clock menu more-arrow no yes

It Takes Two

Photo by Matthew Benson

Few questions give pause like the one so often heard in paint stores: “Do these two go together?” But while some do-it-yourselfers respond by pairing Soft Beige with Linen White, professional colorists favor bolder combinations. Rooms with chair rail offer a perfect opportunity to create less-expected pairings. “Use lighter shades above the rail to pull the eye up and darker ones below to ground the room,” says Susan English, a color consultant in Cold Spring, New York. “One reliable strategy is to pick two shades from the same color family or even from the same paint strip.”

In the rooms shown here, however (all painted with shades from Benjamin Moore), English identifies less-conventional pairings: brights with deep saturated colors, and easy-to-live-with pale shades with stronger neutrals. In all cases, a surprising contrast on the bottom half of the walls adds a sophisticated edge.

Bold Sophistication

Photo by Matthew Benson

Strategy: Use warm bright red above cooler deep raisin.

Reds are a classic choice for enlivening a dining room or adding coziness to a library, and either of these shades could easily fill the bill. Put them together to get double the effect—and a conversation starter. In this first-floor study, orangey Million Dollar Red upper walls with deep, blue-tinted Raisin Torte below exaggerate the warm and cool tones of each. Crisp borders of Super White semigloss allow colors to shine singly as well as paired.


When painting different colors in adjacent rooms, keep the trim white for continuity.

Grounded Romance

Photo by Matthew Benson

Strategy: Pair lilac-pink upper walls with dark mauve below.

This second-floor sitting room is brightened with Paris Romance above the rail. To keep the shade from looking too sweet, it is anchored with dusty, deep-purple Frozen in Time below. Plain pine flooring and an exotic-wood side table also keep the room up-to-date.

Traditional Whimsy

Photo by Matthew Benson

Strategy: Give light blue a grown-up edge with a midtone (found in the middle of a paint strip) gray.

Soothing sky-blue walls are a bedroom favorite. Here, though, light-filled Lookout Point gets added presence from deeper, green-tinged River Gorge Gray. The blue desk reinforces the scheme.

Modern Softness

Photo by Matthew Benson

Strategy: Ground a cool gray-violet with a warmer, earthier taupe. An unexpected pairing of neutrals gives this guest bedroom a fresh look.

Light-as-air Rock Harbor Violet could just fade away to forgettable if it weren't played off against the Waynesboro Taupe—another midtone—below. An oversize glass vase draws out violet tones, and a mirrored end table reflects the taupe's gray-to-brown shadings.