How to Choose A Paint Color You Will Regret

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Let me share with you a tale of paint cans, Pinterest dreams, and the lessons learned along the way.

I remember one of my first big DIY projects in my first apartment out of college was with paint cans in hand, ready to transform my space with a daring choice of color.  I had decided to go BOLD on color with a paint somewhere between a cobalt blue and indigo if we’re getting specific but it was basically purple.

I have to say I learned so much about how color impacts your mood and mindset through this early DIY experiment.  Through the years I’ve learned that while I love a bold dose of color, I am most at peace and inspired by more earthy tones, colored but not primary colorful if that makes sense. So for instance, you’d be more likely to find an ocre or mustard yellow in my home versus a citrine.  All this to say, I learned that while I love bright periwinkle marker, I don’t love it on my walls. So here I want to share how you can also learn  more about yourself and your relationship with paint color– the hard way.

First step in choosing a paint color you’ll hate is to buy paint blindly.

Yep, I’ve been guilty of this toxic trait plenty of times really because sometimes in design you have a vision and an urge to try something new and unusual and with a bit of serendipity, it turns out beautifully.

There’s something exhilarating about diving headfirst into a paint project without even testing the color on the wall.  But the vision on a whim thing just doesn’t often pan out when it comes to paint.  Case in point: my ill-fated decision to paint my entire apartment a bright blue/purple.  I was going for character and I definitely got it!

So maybe instead of buying paint blindly, start with a small sample of paint to test out at home.  I’ve learned that it’s best to test the paint on several different walls to see how light affects the color throughout the day.  If you saw my Ultimate House Flipping Playbook, I have a section on choosing white paint where I cover how lighting both natural and artificial can dramatically impact the undertones of a given paint color.  I also dive into all the details of reflectance and saturation if you are curious.

One of my all time favorite paint colors is Gray Owl by Sherwin Williams because of its sophisticated play of green and blue undertones. It really is a chameleon paint color that can read any combination of soft gray, green, and blue depending on surrounding furniture as well as direction and source of light.  Don’t worry about all the variables though.  Just to cover your bases, I recommend painting a sample on a wall that gets significant natural light, as well as a wall that gets less natural light and likely more artificial light.  The final step will be to check how the color reads throughout the day in various locations.  For example, paint in a west facing room often looks more dull in the morning and warm in the evening as the sun sets.

Next step to choosing a paint color you will hate is finding inspiration from an internet picture instead of your own home.

While it can be a treasure trove of design inspiration, Pinterest is also complete trap for unsuspecting DIY enthusiasts.

Hear me out: Don’t paint a room a certain color just because it’s trending right now.

In my case, the paint I selected was not trending, but I neglected to seek inspiration from my own space.  It is SO easy to convince yourself of paint color from Pinterest images because they are often shot in the most extraordinary spaces. For instance, how beautiful is this kelly green library that perfectly highlights the architectural features of the space. Also, the source is unknown, so please comment if you know of the source I can credit!

As in, just about any paint color could look good in a historic home with great bones–high ceilings and beautiful millwork.  And that color likely just won’t translate or have the same impact in my/your very first more cookie cutter apartment.  Don’t take the bait!

Focus on furnishings and/or cherished and collected items as your design elements to create an inspired color palette for your space.  If you don’t have a color wheel yet, it is definitely worth the investment.  The paint manufacturer doesn’t really matter since you can color match paints at home depot as long as you’re able to provide the HEX code. FYI the HEX code is a six-digit combination of numbers and letters that is defined by the combination of red, green and blue.  Luckily it is easy to find with a quick internet search.  If you have the name of the manufacturer and the color you would just search: “HEX code paint Benjamin Moore Iron Ore” to return a hexidecimal format for identifying colors (#A55445).  I have this Benjamin Moore Classic Colors paint wheel and use it regularly.

Anyway, let’s say your anchor piece is an antique rug that you collected on your honeymoon and it’s primarily a brick red color.  If you are going for a more tonal and cohesive vibe, you will want to select a paint that is next to the brick red on the color wheel.  Otherwise for a more compelling and bold look, you could opt for a complimentary color on the opposite side of the color wheel.  In this case a blue green paint color would be a striking complimentary combination with the brick red.

Step three to paint selection you will regret: ignore your doubts.

As I embarked on the painstaking process of painting my apartment, doubts began to creep in. But did I listen to them? Nope. I soldiered on, convincing myself that I would eventually fall in love with the color. I did not.  This was a hard lesson and the nail in the coffin was a couple years later after cringing at my walls for too long, I had to pay a significant fee for to my landlord to repaint the apartment.  To be fair it was also a horrible DIY job with paint splattered all over the baseboards and ceiling. I just wish I had a photo souvenir to share with you all!

Step four: not having a “big-picture” plan for the space.

If only I had taken the time to step back and envision the finished look of my apartment, with my bright yellow bedding and green dresser–my childhood Rainbow Bright dreams come true!  Then again there are only so many twenty year olds in their first apartment that would be so wise and tasteful so I can’t be too hard on myself.

Either way, the silver lining is that I learned so much so early on about how color and my environment affect my mindset.    At the time I lived in my old apartment, I was working in sales and either on the road or working from home so I spent a lot of time within those purple walls.  Colors have different ways of stimulating the brain and it is not surprising that purple is a more popular color choice for children, which further explains the Rainbow Bright nostalgia that I felt in my old arpartment.  Fast forward to the present, I have never met another design enthusiast that wasn’t passionate about color psychology and color theory. Now it feels liberating to unapologetically change my mind when I’m designing a space and go for what I really want.

You have to paint for the feeling and mood you’re after in a room.

I mentioned in a recent post how my daughter Willa was very clear she wanted her room to feel “beachy” when we set out to redesign her room.  Without pinpointing exact design details she was able to share the coastal mood she was after with a single photo here (credit: Molly Basile Interiors).

We have not done the final reveal of Willa’s room but it turned out beautifully and we relied heavily on this image for inspiration from color palette to textures and pattern.

The process of establishing the vibe of a space with design clients (like my own daughter!) involves extensive mood boards, product samples, and design iterations that can sometimes just start with a picture of a hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. Choosing paint is always one of the final selections for a room/home (because again context, right?) and years later it is actually one of my favorite steps in the design process.  Ultimately the process for selecting paint for your home either with help of an interior designer or as a DIYer is universal: paint samples–always, seek inspiration from  your home, trust your gut, paint for the mood.

Making a paint selection can be so overwhelming but it’s also a very DIY friendly and powerful way completely transform your space.   So here’s to embracing the journey – one paint can at a time.

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