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How to Choose Colourtesting paint colours

Are you Waiting for your Paint Colour to Propose?

By 03/23/2011January 27th, 201738 Comments

Before the gray trend hit the streets, anytime I would hold up a basic linen shade (like BM Muslin or Manchester Tan) clients would say “ooooooooooooh that’s too gray”, or they would just raise their eyebrow and say “That’s the most boring colour ever!” So then I would either pull out a cooler gray to demonstrate that these colours were indeed more beige than anything in the realm of gray or I would say ‘Here you just need to trust me, it’s blah until you get it all over the walls.’

Now, we can’t get enough gray, and those linen shades which used to be so great are not gray enough.  Now we want cooler grays like OC-15 Baby Fawn or even bluer, like HC-173 Stonington Gray. But here’s the catch; it’s possible to fall in love with Tiffany blue turquoise or Fernwood Green even if you don’t have the sofa or duvet yet but if you are just looking at one putty shade over another and expecting it to jump out and say ‘Hey I’m over here, can’t you see how fabulous I am?’ in my experience, it probably won’t.

If your space does not have the look and feel that you want and this even remotely BOTHERS you?  It bothers you not just once in a while, but EVERY SINGLE DAY. Like when I moved into my current space.  The old furniture from my previous house looked so bad I could not stand to spend a second in my living room for the first 3 months I lived here until the new stuff arrived.

flickr via Nick Harris, photographer

So now here we are, in an empty room or—even worse and more terrifying—an empty house. And the painter is hovering, your husband or wife or significant other is waiting and you are paralyzed.  You compare one gray shade over another and wait. . . for what you ask?

For the colour to jump out and say “I’m the one, will you marry me?” or “Pick me, pick me, it’s me it’s me” and the reason why this does not help you is because it doesn’t relate to a single thing in the room. Especially when you are starting from nothing and do not have a stitch of furniture in your space.

Without this bedding, there’s no way you would have agreed to this yellow (source)

When I first started out, this would happen a lot in master bedrooms and back then I would wonder what was wrong with me, that I could not pick the ‘right’ colour when we got to the bedroom.  Clients would lead me in and say “This duvet is toast” or “Pay no attention to this bedding, we change it all the time”. And then they would look at me, expectantly, waiting for the magic to come out of my little colour bag of tricks.  Mostly, that colour never came because, it’s very hard to get excited about a colour when its not married, related or has not ever even met the furniture or bedding or art that still remains in the store. . . waiting for it’s mate.

So before you embark on your thorough and mind bending journey of all the gray shades in each paint company’s repertoire to discover ‘the one’ that you will never find without fabric or art or something, either give in and paint your walls some neutral gray shade that will tie in with all the linen and white and bright colours that you are craving or go shopping. I did not paint a single room in my house without knowing which fabrics I was installing in each room first.

And a designer or colourist can help you pull together a palette if you don’t know where to start with furniture shopping, then you can tweak your colours as you find items for each space. The more purchases you have made in advance though, the more interesting your colour choices can be and that’s when your paint colour will truly make you happy.

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Related posts:

Ugly Costs the Same as Pretty
What Everyone should Know About Gray
What would you Do? Advice for Designers/Consultants
Canned Colour Combinations; Why they Don’t Work
The 3 Most Important Words in a Consultation

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  • Splendid Sass says:

    So true, Maria.
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas and tips.

  • Naturally Carol says:

    Hi Maria..those thoughts are brilliant. Now I will not be afraid of collecting things of colour to put in a room before's the painting that ties the elements of the room together.

  • Pixie Dust Painting says:

    fantastic article- love love love

  • Tamara Nicole says:

    Just what I needed today! We've been scouring all paint stores for the perfect "roman" red . . . kind of wanted a faded red like you'd find in a fresco . . . and picked one I thought would work, BUT it turned out a bright pink lol. Paint choice is hard:-)

  • Jennifer, Decorum says:

    I can never understand why people insist on choosing the paint first. Paint comes in every conceivable tint and shade and if it can't be found, it can be custom mixed. So paint should be chosen AFTER the floor, or the curtains or the sofa.

    Well said Maria!

    Jennifer xx

  • Jennifer Duchene says:

    What a delicious post, and how true Maria. Color on walls has no meaning unless there is a Relationship!

