light levels have a massive impact on how colour looks in a space. Those brilliant bright colours you see when you’re abroad rarely translate to the softer more hazy light we get in this country. That’s why bright whites can often look cold and a little bit dirty.
This doesn’t mean you have to go dark in a darker room (unless you want to). It just means it’s often best to avoid a bright white and instead go for a softer neutral shade.
It can be tempting to look at Pinterest or Instagram and choose a colour based on an image you’ve seen but the only way to get a true colour reading is to test it (more on this in a moment).
Images are often filtered or light levels enhanced to make them look better, so the same colour will rarely look the same in your own home.
3. What sort of atmosphere do you want to create?
Once you’ve figured out what the light levels are throughout the day you can begin thinking about what sort of space you want to create.
Maybe you're tempted by a dark, dramatic scheme that feels cosy and luxurious. Dark colours can work brilliantly in rooms that are used mainly in the evenings such as lounges or dining rooms. But they can feel a little oppressive in offices and kitchens, where work is carried out.
Maybe you prefer pale neutrals shades that exude calm and tranquility. These schemes can look beautiful, particularly when subtle differences in tone are layered together. But be aware, this seemingly simple look is deceptively difficult to get right. Neutral schemes done well rely heavily on exquisite details and texture to create visual interest. If you don't have a large budget you need to use colour and contrast to draw the eye away from those less-than-perfect small details.
4. Always test paint in the room it's going in
It can be so tempting to miss out this stage and get straight down to painting the walls. But this is a crucial stage and should be avoided at your peril.
It’s time to buy some samples
Start off by looking on a paint chart. Taking into account everything we’ve just talked about, what colours are you drawn to? Most paint manufacturers are really helpful and group colours together based on their undertones. Generally, you can be confident that these colours will work well together.
At this stage you need to be quite strict with yourself. Refer to your answers to the first three questions and try not to get seduced by all the pretty colours. You don’t want to go back to that rainbow of little squares on your wall.
Now, with the samples you’ve selected, tempting as it may be, don’t rush to paint them straight on to your walls. When you do this the colour you’ve chosen can look very different depending on the existing colour.
Take a few extra minutes to paint the samples on large (A4 or bigger) pieces of paper or card. Make sure you do 2 or 3 coats to give a true representation of the final colour and remember to write the name of the colour and the brand on the back.
Do at least two of these for each colour you’re sampling and place them next to the things that are going to be staying in the room. So, if the curtains are staying put one of the samples by the curtains. If you have a feature fireplace make sure a sample goes next to this. In a kitchen put samples next to cabinets, flooring and countertops.
A small square of paint in the middle of the room won’t relate to anything and won’t help you to make the right choice.
Now live with these samples for a few days. Move them around and keep looking at them at different times of the day and evening. Note how the colour looks at night with the lights on and in different light levels.
5. A quick word about paint finish
Generally I specify an eggshell or satin finish on woodwork. It’s not as shiny as gloss and is much quicker and easier to apply. If you’re using Farrow & Ball I would opt for the Modern Eggshell on woodwork as I find that the Estate eggshell is too chalky and marks more easily.
Choose emulsion with a higher sheen content on walls that you may want to wipe down or in areas of high moisture like kitchens and bathrooms.
If the room is very dark a good tip is to use an eggshell finish on the ceiling as this really helps to bounce light around.
In busy hallways I often paint the bottom half of the wall in eggshell or satin finish and use exactly the same colour but in a matte emulsion above. It creates a lovely effect, is more hardwearing and really easy to wipe away marks and scuffs. It's very easy to achieve with some good quality masking tape.
6. Don’t forget your woodwork and ceilings
The colour you choose for skirting, window frames, doors and ceiling is just as important as your walls. It can be the difference between loving your newly painted room and feeling that you’ve made a terrible mistake.
The traditional way is to paint all these elements in a ubiquitous bright white but this doesn’t always work best for the colour you’ve chosen on the walls.
Painting woodwork in a strong contrast to the wall colour will draw your eye straight to these elements and can make the room appear smaller. By choosing a softer white or a neutral that compliments the wall colour the perimeters of the room become blurred, making it feel bigger.
Alternatively, paint woodwork the same colour as the walls. This can create a real calm, sophisticated scheme. In modern houses where trim can be quite small and functional this trick makes them disappear into the wall and again has the effect of making the space feel larger.
7. Hold your nerve!
Even after all this careful planning, when your chosen colour goes on the walls it can be a shock. Particularly if it’s dramatically different to what’s already there.
At the cutting-in stage even a fairly light colour can look really dark and this is often when people start to panic. Stay calm - you won't get a true representation until the whole room has been painted with at least two coats.
If you don’t feel instant joy that’s fine. Give yourself time to fall in love (the best relationships develop slowly). Once you’ve put all your furniture back, re-hung your curtains and dressed the room with all your artwork, books and ornaments you will see your new colour in all its beauty.
Time to sit back and enjoy all your hard work.
So you see, choosing the right colours in your home is easier than you may have thought. No more staring at countless little blobs of colour on your walls. By following the 7 easy steps you’ll be well on your way to complete colour confidence:
Now that you’ve discovered how easy it is to plan your next decorating project why not share it with someone else you know who is suffering from colour overwhelm?
Alternatively, share your own decorating dilemmas in the comments below and I’ll see if I can help.
Thanks for reading