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How Much Heavy Lifting can a Paint Colour Handle?

By 01/28/2015February 21st, 201725 Comments

How much Heavy Lifting can a Paint Colour Handle? | Maria Killam

{via pinterest}

I get the best questions about paint colour and how much it can or cannot do to “rescue” a mistake someone has made in their house or a mistake they inherited from a previous owner.

Sometimes, colour can swoop in and magically save the day, so there’s nothing wrong with wondering if your situation can also be saved by the right colour.

But sometimes, paint colour alone, simply cannot do that much heavy lifting.

Here’s a question I received the other day:

“Maria, which colour trim can I use to tone down my orange hardwood floors?”

The answer to that question is. . . you guessed it, there is NO trim colour that could do that job. To tone down the orange, you’ll need to re-stain or replace your floors.

Here’s another question I received just this week:

“This is the kitchen and living area of my home. It is too traditional for my taste. I love clean lines, airy and elegant interiors. I would like to make a sensible change to the kitchen — something that provides the biggest impact that will not necessarily cost too much.

The paint color is beige with yellow/green undertone or gray-ish when it is in the shadow. The color officially is called Baked Beans from Glidden. Do you think the biggest impact is to change the countertop to something white, which means I may have to paint (what is a good paint color given the overpowering black cabinets?) or is there any paint that would make the countertop less red if I were to keep it?

The countertop is Bordeaux. The kitchen/living area floor is hardwood. This picture was taken without the blinds on. With blinds on, it is darker. Thank you in advance for your input!”

How much Heavy Lifting can a Paint Colour Handle? | Maria Killam

Here is my response:

“Your paint colour doesn’t bother me as much as the earthy colours in your countertops and backsplash, especially given you have a bright white sofa that in no way relates to the kitchen (where there is zero white of any kind to be seen). You need to change the countertops and backsplash to white. The end. Paint alone can’t do that much heavy lifting.

Your walls are green-beige and don’t relate to anything else that I can see from your picture. The green doesn’t actually clash with your kitchen; however, your backsplash is predominantly taupe with perhaps just a little green in the horizontal accent tile. That’s not enough to consider the wall colour as relating to another element in the room.

The pillows in your adjoining living room are black/white and red. Again there is no green in this palette.

When you update the countertops and backsplash to white, I would then consider painting your walls a greige. There are a few greige options to choose from in my Bonus Book of Whites inside my White is Complicated — A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White eBook

When you introduce white plus bright colours, or black and whites like you have, you want to choose a neutral wall colour that doesn’t have a strong dinstinguishable undertone like the one that’s currently on your walls.”

How much Heavy Lifting can a Paint Colour Handle? | Maria Killam

Here’s an espresso kitchen with white marble countertops and a white mosaic backsplash where the walls are painted in gray with a purple undertone. This paint colour looks great with the espresso cabinets and white countertop and backsplash and it also relates to the purple drapery and bench fabric, so the colour works.

How much Heavy Lifting can a Paint Colour Handle? | Maria Killam

Here’s another kitchen with more marble in the countertop and backsplash. The backsplash is a little too busy to my eye, but it’s basically white and not nearly as bossy as my reader’s picture above.

The bottom line is I wish I could give you a magic wand that would make the colour of your earthy hard finishes disappear just by choosing the “right” wall, trim or cabinet paint colour. But I can’t. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and change your finishes or ignore them until you can.

Do you need paint to do some heavy lifting at your house?

Related posts:

The New Timeless Hardwood Floor

Ugly Costs the Same as Pretty

What Everyone Should Know About Gray

PS. Register today for either of my Specify Colour with Confidence™ courses coming up this Fall. As an EXTRA BONUS, I’ll teach you exactly how I conduct online colour and design consultations every day, from my home office. And in the course you’ll also receive a sales template that took me over a year to perfect.  

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  • Victoria says:

    Excellent post Maria. I am buying myself your white e-book for my birthday next month cannot wait to read it.

    • Hi Maria,

      I have Honey-Oak hardwood floors and kitchen cabinets from the “80’s in my condo and fortunately a creamy off-white woodwork. I painted my walls BM “Georgian Green” and it seems to work very well. The BM color has a fair amount of yellow in it and using that color yellow as well in my decor along with other greens gives the whole open area a unified look.

  • Haha, had to giggle reading this post, as I’ve got my contractor here currently removing the stain from my orangey oak floors. Hoping for a mid toned brown!

  • Lisa says:

    But is there no way she could have painted her walls, say, pale blue, kept the counters and gone for bright contrast?

    • Maria Killam says:

      But there is no blue in the room? I’m not sure what you’re asking. The countertops are earthy and totally unrelated to the more current look and feel of the adjoining space. That’s why, in my opinion, they should be changed. Thanks for your question! Maria

  • Joanne G says:

    Very informative post as always Maria. Even though I took your course, have all your Ebooks etc. I still learn somrthing new from you!

  • Cherie says:

    Yikes! That busy counter top and the totally unrelated backsplash – both are bossy AND yelling at each other! You’re right Maria, nothing but an expensive finish change will help here. Maybe if they started first with a white backsplash, and white on the walls and new white counter stools, they might be able to live with the countertop for a bit longer?

    • Joan says:

      I agree with this – the white mosaic tile, maybe in a shade of white that works with the counter, since she prefers a less traditional look? This would tie in with the sofa and white in the bookcases in the living room.

