The Best Power Paint Colors for Your Rooms
The editors of This Old House sifted through hundreds of paint chips to find 15 shades that go beyond trends to perform beautifully in real rooms
Spring brings renewal—and open windows—which makes it the perfect time to paint. Infusing rooms with color remains the easiest, least expensive way to give a home a whole new look, and this spring, color experts are forecasting bolder choices than ever, from burnt orange and Caribbean blue to high-noon yellow and grass green. To help readers separate fads from future favorites, TOH sifted through hundreds of paint chips to find 15 shades that go beyond trends to perform beautifully in real rooms. Whether you want to lighten up dull walls, brighten beadboard, or showcase the beauty of built-ins, read on to see how these handpicked hues could work for you.
For rooms in need of a dose of drama, rich pumpkin, copper, and terra-cotta are pushing aside classic reds as the pursued hues. Pantone, the influential color consulting firm, made it official by naming a bright tangerine-orange this year's number one color. Today's oranges can create a big welcome in a small foyer, pull together a sprawling living room, or give a kick to a walk-in closet. Our picks start with a soft version of tangerine. To see the rest of TOH's 2012 palette, read on.
Shown: Clementine by California Paints.
Despite its namesake, this shade has a softness that sets it apart from the rest of the citrus crowd. Here, it raises the profile of a formerly plain bath while its gray undertones echo the stone-colored floor tile, oil-rubbed-bronze sconces, and nickel-finished knobs and pulls. The cushion, with its sunny citrus and complementary blue stripes, provides reinforcement.
This warm, saturated color offers a fresh alternative to dining room red. Here, it enriches everything around it. Balanced by creamy white wainscoting and paired with a ribbon of black, it emphasizes the room's neo-traditional style.
This bold terra-cotta has enough white in it to add character without overwhelming a room. Not ready to saturate four walls? Try it as a cheerful accent. Here, set against pale gray walls, it turns an everyday armoire into a statement piece, grounded by complementary blues in the other furnishings.
Typically tagged as "calm” and "oasis-like,” blue has busted out of its stereotype to become one of the most popular, versatile colors anywhere in the house. Today's blues can be as cool as an ice pack or as warm as a peacoat. TOH's picks are midtones in a range that runs from misty to indigo.
Hints of gray give this shade depth and charm. In this kitchen, it updates the traditional styling of the cabinets while tying them to the updated stainless-steel appliances.
Part yellow, part blue—or part warm and part cool—green is said by some to evoke Mother Earth and by others, the color of money. These three represent fresh takes; think of them as less stately than dark forest green and more formal than bright apple. Use one of TOH's new greens to add a lively accent piece, envelop a small space, or drench a sunny room.
Shown: Saxon Green by Farrow & Ball.
This assertive midtone offers a spirited alternative to more subdued sage. Here, it travels down the walls and across the floor, lifting the spirit of a rustic kitchen.
This snappy shade makes a vintage hutch look new. It's a green with enough yellow to tie it to the color inside the hutch and enough blue to let it keep company with the walls.
For years, warm beige and linen white were the default choices of many a homeowner. But gray is gaining ground as the go-to neutral. Part of its appeal may lie in its ability to showcase other colors—picture persimmon accent pillows on gray upholstery. Gray also complements Carrara marble, stainless steel, and nickel in otherwise white kitchens and baths. Gray can be misty, moody, steely, or warm. Witness these TOH picks.
Shown: Silver Quill by Glidden.
This clean gray has lots of light in it, so it doesn't feel dull or muddy. It sits nicely next to white fixtures and nickel fittings and, as shown here, provides a great foil for crisp green and black.
This warm gray with hints of brown allows other colors to snap. In this energetic dining room, it brings out the caramel color of the wood hutch while partnering nicely with the cool-white table and ocean-blue bench.
This saturated gray has blue undertones but does not feel cold. In this formal room, with its broad bands of white trim, the gray creates a sense of intimacy, boosted by eccentrically hung artwork, warm wood flooring, and softly patterned upholstery in pale green and bronze.
Paint: Benjamin Moore Affinity
Often called the most optimistic color, yellow reflects light and adds cheer. The newest yellows are more nuanced than the lemony hues of years past, with enough substance to make a statement without calling to mind rain boots. TOH's favored hues range from relatively pale to a bright shade of daffodil that recalls colonial-era ocher tints.
Shown: Little Angel by Benjamin Moore.
This yellow can lighten the mood of a formal public space without seeming lightweight. Here, its sunniness stands up to the distinctive trim and dark-stained flooring, banister, and stair treads.
Neither too sunny nor too dark, this yellow brings together many tints, which gives it some depth and luminosity. Here, it offsets a high ceiling, an oversize window, and large-scale paneling.
Paint: C2 Paint
While trim can be any color, including the exact shade of the wall, most people go for a white. What makes that choice interesting is the way white varies, ranging from cool versions with blue undertones to more neutral, pure whites to warmer ones tinted with yellow, pink, rust, or brown. Pure whites—the whitest of whites—are so neutral that they are traditionally relegated to the ceiling.
Color experts generally suggest reinforcing a warm wall color, like peach or marigold, with a warm, creamy white. When walls are a cooler color, like steel gray, turquoise, or blue-green, a cooler white usually feels right. Exceptions work too, of course: Picture the dramatic contrast of cool-white trim with walls painted clean, bright tangerine.
Like all colors, whites change with their surroundings, which explains why paint strips can often be misleading. Rather than compare two whites on the same strip, compare each with the color you've chosen for the walls—first in the store and then by painting a section of wall and adjacent trim. Keep in mind that light plays an important part too. In a room with no sunlight, for example, even a warm white can look a little gray.
Back when most walls were plaster, paint with a flat or matte finish was the obvious choice because it hid imperfections. Paints with more sheen—eggshell and satin—were a good bet for the bath or kitchen because they cleaned up easily. That left semigloss and high-gloss finishes with the job of protecting wainscoting, doors, and trim from dirt and hard knocks. Today's finishes, however, are better performers all around, so there's no reason not to experiment. If you're painting foyer walls an intense color, like denim blue, consider intensifying the effect with a glossy finish. If you're softening up the living room, try unifying walls and trim by giving them the same medium sheen. As for flat, it's not over yet: It's still a great choice for walls because it has a light-absorbing quality that enhances deep, rich colors.