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Warm gold in two shades draws your eye to the beautiful fireplace, and highlights the wonderful coved ceiling. Using beige for the moldings keeps them neutral, but adds a warmth to the room that a white trim wouldn’t.

painting-pointers-painting-pointers-Rob-MarmionPicking room colors doesn’t have to be daunting. Here are basic tips from a painting pro.

By Deirdre Christen

Color is a key interior-design element and instrumental to personalizing your space. But choosing color causes anxiety and poses a challenge for many.

In Design with Color: A Sunset Design Guide, architect John Lum notes, “There’s a lot of mystique around color…but I don’t think it takes an expert to understand color.” Home-owners can create spaces they’ll love if they carefully consider their preferences before painting.

Pale blues and yellows create a serene sitting area in this master bedroom.
Pale blues and yellows create a serene sitting area in this master bedroom.

“Color is part science and part art, but neither part needs to be intimidating,” says Karen Templer, author of Design with Color: A Sunset Design Guide. Deciding how you want your space to feel is the first step. Do you want to feel energized (more vibrant or intense colors) in the space, or would you rather it feel soothing and calming (pastels or neutrals)?

One helpful tool is to collect photos of rooms you like from magazines or websites like Pinterest or Houzz. Once you’ve compiled them, compare the photos to determine the features that really speak to you. Sometimes, your photos might all be rooms with a neutral palette, or maybe they’ll all have vibrant wall colors.

This coral dining room uses many painting techniques to create a welcoming space. Painting the cabinetry a muted color that’s different from the walls adds interest and balance. Using multiple shades of coral accentuates the room’s architecture, and a glaze over the deepest coral color adds a textural element while softening the room’s overall appearance.
This coral dining room uses many painting techniques to create a welcoming space. Painting the cabinetry a muted color that’s different from the walls adds interest and balance. Using multiple shades of coral accentuates the room’s architecture, and a glaze over the deepest coral color adds a textural element while softening the room’s overall appearance.

By looking at rooms you like, you can identify the characteristics and themes that appeal to you. Whether you work with a designer or do it yourself, these photographic tools can help you express your ideas.

Now begin to think about selecting colors. Colors come from nature and everything in nature coordinates with everything else, so there are really no wrong colors. Stephanie Hoppen, author of Perfect Neutrals: Color You Can Live With, writes, “If green is not neutral, gardens would always look ghastly; if blue is not neutral, nothing would go with the sea or sky.”

Warm gold in two shades draws your eye to the beautiful fireplace, and highlights the wonderful coved ceiling. Using beige for the moldings keeps them neutral, but adds a warmth to the room that a white trim wouldn’t.
Warm gold in two shades draws your eye to the beautiful fireplace, and highlights the wonderful coved ceiling. Using beige for the moldings keeps them neutral, but adds a warmth to the room that a white trim wouldn’t.

When starting your color search, take clues from aspects of your life. Think about the colors you normally wear, your favorite piece of jewelry, or colors in nature that attract you. Then choose an inspiration piece from which you can build your palette. This could be a piece of furniture, a rug, fabric, or a piece of art. Pull color ideas from your inspiration piece, and then select a main color and accents. Your paint colors should coordinate with the inspiration piece, not necessarily match it, so that the room varies in color intensity.

Painting the built-in bookcases green creates an interesting focal point in this room, which complements the wooden ceiling. The overall color scheme is very neutral, so adding pops of saturated green helps to anchor the smaller seating area within this much larger room.
Painting the built-in bookcases green creates an interesting focal point in this room, which complements the wooden ceiling. The overall color scheme is very neutral, so adding pops of saturated green helps to anchor the smaller seating area within this much larger room.

Choosing paint colors that are lighter and possibly more “muddy” than the original shades in the inspiration piece will make your space feel cohesive.

If you want to use more vibrant and energetic colors, consider painting an accent wall or even furniture pieces as accents. Use saturated colors carefully, and spread them throughout the space so the color is balanced.

Remember, paint isn’t the only color in your palette. Textiles, furniture and accessories with different patterns and textures add color and interest.

Color Tricks
Blue makes a soothing statement in this powder room without overpowering the space.
Blue makes a soothing statement in this powder room without overpowering the space.

Color can create flow throughout a house, bring out character, draw people to gathering spots or highlight architectural details, so keep these considerations in mind when determining where colors will be used.

For instance, an accent wall at the far end of a living room that sits at the end of a hallway will help draw visitors to that room. Painting architectural details, like molding, trim and built-ins, in a color different than the walls creates contrast and adds interest.

Beachy sand and surf tones create naturally soothing harmony in these rooms, cleanly accented by white trim.
Beachy sand and surf tones create naturally soothing harmony in these rooms, cleanly accented by white trim.

Ceilings don’t have to be white, either. Choose a paint shade that’s one or two shades lighter than the walls, or paint the ceiling the same color as the walls. This will make smaller spaces feel larger. Color can also visually lower the ceiling height or create a welcome sense of enclosure.

Prep Work

Proper preparation is frequently overlooked, but it’s crucial to good results when painting. For instance, making sure the surface to be painted is clean is as important as choosing the “right” color. Also, protect adjacent surfaces by masking them with painter’s tape and use drop cloths.

When covering a color drastically different from your new one, use a white or tinted primer to keep the previous wall color from showing through. And though it seems obvious, reading and following manufacturer’s instructions is key to using products correctly.

The makers of Yolo Colorhouse point out, “Color is consistent in only one thing: It is ever changing. Light, space and other colors in proximity constantly change how color is viewed.”

These entry and corner spaces boast strong wall colors that contrast nicely with the crisp white trim. Painting the ceilings a third color adds warmth, and directs the eye to the detailed ceiling trim. Using different wall colors defines each space as separate, but using the same ceiling and trim colors provides continuity.
These entry and corner spaces boast strong wall colors that contrast nicely with the crisp white trim. Painting the ceilings a third color adds warmth, and directs the eye to the detailed ceiling trim. Using different wall colors defines each space as separate, but using the same ceiling and trim colors provides continuity.

For this reason, testing colors in the space where they’ll be used is critical. Purchase small cans of paint and apply large swatches of it on the walls, or paint posterboards with it and prop them against the walls. Live with your sample colors for a day or two to see how they appear in all types of light before you paint.

Paint is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to decorate, but do your homework before making a color commitment. That way, you’ll enjoy your freshly painted space for years
to come.


Painting Resources

Check these books and website for more colorful ideas:

Perfect Neutrals: Color You Can Live With by Stephanie Hoppen (Watson-Guptill, New York, 2006)

Design with Color: A Sunset Design Guide by Karen Templer (Sunset, Menlo Park, Calif., 2009)

www.benjaminmoore.com. Click on the “Personal Color Viewer” tab to play around with different colors in various rooms to see the palettes you’re attracted to (it’s fun!).


Deirdre Christen works for Casa Verde Paint in Denver.