Sometimes painting walls is so much drama.
If you’ve ever painted walls in your home before, you may be familiar with this experience:
- Look at lots of swatches and narrow it down
- Buy the paint
- Start trimming around the edges of the room and FREAK OUT!
- Question everything you ever thought you knew to be true and in a fit of despair either
- Take the paint to the store and say with desperation “fix it! I don’t know how just…fix it!!”
- Paint the entire wall anyway, with a sinking feeling of doom as you realize you have to stare at this stupid color for years of your life and you hate it!
As a designer I have had a lot of professional experience helping people choose paint colors, which you’d think would make that scenario something I never personally experience. But I’ve been there, guys. It’s so easy to second guess a color at the beginning stages of painting.
Why does this happen?
The reality is that when the paint first goes on the walls you’re fighting a few factors. First, your brain is comfortable with the old color. Even if you don’t like it, it’s familiar. Thus, the new color is jarring and strange. Second, the color that’s underneath is not likely a harmonious match to the new color (that’s the whole point of changing it, right?) and so side by side they clash! Third, the first coat of a new color will not fully hide the old color, and you can get some strange undertones (especially if you’re painting over a dark or bright color). And finally, you aren’t seeing the true new color, because in one coat the pigmentation isn’t fully layered.
We experienced this in the house we flipped last year. I chose a really fantastic light greige for the entire home:
The very first spaces we painted with it were the bedrooms, and based on the color on the brush you’d sure think it was a nice light color:
And then I started trimming in the room. It looked SO DARK!
We immediately started questioning the color – is it too dark for the house? We need a new color!! So, we decided to paint the bedrooms with it, but change the hall and living spaces to a new, lighter color:
Ironically, though, if we’d just waited until we had two coats on the bedroom walls I believe we would have continued with it throughout the house, because it turned out to be a beautiful color!
In fact, we had multiple people asking us for the name of the paint color used in the bedrooms.
That was a case where I should have just had confidence in my color. But sometimes a color really is just WRONG. I see this happening the most when people want a bright color and they go too bright, or when they want a gray and they don’t realize they’re choosing a gray with a strong undertone that doesn’t match other colors in the room. Either way, having a freak-out moment is no fun! I’m here to help you out with some tips to feel more confident in the colors you’re considering.
How can you choose colors with confidence?
The first step is something everyone does when choosing paint colors: narrow the idea down to the color family you want. What feeling do you want for the space? Light, dark, bright, muted, neutral, bold, personal or resale focused? What undertones do you want that neutral to have? Gray, purple, red, blue, yellow, green? What sheen do you need? What pictures do you love on Houzz or Pinterest that can guide you toward to the look you want? Once you know what general color family you’re looking for narrow it further to a few colors within that family that are similar. This means you’re not choosing ONE color – you’re choosing two to four that are close.
Once you have the colors narrowed down do yourself a favor and paint some swatches. This is the part people skip (and I skipped at the flip). You might spend $10-20 in sample pots but isn’t it worth it to have more confidence in the colors and avoid a costly mistake? If you don’t want to paint directly on your walls, paint on large sheets of poster board or some pre-made wall cling sample sheets.
I love these decals from Lowes and give them out to clients when I have some on hand:
Once you have swatches painted look at them for a few days, on a few walls (at least on one wall that gets direct natural light in the room and one that doesn’t get it). Sometimes clients call me back at this stage to help finalize a color or to express concern that the color just isn’t feeling quite right – I love it when they do that! The colors can look very different on a large swatch than they do on a small chip, and time of day or weather can really impact the color! Sometimes we go back to the palette at this point and pick a different color or two, using the first swatches as a starting point for which direction to go to get the color just right. Sometimes the swatch confirms that a color is right, which is reassuring.
When you finally decide on a color and start painting the walls get a first coat on everything before you decide what to do next. Then give it a day and let your brain adjust to the change (and if the color is very dark on a light background, you really need to put two coats on before judging).
Then stand back and judge. I’m guessing if you did the work on the front end to paint swatches you’ll decide it’s great!
But it’s ok to re-evaluate at this point. Maybe you can figure out what’s wrong with the color on your own. Maybe you need someone else to look at it with a critical eye to help evaluate why it isn’t working. Be careful with this, though. Ask just one or two people who understand color really well or who can objectively analyze it, otherwise getting input can just be confusing and contradictory.
If you do decide to change the color, I generally recommend that you bite the bullet and buy all new paint. Sometimes people will try to take in the partially used paint they don’t like and have the paint store add pigment to adjust the color. However, this creates a custom paint color that’s a ‘guess’ at best and you might run into a situation where you don’t have enough or can’t get more easily for touch ups.
The design shows love to say “it’s just paint!” I understand why they say that – a gallon of paint isn’t that expensive and it’s fairly easy to switch to a new color. But on the other hand, it’s not JUST paint! By the time you buy all the materials needed there’s a good chunk of money involved. If you pay a pro to do the work that number goes up significantly. There’s disruption while the painting is happening. And then there’s the fact that you have to live with that color! I hereby give you permission to take all the time you need to get a new color figured out, testing, tried and analyzed! But hopefully keeping this post in mind will also give you the courage to choose a new color and make that change you’ve been wanting to make – and if a freak out moment happens take a deep breath and re-read this post. And of course, you can always call me! 😊