Ask Maria: Can I Paint my Walls to Match my Couch?

ask Maria

Years ago I walked into an Ethan Allen Showroom where the sales clerk said to me “THEY ( clients) say couch, but WE (designers) say sofa” haha. I don’t remember what I called it back then, (I must have said couch because she gently corrected me), but it always stuck in my mind.

What do you call it? A couch or a sofa?

I received this email the other day and realized I have never addressed this specific question on the blog before.

Here’s the question:

“Because our space is taking on all kinds of different colours with different exposures, I was hoping to find a paint colour that I like and then buy a sectional that compliments it. Will that work? Is it bad if my couch matches my wall colour? I just think that might be the easiest way to find the right paint colour.”

This reader went on to talk about lighting and how she continued to test paint colours and how none of them looked right with ‘her lighting’.

If you are reading this and wondering the same thing, let me make this easy for you. Here’s the answer: Your paint colour will RARELY look right if nothing in the room relates to it.

I know, I sound like a broken record to those of you who have heard this many times, but your paint colour should look like it pulls your space together.

But I understand, a sofa can be a relatively expensive decor decision and you don’t want to buy the wrong colour so it seems ‘safer’ to start with the wall colour first.

I’m just telling you it’s backwards.

Over the years I have received this objection a lot, if upon looking at everything in a clients home, I have pulled out a large colour sample that relates to the sofa.

“Whaaaa, the same colour as the walls?” My client has questioned. “Does that work?”

Let’s find out shall we?

Best reason to paint your walls the same colour as your sofa

First, the number one reason to consider painting your walls the same colour (lighter or darker, it doesn’t have to be exact) as your sofa is if your sofa is old and tired.

Years ago I was in a house that appeared to have cream drapery in the living room. I pulled out my large samples and started holding them up behind the drapery, as well as the sofa to make sure the colour looked good with everything.

Turns out the drapery actually had a slight green undertone which ended up looking the best with one of the green beiges that I had over every other colour I tried. All the other colours made the drapes look even more ancient than they already were (they were 5″ too short as they had been cleaned many times).

Okay, since your paint colour should pull your room together, there are actually three other places to look (before your sofa) to find it:

What colour is your drapery?

In this image (below) the greige on the walls was pulled from the drapery.

Ask Maria: Can I Paint my Walls to Match my Couch?

Mark Scott

What colour is your wall-to-wall carpet?

If it’s everywhere, and takes up a large part of the colour scheme, it could also be a good colour for the walls.

What is your Accent Colour?

Sometimes you might use your accent colour for the walls (below):

The violet grey on the walls is much paler than the purple chairs but it looks fabulous in this beautifully decorated room. That always helps!

Ask Maria: Can I Paint my Walls to Match my Couch?

Kate Corsden

In this image (below) there were three places to look.

The blue area rug. However there really isn’t enough of the colour blue in here to repeat it on the walls.

The pink/orange beige chaise. Well we all know why beige was not chosen here. it’s just too soon for beige to be back for walls. It’s back in textiles, but technically not for paint colours.

Before we continue, I’ll just answer your unspoken question right now:

Is it WRONG to paint your walls beige?? NO. Beige might be the answer for your home. There’s no such thing as the right white for every house. White won’t work for most homes. Which is why I’m receiving so many questions daily from people who painted their walls white and now they look green or blue, or something else.

The last option in this example, was a blue grey to relate to the sofa and two chairs and that’s what ended up here (below):

Ask Maria: Can I Paint my Walls to Match my Couch?

Nina Garcia

Here the room is a green grey greige (below) to relate to the green grey sofa.

Ask Maria: Can I Paint my Walls to Match my Couch?

House Beautiful 

Here the wall colour again relates to the sofa. It’s a pale pink beige linen colour to coordinate with the pink beige sofa.

Ask Maria: Can I Paint my Walls to Match my Couch?

City Farmhouse

The walls are green grey to relate to the green grey furniture which is probably one of the most popular sofa colours chosen in the grey trend.

Ask Maria: Can I Paint my Walls to Match my Couch?

Christine Markatos

So I COULD list the paint colours that belong to these rooms. Because I know what they are without having to look them up.

But if I’m teaching you to fish instead of giving you the fish, it will be way more powerful.

 

Once you identify the undertones of the neutrals in your rooms, all you have to do is go to the back of the bonus book of colours in my How to Choose Paint Colours ebook, or for whites, the back of my White is Complicated, a Decorators Guide to Choosing the right white and decide how light or dark you want go go.

There will also be a brief description of the colours and when and how to use them.

