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The Art of Selecting Color

The Art of Selecting (Paint) Color

Choosing colors for a space may seem complicated, but with a few key tips in mind, finding the right colors to suit your personal style can be simple and fun. In a space, color sets the mood and brings everything together, so it is important that it reflect your personality and décor.

Key Color Concepts

Before you get started with color, you should know a few simple terms and concepts that will help you along the way.

Color Wheel

The traditional color wheel consists of twelve colors: red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue-red-violet, violet and blue-violet. For a striking contrast, combine colors opposite each other on the color wheel in one room. These colors are called complementary colors. For a little variation but less contrast, pick analogous colors, colors directly next to each other on the color wheel. Choosing different shades of colors all from the same hue or color family creates a monochromatic color scheme.


Hue identifies the color group, such as red, blue, and yellow. Different shades of yellow are in the same hue.


Colors can be perceived as ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ depending on the particular color and the colors surrounding them. Cool colors – blues, greens, violets – tend to condense a space, bringing serenity and relaxation, while warm colors – reds, yellows, oranges – are more playful and tend to expand a space. Certain colors are inherently warmer or cooler than others, but colors in the same family can have a different temperature depending on their undertones and the colors that surround them. A red with violet undertones will seem cooler than a red with orange undertones. Likewise, a red next to a calm blue will seem cooler and more subtle than the same color next to a stark yellow.

Value and Intensity

These terms indicate how light or dark a color is. Intensity or chroma refers to how bright or dull a color is. A purer color contains less grey and is more intense, such as lime green or cherry red. Intense colors bring energy an excitement to a room; duller colors calm a room down.

Now, where to begin?

When exploring paint color options, first consider different architectural features and existing décor that you wish to match, highlight, tone-down, or complement.

Decide what décor will stay and what will go, so you can base your color scheme on that which you already have in your home. Look at things such as tile, cabinets, and your stone fireplace. If your kitchen cabinets have a mahogany finish, pick a hue that works well with mahogany. You may have drapery that you like; make note of that and pick colors to match. Determine also what architectural features you may want to highlight such as crown molding or a niche. You may want to paint these with a contrasting paint or glossy finish for different effects.

Choose your colors

Color brings character into your home, so your paint colors should covey the character and feel that suits you.

Begin choosing your colors by creating a portfolio. Collect samples of colors you like from magazines, fabrics, paint samples, flowers from your garden, and pictures you’ve taken of your favorite scenes from nature. Also, look at the colors in your closet, as the clothes you wear daily will likely reveal the colors you are already comfortable with. Don’t worry yet about matching colors or coming up with a color theme until you have your portfolio ready.

Now that you have decided what existing décor and features you want to work with in your home and have gathered inspiration in your portfolio, it’s time to decide how you want the room to feel. Is it a social room, meant to be exuberant, open, and energized? Or do you want an inviting but relaxing ambiance? Look at the color samples you have gathered in your portfolio and find what colors you are drawn to. Consider different questions: Where do your colors fall on the color wheel? Are you drawn to intense colors or duller, calming colors? Warm or cool? Do you have many different colors or many shades of the same few colors? Try to group colors with these questions and other key color concepts in mind and decide what colors and themes most appeal to you.

It’s time to see how the color’s you have chosen will look in your space. Pull the color samples and see how they will look with the existing décor and lighting present. The colors and color schemes you choose will determine the look of the room. Here a few tips for choosing color:

  • To make a small space seem open, use light colors.
  • Repeating colors in different rooms will pull rooms together and create a sense of harmony.
  • Accent colors can highlight architectural features to define specific areas of your home.
  • Darker colors will bring out light colors in a room and can create a focal point in a room.
  • For a soft look, use a lighter color in a hue; for more drama, pick mid-range colors; for a bold look, select the darker colors.
  • Use existing features in your home as a natural break for color, especially in open spaces.
  • Consider how colors will flow throughout your home from room to room so you will have continuity.

These tips, along with the key color concepts will help you get an idea for the color schemes and choices that are right for you, but ultimately it’s up to you. Choose the colors you are comfortable with and reflect the mood you want for your home.

Be Careful. Lighting and color affect color!

Lighting and surrounding colors will affect the way a color looks on your wall, so take color samples home with you and find out how they will look in your space.

A color will always appear different under natural light from what it does under artificial light. Condition of natural light and the type of artificial illumination also affect appearance. Most people consider direct sunlight the ideal light source, as it reveals the truest form of a color. However, natural sunlight changes throughout the day and with the seasons, which can also influence the appearance of a space. Under incandescent and halogen lights, warm colors are enhanced and cool colors are culled. Florescent lights, on the other hand, tend to enhance cool blues and greens while subduing warm yellows and oranges.

Another important thing to consider is what colors are in the room you are painting. Pay attention to all the colors in a room: furniture, carpet, wood floors, brick fireplaces, etc. When you bring a color home and paint it on the wall behind your red sofa, it probably will not seem the same as on the color wall in the paint store.

Most painting manufacturers have sample paints you can take home with you to explore. Try various paint samples directly on your wall in splotches or paint a poster board with different sample colors and hold it next to your wall to see how each will look. Think about the lighting and surrounding colors in the space you wish to paint and always preview colors in a room before making them a permanent part of your home’s décor.

Remember, picking colors is not a science, and there are no guidelines you must follow. The colors you choose should be pleasing to your eye and generate the mood and feeling you desire. Most importantly, the colors in your home should express your personality and style.