How to Pick the Right Paint Color Every Time

How do I decide on a paint color?” That is one of the most common questions interior designers get.

It’s understandable why people would be intimidated. After all, even the most beautifully curated living space will be thrown off by the wrong paint color. Walls can always be repainted, but if you want to get it right the first time, here are my suggestions.

Believe it or not, but paint color should be one of the last things you choose for a room. Chances are that you already have some furniture, artwork, and fabrics picked out. If so, it makes more sense to choose a paint color that complements your furnishings, rather than the other way around.

Another good starting point is to consider color psychology. Blues and greens are more restful colors, so they’re perfect for private spaces such as the bedroom. “Cozy” colors include dark grays and deep reds. If you’re worried about a room turning out too sleepy when you use colors like these, you can always wake it up by introducing contrast.

The celadon
green paint color used in one guest room is cheerful and pairs well with the room’s natural wood and African antiques.

Homeowners who love bold colors should know that you can energize an active space (such as the kitchen) with yellow or jewel tones like emerald and sapphire. Neutral colors, like white, cream, brown, gray, and beige, are somewhere in-between passive and active, making them an appropriate choice for living spaces. For my clients, I almost always suggest painting the ceiling a color that is half-again lighter than the walls to off-set naturally occurring shadows.

Once you’ve picked your color, you’ll want to decide on your paint finish. Gloss reflects light away from the paint, making the color darker. Flat paint absorbs light, making the walls look brighter. If you want your paint color to look somewhat consistent throughout the day, I suggest choosing matte paint.

There are various ways to test out a paint color before you commit. My personal method is to paint a large foam core sample in the color I want to try. This piece of foam core can also be carried from room to room, allowing you to see if you’d like it better in one area or another. Because of this method, I’ve never had to repaint a house.

I hope that if you keep all of these tips in mind, you’ll never have to, either.

Click here for more interior design tips from Margaret Chambers

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Margaret Chambers

Margaret Chambers, a registered interior designer (RID) and member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), leads Chambers Interiors and Associates. Her colleague Caitlin Crowley helped edit this column. Find more design advice at

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