And for those of you who want to know why your white looks green (or some other shade that isn’t what it should be) find out why and how to fix it on Page 59 of my White is Complicated; The Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White.

What you are learning with both my eBooks is my System for Specifying Colour. This system works, as countless comments, emails and students have testified in the over 10 years that I have been writing this blog.

Here’s what people are saying:

” I only found you last year and have spent months reading years worth of your blogs. The first post I read was about dumb “designers” putting horrible busy floor tile with counter-tops of a different color undertone AND equally busy pattern. I’m jumping up and down yelling “that’s it, that’s it, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you” as my hubs looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

Then HE read the post, looked at the tile samples we had selected and said, “ooohhhh”.

I just couldn’t explain what was wrong, but your blog post made the lights come on for me. So, for our renovation, guess who is getting hardwood floors, white cabinets and plain white subway tile???

Why yes, the reader who did listen to Maria:-) Hahaha, in all things color and pattern, I’m always asking. . . What Would Maria Do? Seriously, I love the ebooks I bought. Choosing Paint Colors and White is Complicated. Totally simplified my paint sample buying and testing for the master suite. Picking paint has gotten way easier.” Julie in Nashville

“I love your blog and have purchased both E-books. I found them so pertinent that I created a notebook of swatches, categorized as you recommend. Our family has moved very frequently over the years and that has given me the opportunity to renovate and decorate a lot. While I am a professional artist and “Color-swatch-aholic”, using color as a way to create atmosphere in an environment and learning to work with existing hard finishes has been a challenge. (Way too much pink beige!) Your books and blog have helped tremendously!!!” Feel so grateful! Lynn S.

Download them here.

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  1. When I was growing up my parents always referred to as the ‘settee’. These days I think of it as a ‘sofa’.

  2. Both- but mostly couch. I think it’s more of a regional thing, actually. If you google “nytimes regional dialect” it takes you to a quiz that can pinpoint where you live by your dialect – the words you use. It got mine on the button- Arlington, VA – pretty cool!

  3. When shopping, I’ve never seen a “couch” for sale, unless it’s a used one on Marketplace or Craigslist. But when I think of “couch”, I think of couch-potato, so I refer to it as a sofa. If you look at your readers’ responses, you just might get an idea of their upbringing.

  4. I smiled when I read about your experience at Ethan Allen with the “sofa” vs. “couch” verbiage. I too have noticed that there are “appropriate” and “inappropriate” names for things in various industries. For example, every employee in the salon I frequent says “cleanse” or “shampoo” as opposed to “wash hair”. In the upscale retail world “handbag” is used instead of “purse”. I guess it’s like “bathroom tissue” as opposed to “toilet paper”. Whatever! Thanks for putting a smile on my face today. As always, LOVE your content! ❤️

  5. As I child growing up in Ohio, it was always a couch. As an adult living in the northeast, I have always said sofa. But that change may have occurred as a result of reading hundreds of decorating magazines as a young newlywed many years ago!

  6. I always said couch until a couple years ago when I decided couch was an ugly word. Since then, it’s sofa for me.

  7. Candace Schroeder

    I say sofa. When I was in design school we were taught to always say sofa. Furniture ads always use sofa never couch. However, if my clients use couch I never correct them. It’s just a word. I save my correction for design selections they want that could be disastrous.

  8. I use both “sofa” and “couch” but I’ve always thought of a sofa as slightly more formal, e.g. “an antique velvet camelback sofa,” whereas my leather sectional would definitely be a couch. My grandmother in England called it a sofa. Here in the Southern US, most people say couch.

    And thank you for your ebooks. I bought them and read your blog while planning our new construction home. The builder offered limited choices, and your advice about choosing timeless floors, cabinets and tile was invaluable. My favorite bit of advice: “You only get one pattern,” I’m happy that my “boring” black and white kitchen won’t look dated in ten years.

  9. The ‘couch’ was always the piece in the ‘den’ – where everyone sat and hung out. The ‘sofa’ was the piece in the ‘living room’ which was off-limits to children and nobody EVER sat on! lol

  10. As a designer, I have always said Sofa. But since you raised the question, I researched a little, and found this explanation:

    “The terms “sofa” and “couch” have two very different origins. The first one comes from the Arabic term “suffah” which describes a bench covered with blankets and cushions. The second one comes from the French “couche” and it’s a piece of furniture that was popularly used in the Victorian era. As for their structure and shape, sofas usually feature two armrests and a uniform back while couches generally feature one armrest or none at all and a tapered back. Size matters. In terms of size, there is a remarkable difference between a sofa and a couch. Sofas are designed to provide more seating space and, of course, this also means they occupy more floorspace. Usually they provide seating space for four but they can also be bigger.”

