gray wall and red and black floors
Photo: Karin Melvin
In the gray-walled mudroom, red-and-black flooring with the look of vintage linoleum adds to the interior’s interesting color play.
Choosing Colors You Can Live With

In a world where thousands of colors can be yours for just $25 a gallon, it pays to consider the advice of architectural color consultant Bonnie Krims. "Always remember that while there are thousands of paint chips at the store, there are only seven colors in the paint spectrum," says Krims, referring to red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (what Color Theory 101 students are often taught to remember by the mnemonic device, "Roy G. Biv"). "I always suggest eliminating a couple even before you go to the paint store."

Her sure-fire method for creating a color scheme? Start by selecting three colors from an existing object in your home. "Take a pillow from the family-room sofa, your favorite tie or scarf, or a painting—anything that conveys comfort or has an emotional connection for you—and take that object to the paint store," says Krims. "Find three sample strips with those colors, and you instantly have 15 to 18 colors you can use, since each sample strip typically contains six paint colors." The next step is to choose one of the three paint colors as your wall color and to save the other two to be used around the room in fabric or furnishings. To choose the colors for adjacent rooms, take the same original three color sample strips and select another color. Finally, choose a fourth color that can be used as an accent: "Splash a little of that color into every room of the house—by way of a pillow or plate or artwork. It makes a connection between the spaces," Krims says.

If you find yourself paralyzed at the paint store, unable to choose your color sample cards, Krims offers this tip: Look at the darkest color at the bottom of the strip. "If you can live with the one at the bottom, you know you'll like the middle and top, but if you choose by looking at the top, lightest colors, all the cards in that category start to look the same."

Once you have your colors in hand, consider the finish you'll be using. Though today's flat paints have increased stain resistance, conventional wisdom has long held that a satin (also called eggshell) finish is best for walls because it is scrubbable and doesn't draw attention to imperfections. Semi-gloss and high-gloss finishes, it was thought, were best left to the trim, where they could accent the curves of a molding profile or the panels of a door. Today, however, finishes are also being used to create visual effects on the entire wall. Paint one wall in a flat or satin finish and the adjacent wall in a semi-gloss, both in the same color, and "when the light hits the walls, it creates a corduroy or velvet effect," says Doty Horn. Similarly, you can paint the walls flat and the ceiling semi-gloss to achieve a matte and sheen contrast. (The ceiling will feel higher the more light-reflective it is.) Keep in mind that the higher the gloss, the more sheen and the more attention you draw to the surface. Used strategically, color and gloss together can emphasize your interior's best assets.

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