clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How to choose the best paint color for any room in your house

Color experts share their foolproof paint palettes

This bedroom in a writer’s desert retreat is painted a dark gray shade from Behr to create a den-like effect.
This bedroom in a writer’s desert retreat is painted a dark gray shade from Behr to create a den-like effect.
Photo by Liz Kuball

When choosing a paint color for any room in your house, you should think of the wall as the blank canvas of a painting. "Any artist will tell you that the background color sets everything else up," says Gretchen Schauffler, founder of the paint line Devine Color. "It sets up the temperature, the depth, the mood, and the atmosphere for all the other colors to be layered and featured."

In other words, choosing the right wall color will make or break your room, and given the thousands of paints on the market, it can be a daunting task. We asked two color experts, Schauffler and Puji Sherer, to help simplify the decision-making process.

An artist by trade, Schauffler started her paint line in 1998 out of her Portland garage, and Devine Color’s 136 hues are now manufactured and distributed by Valspar. Sherer is the President and Chief Color Nerd at Colorhouse Paint, a line of 128 shades crafted for interiors from a non-toxic formula. Below, they offer tips for selecting a personal color palette, as well as some of their favorite schemes.

1. Consider light and scale

Sherer says it’s important to remember that not all colors look good on a larger plane. "Something that’s different about architectural color, is that you have to consider scale," she says.

To do this, pick a color with undertones—Sherer describes them as "the colors that are not necessarily primary when you’re looking at the color"—that are compatible with the room’s natural light exposure. A room that faces north will have much different quality of light than a south-facing room, and each affect the color differently.

Say you’re eyeing a dusky lavender, but when you scale it up to four walls, its blue undertones take over. Now, in your north-facing room, that once warm lavender looks lilac.

To avoid results like this, review potential shades in the space, by painting a swath on a big poster board or section of the wall. "When you’re choosing color from a small paint chip, it’s hard to recognize the undertones," says Sherer.

Pro palette: A true white

Just want white? Check out Imagine .01, Colorhouse’s top-selling hue. It’s a bright, untinted white, so no pesky undertones to decipher, and it works well on walls, trim, and ceilings. "From a design perspective, white is really, really popular," Sherer says.

2. Connect the colors

A bright green couch in a living room with dark grey walls and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over a lake.
In her living room, Gretchen Schauffler painted the walls Devine Buffalo, the ceiling Devine Icing, and the trim Devine Leather.
Courtesy Gretchen Schauffler

"It’s not so much about the right color," says Schauffler. "It’s about the colors that are going to connect everything and make everything look beautiful together." Schauffler begins her color consultations by evaluating the existing space first. She assesses the color of the flooring and wood tones, as well as the furnishings, fabrics, and accessories that are staying put.

"I will walk into somebody’s home and diagnose the colors that are there already," she says. "Somebody may not consider the fact that their kitchen is 70 percent orange already, because they have orange floors, orange cabinets, and orange wood in their dining room set. So if they want to paint the walls yellow, it’ll feel like they’re drowning in a pint of ale."

Pro palette: Gray walls, black trim, white ceiling

Schauffler’s living room is painted in Devine Buffalo, a grey. "It’s the perfect neutral to bring out all of the color in my art," she says. Her ceiling is a crisp white, Devine Icing, while other woodwork, like window mullions, baseboards, and doors are black (Devine Leather).

3. Let the wall color be the background

For living spaces, both Sherer and Schauffler recommend letting the wall color be a supporting player to the rest of the scheme, in order to let brighter colors come forward and draw the eye. "I’m always explaining how that background color is going to actually allow you to see the foreground," says Schauffler.

Sherer realized this when it came time to decide colors for her own house. "Being a color nerd, I was like, how do I jam pack as many colors into this space as possible without it feeling like a crayon box?" she says.

In her living room, she ended up selecting neutral walls (Nourish .03) that were somewhat "muted and subdued." "The colors sit back, so they become more backdrops and don’t overwhelm the space," she says.

Pro palette: Green walls, white trim and ceiling

"Another great color that can act as a neutral, especially in living room spaces, is anything in the green family," says Sherer, pointing to Colorhouse’s Leaf and Glass families. These include Leaf .02, a warm khaki green, Leaf .03, a soft silver sage color, and Glass .02, a "green on the edge of blue," all paired with white trim and ceilings.

4. Choose accent colors thoughtfully

Accent colors that are applied to the trim, woodwork, and ceiling have a big impact. They can make architectural features stand out in contrast, or recede. The contrast can also deliver different aesthetic effects. For instance, pairing a denim wall color with white trim looks very traditional, as opposed to pairing that same denim shade with light green-grey trim, for a whimsical effect.

Almost Ripe, Colorhouse’s 2017 color, is a “yellow-green bordering on fluorescent.”
Courtesy Colorhouse Paint

Shauffler uses the example of a diluted aqua, called Devine Reef. Paired with the light pink Devine Poodle, it makes for a sweet little girl’s room. Combined with a charcoal or chocolate color, like Devine Cocoa, it gains sophistication.

Accent colors also anchor a bright and saturated wall color. Sherer points to Almost Ripe, Colorhouse’s 2017 color, which is a "yellow-green bordering on fluorescent." "We’re pairing it with pastels and a really grounding green that’s almost black," she says. This palette shows how colors can "talk to each other and influence each other," as the accent colors work to balance the brighter main.

Lastly, don’t forget the ceiling. "Oftentimes the ceiling is a neglected surface in interiors," Sherer says. Even just opting for a warmer shade of white can make a difference. Sherer suggests Bisque .02, a white with a few drops of umber.

Pro palette: Charcoal walls, black trim, white ceiling

Schauffler painted her bedroom Devine Penguin, a deep charcoal. Then she paired it with Devine Leather, a "black-black," on the window trim; "To frame the windows so that I can see the lake without having a white frame stop my eye," she says.

5. Check the temperature

A color’s temperature affects your experience of them. For restful retreats, go with cooler hues, like blues and greens, which promote calm and peacefulness. "Any colors that are a little bit on the cooler side are great for bedroom spaces," Sherer says. Warm and energetic colors, such as yellows, reds, and oranges, are great for social spaces. They are "gathering colors, so they’re good to put in spaces like dining rooms or kitchens, where people sit around the table and share stories, or cook and eat together," Sherer says.

Pro palette: Blue walls, white trim and ceiling

In her bedroom, Sherer has Water .02, a complex blue with green and grey undertones, that pairs well with white trim (Air .02) and ceiling (Air .01).

Pro palette: Burnt orange walls, warm white trim, light beige ceiling

A great kitchen color scheme is Clay .02, a burnt orange, paired with Bisque .02 trim, a warm white, and finished with Bisque .03, light beige, on the ceiling.