    I hope this helps…but call it what you want. Just make sure it’s comfortable! LOL

  11. Thank you for your excellent online teaching and ebooks. I’ve avoided decorating my home for 30 yrs,
    Everything in my living room needed renovation.
    I took the opportunity to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible and your blog and materials were my best and main source.
    My living room is slowly coming together and I can see that my new sofa, paint, drapes, wood look porcelain floor are all perfect together! A bit boring at this point, but a perfect blank slate for adding the things we love.
    I am so glad I insisted on coordinating the tile with our wood kitchen cabinets, which are visible and kept pulling out my baggies of paint chips sorted by undertones.
    I knew you were right and I kept at it until I knew I had it right.
    Thank you for sharing your confidence!!! With your help, I did it!

  12. It is so much fun to read your followers comments! Some make me laugh out loud i.e.” couch potato” so that sure puts a negative for the decision to use couch vs sofa! So what’s in a name? As long as we all know what item a person is referring to is what matters. It’s kinda like potato or po toto! I personally say sofa because when I worked in a high end furniture store we were always taught to say sofa because heaven forbid saying couch was so mundane.

    What I actually got out of this post was how to relate wall color to the sofa, or ohers items in the room to make it all look cohesive. The pictures you shared as examples were perfect! Love your posts!

  13. My parents always called our couch the Davenport like some others have mentioned but I think that might have been the brand? Not sure. I will say, that same couch (Davenport) that my parents bought in the 60’s still looked new when my mother downsized and donated it in 2015! We say couch here in my house but my mother pointed out recently that she says sofa and didn’t like that I use a different term!

  14. Well, I don’t think this will be true for those in the USA, but we grew up with it being called a Chesterfield, as the Brits do.

    As a kid, we played that phone game. Called a random number and said “hello. Is Chester there” when they said no, we’d say “well this is Mrs. Field calling and I am looking for my son Chester” .

    In Canada nowadays, it is definitely sofa. As in you go to buy (Not) a sofa and loveseat. Never a couch and a loveseat.

  15. Well my married name is davenport. My BIL always said if we had a girl we should name her Sophie! In our family it was a couch. I absolutely hate when people use language choices to demean. I moved to the South in the US many years ago and went shopping for a kitchen stove. (The thing you put pots and pans on and cook.) The salesman in this backwater small town said quite snobby, “do you mean a range?” In my home town, no one would have responded to, “put the pot on the range.” A range is out West. Btw, when I go to spell my name and say “davenport like the thing you sit on,” most people don’t know what I’m talking about! Reminds me of the time my class read a short story and the character put on his Macintosh. The kids couldn’t understand how a computer could be put on. The entire story made no sense to them. ?

    • Haha that is a good story! Thanks for posting that comment! And I don’t really understand how this salesperson thinks he is endearing himself to anyone acting like that! Maria

  16. I use both terms, “couch” and “sofa”. I don’t see what difference it makes – we all know what both words refer to.
    I remember my grandmother calling it a “divan”.

  17. Hey Maria, this is Julie (but I’m definitely not in Chicago. Much closer to Nashville, TN) Wow, you quoted my previous comment to you on how much your system helped me NOT pick conflicting crappy tiles and colors!! What’s more is that I finished a very beautiful kitchen remodel and would love to send you pics. We put medium brown hardwood throughout the house and repainted the entire interior as well. It’s been a long year with amazing results and you have a big hand in that!! Thank you!!

    • I’d love to see the photos thank you! Haha, I just picked a city from the sky because I didn’t know so thanks for clarifying! xo

  18. As a child it was a divan. During college it changed to sofa and remains sofa. Unless it only seats two, in which case it is a loveseat.

  19. I grew up in California and have always called it a sofa. We are now living in Idaho and I notice that my grandchildren and students at school ask me what a “sofa” is. ????? When I say “couch” they get it.

  20. Growing up we said couch but I prefer the term sofa better. Both the same item….Enjoyed your post as always.

  21. I’m with Terri. In design school it was “sofa” not “couch” and “drapery” not “curtains” nor “drapes.” Everyone I know says “couch” and I sometimes flip back and forth.

  22. I was born and raised in South Carolina where the terms were sofa, toilet tissue, oven and stove, and for that thing you water your lawn with: hose pipe. :’)

    I’m not a snob about it, though; I’ll be your friend however you speak. <3

  23. I learned quickly what works in our area as I produce ad copy for Craiglist/ facebook for a local store that sells consigned (used) furniture and decor. My header is sofa as that is most popular but occasionally I throw couch in the description too as that is infrequently used.