    Jennifer Duchene
    Home Makeover Mixtress blending lifestyle laughter and Diva Dens

  • Kathysue says:

    Great post Maria, I have had so amny clients say the same thing about their bedrooms. They just want me to pull the magic color out of my hat, they look a little disappointed when I tell them we need to find their bedding and figure out the direction and feel we want the room to have. I think because paint seems quick and easy so they want to do it NOW. But as you so beautifully put in this great post, be patient and find something for it to marry too. Love it!!! Kathysue

  • Donna says:

    Maria..I LOVE this post! So true! I don't see how anyone could pick a color without something to relate it too.

    I'm squeezing in a comment while the grandsons sleep..three very, very busy boys.

    I've got a cold..and I'm exhausted. That's why you haven't heard from me much.

    Great post!
    Donna @ Comin Home

  • Tara Dillard says:

    Because I'm a Landscape Designer I KNEW to hire an interior decorator, Susanne Hudson, to choose my paint colors.

    Pure trust, would do anything she said. BM-Rockport Gray on walls/ceilings. Sounded crazy, but, I loved everything I ever saw of her work. Now, I love it in my home.


    Many of my clients immediately ask, where do I put this chair? What plant goes here?

    Isolated questions. The answer is, "We aren't there yet." A Landscape Design is a tapestry, not isolated threads.

    Ha, same as you are describing about starting the color process.

    Fun seeing the same issue in another profession.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  • Angela says:

    This is so true. I help people with colors and they just can't understand why we aren't able to pick the magic color when they are starting from scratch. I tell them that there are an infinite number of paint choices and they should start with a rug or fabric that they like first. That way they're not limited to something they might not like just because it matches a paint color they've already chosen. Start first with the most expensive item or the one that will be kept the longest.
    I've just discovered your blog and am really enjoying all of your posts. You put so much time and thought into them that I have to wonder, do you ever sleep? Great job.


  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    Thank you. Great post and great title, Maria. I just went through this with an e-consultation client and she was looking for "Wow" and "drama", yet there was nothing in the rooms to work with – they were totally empty.

  • Luciane at says:

    Oh, I love your posts! 🙂

    I have a great time whenever I come to visit your blog. You've made great points here and I agree that you should choose what you want in the room before choosing the color for the walls.

    Have a Happy Day!


    Luciane at

  • carol says:

    It's amazing how clients think we can make magic out of nothing. Your post is fantastic. A gorgeous color on the wall of an empty room can be horrid when the purchases are made, unless those purchases are made with the chosen color in mind. People always want to paint first. I had a new client yesterday clammoring for paint because the painter was waiting and she didn't know what to do. I said be patient and wait. Leave it builder's white until you choose the upholstery, or some other inspiration. Oh, that is a hard task for most 🙂

  • Bruce Barone says:

    GREAT headline!

  • Cindy says:

    Oh THANK YOU! SO many clients want to paint before anything else – and I notice it happens most with newly drywalled spaces. The contractors want to paint the walls before they get the trim up so they don't have to cut in, and it pressures the client. I end up having this discussion all the time. Thank you for always articulating these issues so well!

  • Anonymous says:

    Have you been in my house Maria? lol! I have at least 7-8 greige paint swatches (big ones too) all over my house and couldn't figure out why none of them work! I am living with the previous owners ugly curtains and yucky green couches and hideous backsplash and then wonder why I can't find inspiration. Thanks for the article. I will put the swatches away until I actually have something to work with. 🙂

  • Christina Rodriguez | The Diva's Home says:

    I picked the paint colors last when redoing my childrn's bathroom. Since I used travertine tile, I just took one to the store and used their 'daylight' display to choose colors that 'go' with the tile but don't necessarily match. It took me about two minutes! I will be posting the pics on my blog next week if anyone is interested!

  • Braxton and Yancey says:

    I've been really enjoying your blog and learing so much, which I have apparently been sharing with my husband. Yesterday he saw himself in the mirror and remarked "I know these pants don't really go with this shirt. Is it because of the yellow undertones in the pants?"
    Laughed myself silly. Thought you would like to know.
    Have a beautiful day.

  • yodafatkitty says:

    Very interesting. Fortunately, this is how I pick a color for any room. If I don't have anything in the room to key on, or I know I'm going to be changing furniture, sometimes I simply go on the type of lighting and outside colors. Like, lots of trees, shrubs, etc.
    But, this later case is pretty rare.

    Right now, I'm actually waiting for a proposal from the perfect pale grey for the Master. White duvet, very pale almond dresser.
    I think I'm going to try out RL's rough stone.
    We'll see how that goes.

  • Sjn says:

    I totally agree with you on this one. There are a "gazillion" paint colors, so definitely shop first and get your palette in mind!

  • Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    So when some trendy color named "BM 9999 – Lounge Lizard" slithers out of the paint display and wants to start an intimate relationship … it's really just a 1-night stand. 🙂

    Take him home and see how he looks next to the family heirlooms.

    My selecting method is to start with the hardest to find and hardest to change things such as the floor and furniture … paint is dead last in the selection process.

    And it's a process that anyone can follow unless they are colorblind.

  • languageofcolorandtexture says:

    Good post Maria,why is it that people don't understand picking paint is last on the list. They really seem to put all there hopes into a can of paint. When I specify paint color I always explain that paint is not the star attraction it is the support to their stuff, their personality which is what should speak in the room. It seems so many clients think that paint on the wall is what one should notice. I suppose this way of thinking is good, it is what keeps designers busy!

  • Amy says:

    Great post! This makes sooo much sense 🙂

  • Carol-Anne (Use the Good Dishes!) says:

    I always learn something when I read your posts. I'm not afraid of colour and am pretty good at helping others with their choices, but your advice helps me to find the words to better explain WHY it will work.

  • A Perfect Gray says:

    best blog title ever! and great all – around advice…


  • My House, My Garden says:

    Great post! I totally picked Edgecomb Gray for my bedroom after I had my linen duvet, dust ruffle and headboard. If I had painted before, I would be reapainting as I type this.
    I am happy to report that I have finally matured enough (i.e., become more patient) to actually have a solid plan for a room before I purchase or paint anything.
    Before I would buy a duvet but then I would find a headboard that I loved and it clashed.
    I have reaped the benefits of waiting and planning the entire room — even if I cannot purchase it all at once — before I do anything. It's worth the wait!

  • Annie, bossy color says:

    Amen, Maria! Excellent points – and advice I should keep in mind for my own house! Marriage isn't so scary…

  • Cote de Texas says:

    i just dealt this situation today in a kids room – the walls were blue, the fabrics they picked were aqua and they wouldn't repaint. whatever. i tried. plus there was a huge stain in the carpet and i wanted to replace it with a patterned carpet and they said no. so, why bother at all? it's half done and it kills me but they wont listen.

    thanks for your sweet comment today! you are too nice!

  • The Shade Shop, Inc. says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I am so glad to hear you say this. You don't know how many clients will want to choose a window shade color FIRST!
    Before furniture, before flooring, before fabric, even before wall color!! It's like trying to frost a cake before you've baked it! There's nothing there to frost!!

  • Catherine says:

    I made this mistake once, years ago when my parents added on a master suite. My mom asked me to help pick out paint and tile for the bathroom. And of course, we fell in love with a paint color before looking at tile. We obsessed over finding the perfect complimenting tile, and we finally picked the best option. Now, it doesn't look bad at all, but every time I go in there I regret that we didn't pick the tile first. They compliment each other pretty well, but not perfectly, you know? I'm sure there would have been plenty of paint colors that would have conversed a bit better with the tile than the one we chose… Well, live and learn as they say!

  • Lori says:

    Great post! Your stack of gray swatch colors caught my eye. I just repainted our master in Collonade Gray. Would love if you wanted to take a look!

  • Tanya says:

    Wow, such a simple concept and yet it has never occurred to me.

    I absolutely adore the colour we painted our master bedroom, which was selected to tie in with the wall paper in the room yet we have been staring at paint swatches in our lounge for months waiting for divine inspiration. Thanks so much – I'm off to find my own inspiration.

  • PaintColorHelp says:

    I couldn't agree more with this post, and am glad I'm not the only one out there encountering this problem.

    I've not only experienced the client's disappointment when informing them that we need -something- to key off for color selection, but a few have gotten outright indignant, almost angry!

    I don't know if it's laziness, that they don't want to think ahead, or they're just in a hurry, or what.

    For me, what's even worse than trying to spec color for an empty room, is one that's full of clashing objects that will not stay. The customer says "don't pay any attention to XYZ, that's all going."

    For the love of heaven, people: do yourself a favor. If there are textiles or pieces in a room that are going to be replaced, get them out of there. Otherwise they will distract and confuse you, making it almost impossible to select a wall color.

  • Jo Galbraith says:

    Great post Maria! I will share on my business FB page.

  • megeranski says:

    Well summarized, well presented.

  • Margaret says:

    I still hate gray. When is going to be over?

    • Maria Killam says:

      That is such a good question. It should actually be called the ‘colour trend’ not the ‘grey trend’ grey is just the backdrop to happy colours which is what this trend is about. If you see a room with too much grey, that’s the grey trend gone wrong usually.

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