Color and Interior Paint – How To Get It Right

image left © Klatimer; striped room © House & Home Magazine Canada

I have been a student of color theory since 1986, and I still consider myself a student. I have used color as a fine artist, in packaging for Walt Disney products, in clothing for gift shops, and in countless rooms – and it still surprises me from time to time.

Some DIY and Home and Garden television shows get color right in the same way that Nancy Kerrigan made figure skating appear effortless. But I have seen “expert” advice that can inhibit success.

Many design shows promote painting swatches on a colored wall to choose color! If paint colors were people, advertisers would be thrilled. Color is the most easily influenced component of visual language (which includes color, shape and form). If you base color choice on a test patch of turquoise painted on a taupe wall, brace yourself. Remember – you are painting out the taupe.

This influence is so profound, that if you paint the same green beside a brighter and lighter green and a magenta, the you will see the identical green swatches appear to become 2 different greens.

Large test areas of color are preferable to tiny chips, but first create a larger white background and separate your test colors by no less than 3 inches. White is amongst the least influential colors, and will allow you to accurately visualize the end result.

Light also influences color. Never, ever choose a color in the paint store! You need only turn your back on the paint sample display lighting to see what I mean. If you are feeling timid about painting samples on your wall, buy a paint test sheet at your Benjamin Moore dealer or double coat flat pieces of card board with your favorite colors (you will need to coat your cardboard first with primer, or gesso for an accurate result).  Live with these paint colors from morning through night – color changes with lighting throughout the day.

Pick your color based on what you own, unless you are changing your furnishings. This sounds obvious, but I have seen regret from going with your heart rather than the sofa.

It’s only paint and you can re do it – but your free time is probably at a premium. Prepping to paint can take 3 x longer than painting. If you really love a particular color or colors, change out your accessories to bring in colors you love. One reliable tip is to choose accessories (pillows, panels, lamp shades) in vivid solid colors you love. Mix with patterns that include these solid color(s) and the colors of your largest upholstered furniture piece as the least prominent color in the pattern. Base your wall color on the analogous color family of that largest upholstered furniture piece.

If you are color phobic and have neutral walls and furnishings, making your statement with some well-placed accessories with strong accent colors, and fabrics with large open pattern will offer romance with color without having to marry 4 walls of it. Keeping walls neutral allows for seasonal rotation of accessories that will keep your design fresh.

Neutral doesn't need to mean "boring" (image from a re-design for a small bedroom)

Get inspired by colorful accessories at


Find fabulous options to bring color trends 2012/2013 and beyond home with easily changed color accents at


10 Responses to Color and Interior Paint – How To Get It Right

  1. Teresa says:

    What a lovely site! As a professional color consultant and instructor it’s nice to see such a well written and informative blog about color. Where so many people get it wrong, you most certainly got it right. great info can’t wait to see more.

    • klatimer says:

      Thank you Teresa, all the more meaningful coming from a color peer! I hope that everyone understands that right and wrong results translate to advised and unadvised experiments. The goal here is to teach, and never to discourage. I have been a student of color since 1986 and it still has loads to teach me – but I love sharing what I continue to learn!

  2. Amy Hughes says:

    I’m so broke right now it’s ridiculous but I need to update my home so I can sell it. After searching everywhere for some kind of direction, trying to find what was on trend and would help me make good decisions- suddenly there you were! Better yet- it wasnt just a plain old blog of pictures, like so many others. You do such a nice job of providing information that is relevant and revelatory! (see the green swatch above- wow!- whodathunk!)
    Thank you for your posts here- I’ve got you “pinned” so others can find you too-

    • klatimer says:

      Thank you, Amy! There is no higher praise than hearing that you helped someone in the decision-making process of design! Staging is an intimidating prospect, but when all is said and done really so much easier than the art of personalizing, which requires allot more objectivity. I don’t know if you have ever watched HGTV’s Designed to Sell. In some ways, it is really pretentious – their $2K budget omits the cost of labor, and the 25 other people behind the camera. But many of the concepts are very solid, and the best of these in my mind is Lisa LaPorta. Her remarks are insightful and concise. Here are some before and afters that may help: Some require more expertise than others, but there are tutorials out there on so many things. Remember, your best friend on any re-do is prep; do it right and you will succeed. Good Luck!

  3. Carolyn Vagts says:

    I love your take on color trends. I will be visiting often.

  4. Diane Mikitson says:

    wow – your site ahs been so helpful. I found it by googling 2012 paint color trends. I’m finihsing my basement and want a fun – updated room. Your discussion on Pantone 2012-2013 color palletes is most helpful.

  5. Virginia says:

    I just linked to your blog today after running across it. =) Thanks for the great info. I’ll be coming back!

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