Q: How close will the paint chip be to the color once it's up on the wall?
A: Those tiny blocks of color are a big source of frustration for many homeowners. "Any color you choose, unless it's a very light pastel, is going to look brighter on the wall," says Tami Ridgeway. On the strips, she says, colors are generally arranged from lighter to deeper, or from "cleaner" to a "dirtier," more neutral, value. Also, some colors tend to appear darker when used over a large expanse, so you might consider picking a paint chip a shade lighter than the one you're trying to achieve. Recognize, too, that any color will play off adjacent colors. That's why Becky Spak, senior designer with Sherwin-Williams, recommends cutting up the chip strip into individual boxes and looking at the variations case by case.

Q: What's the most reliable way to test a paint color?
A: "Live with it for a bit before you commit," says Spak. The size of the room, the amount of natural or artificial light, and competing elements—ranging from flooring to furnishings—can all affect the way a particular color is perceived. A number of paint companies sell small jars of paint for sampling: Use one to paint a big piece of foam-core board with your top choice. Place it in various spots around the room, and see how it reflects the upholstery and responds to the quality and amount of light in the room over the course of a few days.

Q: I really like red. How can I use it without channeling Stephen King?
A: Fear not. "People think small rooms have to be white," says Debbie Zimmer, a color expert with Rohm & Haas Paint Quality Institute. "But bold colors like cherry or burgundy can be spectacular in your smallest room, like a powder room." Even if the rest of the ground floor is open, an enclosed space can benefit from the "wow" factor that rich color offers without screaming for attention when the door is closed. In a bigger room, deep colors can effectively highlight architectural features and add visual interest. Try painting an alcove a rich reddish brown or using dark denim blue on just one wall, to create a focal point. Becky Spak likes to add drama to the wall opposite a fireplace as a way to "balance" a room, while Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan suggests heightening the color on the one with the fewest windows and doors to make a "show wall."

Q: Where else can I inject color, without painting the whole room?
A: Colorfully painted interior doors and accent walls seem most at home in contemporary settings, says painter Susan English. To freshen a traditional interior, she recommends painting the trim a deeper color than the walls or accenting the inside of a built-in with a deeper or lighter shade of the wall color. For more contrast, use a complementary color—with pale blue walls, for instance, line a bookcase with peach.

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