  • I love your examples of how great a black and white scheme can look. So inspiring!

  • Mariann says:

    Take care when selecting med brown flooring – seeing a lot more of samples which are to flat or ‘baby poo’ brown. Needs some warmth.

  • sandyc says:

    I’m glad your reader is open to changing her countertops (and backsplash) to white. It’s the only hope for living with that kitchen now and the first step for any hope of achieving the “clean lines, airy and elegant interiors” she craves. The photos you chose exemplify exactly what she’s looking for but they both revolve around white countertops and backsplashes. Interesting to me, the second photo shows primarily white cabinets and that would be an option for your reader way down the road if she needed “brighter”, but right now I hope she’ll read every post you’ve ever written on countertops and white countertops and I hope she’ll scan Houzz or other sites for tons of pix of kitchens similar to your suggested photos to sharpen her vision, bolster her spirits and ease the pain of writing that big check. And then I hope she’ll share the results with you and all of us.

  • anne says:

    i am a color consultant in a paint store (benjamin moore). i get questions like this all the time. paint can’t do it all!! yesterday, a customer wanted to pair dusty mauve with greenish-goldish-bronze. yikes. 2 hours and many paint chips later a solution was found: get rid of mauve, get rid of the green/gold and paint everything elmira white. none of it was my taste but sometimes you have to take the client where they are and gently nudge them in the direction they seem to want to go. at the end of the 2 hours, she said “oh, by the way — i’m partially color blind!” LOL

  • Susanne says:

    Just by looking at the picture (maybe colors are off on my screen?), I think there is a little bit of white (pendants, grout lines, veining in counters) in the kitchen that relates back to the sofa in the living room. But the connection could be made stronger by reupholstering the bar stools in white leather, replacing the kitchen accessories with all white ones, painting all walls white.. While not 100% ideal, it might do the trick and be less expensive then replacing counters and backsplash…

  • Marcia Lynch says:

    Maria, Would you address waiting wall color with trim color? I have Atrium White (BM) on my bedroom walls, for example. It looks good, but the trim BM White 01) looks flattened and gray. I don’t know what to use for the trim.
    I’m also about to paint a bedroom in Lilac Mist (BM) in a room that has SW light. What color trim will work? Super White (BM) looks too bright to me.

  • sherry says:

    I actually did locate some magical paint and this weekend painted my dining room black. Magically, the stained woodwork that I was not in love with is no longer screaming at me.

    Tomorrow I will be doing the same in my bedroom.

  • V says:

    Maria, thank you for answering my question. I have been agonizing over it for many months. Your answer and the comments from other readers help a lot. The picture was taken when the house was still staged. I was also appalled by the mix of furniture and detail choices that were made. I sent this blog entry to my builder and told him to get a new decorator STAT! I was further shocked to find that the person who staged the house was also the one specifying the hard finishes, which as you pointed out, don’t relate at all. They should reimburse me for the undue distress due to the decorator’s mambo jumbo aesthetic! Thank you again for everyone’s feedback and, Maria, a sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now I feel better knowing that there is a legitimate reason why I didn’t like that living area.

  • Mariann says:

    If you don’t mind answering, what is your plans for changing? I assume then the white sofa wasn’t yours?

  • V says:

    @MARIAAN: I am contemplating to changing the countertop to either marble or Quartz, but need to work it in the budget first. I already have white bar stools and planning to add white voile curtains.

    I am considering a sofa that is a Dove color ( — see the color here, it is kind of light grey/tan depending on the lighting. I will be choosing the tone-on-tone piping.

    What coffee table would match that sofa, do you think? I was thinking about this gold one, but not sure if it will go with the sofa. Advise?

    It may take a while, but I will definitely send Maria pictures of post renovation and after decoration. Thank you again, ladies!

    • Mariann says:

      Yikes before spending $3k on a sofa, wait till you change the countertops. If not changing the countertops or backsplash in the near future, then pay for Maria or someone else to help you choose some new furniture and paint colour. If the white sofa in the staged pictures came with the house when you purchased, look at slip covering it if decent quality.

  • Debbie says:

    i think the kitchen looks pretty sleek already. I would paint the walls and get a different sofa or slip cover it in a color that relates. IMO earth tones can look sleek and airy. The style of the cabinets already have that sleek feel.

  • mairi says:

    My cognac leather furniture would look divine next to that countertop!
    There are always buyers who are planning a reno that you could sell your countertop to on Kijiji/Craigslist. At least it may offset the replacement cost. Good luck with your choices.

  • I agree that paint colors can only do so much. Some of my clients spend thousands remodeling their kitchen, then call me in to choose the wall color after the fact. This makes me crazy since 90% of the time they’ve made poor color choices in materials.

  • Teresa says:

    Whoo Hoo, today is the day that my master bathroom gets painted. It was the first room that I remodeled and the only room left with completely the wrong undertone. It’s been 3+ years of waking up to yuk. I discovered you in time to save myself and the rest of the remodel. Thank you!

  • Nancy says:

    Maria you are of course so right on .
    I’m not by any means a expert ,
    But I’m not sure why those counters were used
    To my eye the counter and back splash don’t go with the black cabinets .
    It looks like contemporary meeting Tuscan .
    Impossible to ever pull that together and make it work .

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