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12 Designer Tips for Choosing the Best Interior Paint Color

Updated: Apr 19

The choice of interior paint color plays a significant role in setting the mood, ambiance, and overall aesthetic of a space. Here are some tips to select the best interior paint colors and leverage your selections to influence perception, reflect your personal style, complement décor, and interact with lighting. It is an essential element in creating a harmonious and visually appealing environment for you to thrive in.



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1. Understand the Basics of Color Theory.

Color theory is a framework that helps us understand and utilize the principles of color in art, design, and aesthetics. It explores how colors interact with each other, how they are perceived by the human eye, and how they can be combined to create harmonious and visually pleasing compositions. Color Theory is rooted in science and can be a powerful design and inspiration tool. It's worth it to take the time to understand How to Craft Your Whole House Palette. The basics of Color Theory include:

  • The Color Wheel

  • Primary Colors

  • Secondary Colors

  • Tertiary Colors

  • Color Harmony (Complementary, Analogous, Triadic)

  • Color Value

  • Color Saturation

  • Color Temperature

2. Think About Your Whole House Palette.

Creating a cohesive whole house color palette in design involves selecting a set of colors that harmonize and flow seamlessly throughout various rooms and spaces. Here is a comprehensive guide on How to Craft Your Whole House Palette.  Typically by selecting a neutral base, considering color relationships, limiting the number of colors, and gradually transitioning between spaces, you can create a cohesive and visually pleasing whole house color palette. Key considerations in creating your whole house palette include:

  • Style and Mood

  • Flow and Continuity

  • Lighting Conditions

  • Architectural Elements and Character

  • Adjacent Finishes

  • Room Function

  • Color Relationships and Undertones

  • Decor

3. Understand How Fan Decks and Paint Swatches Work.

A paint fan deck, also known as a color fan deck or paint swatch deck, is a tool used by both professionals and homeowners to choose and compare paint colors. It consists of a collection of color swatches organized in a fan-like format, hence the name. The colors are organized systematically, often following a specific color system or palette. They may be arranged by color families, such as blues, greens, or reds, or organized by shades and tones or may be offered as pre-curated "collections" such as historic colors, off-whites, and beyond. Depending on the format of your fan deck, you can use your fan deck as a color wheel to implement Color Theory by lightening in tone or navigating around the wheel to harmonize complementary colors.

While I highly recommend having a fan deck easily accessible at home as a resource for an enormous range of DIY projects, you can always visit a local paint store or big box home renovation store. Competitor paint suppliers can always color match your favorite selection if its from a different brand.

4. Orientation of Your Room Matters.

The orientation of a room relative to the cardinal directions (north, south, east, or west) can have a significant impact on how natural light enters the space throughout the day. This lighting condition can influence the perception and appearance of paint colors. Consider the orientation of a room in relation to the cardinal directions to select paint colors that work harmoniously with the available natural light.

North-Facing Rooms: North-facing rooms tend to receive indirect and consistently cooler light throughout the day. To counterbalance the cooler light, lean towards paint colors with warmer undertones. Warm neutrals, soft yellows, or light shades of peach or pink can help add warmth to a north-facing room without overwhelming it.

South-Facing Rooms: South-facing rooms receive the most sunlight throughout the day, resulting in brighter and warmer light. These rooms tend to have a higher color temperature and can handle a broader range of paint colors. However, it's also thus important to consider potential glare and the intensity of the sunlight. Cool colors, such as blues, greens, or cooler neutrals, can help create a balance and prevent the room from feeling overly bright or washed out.

East-Facing Rooms: East-facing rooms receive morning sunlight, which is typically cooler and softer compared to the intense afternoon light. These rooms often have a bluish hue in the morning. Lighter and warmer colors work well in east-facing rooms as they can help create a cozy and inviting atmosphere. Shades of soft yellows, warm beiges, or light greens can enhance the natural morning light and warm up the space.

West-Facing Rooms: West-facing rooms receive afternoon sunlight, which tends to be warmer and intense. These rooms can benefit from paint colors that can balance and cool down the strong sunlight. Consider using hues like blues, greens, or grays. Additionally, be mindful of potential glare and select paint finishes that minimize reflections.

Natural Light Intensity: The intensity of natural light can vary based on the geographic location, time of year, and other environmental factors. It's essential to consider the specific lighting conditions of the room. Rooms with large windows or unobstructed views may receive more intense light, while rooms with smaller windows or shading elements may have reduced light levels. These factors can influence how significantly light or dark the paint finish reads in the space.

*Note: Similar characteristics apply to the orientation of an entire room with its main opening facing a particular direction, affecting the room's overall lighting and temperature throughout the day. On the other hand, a west-facing wall refers to a specific wall within a room that faces west, influencing the lighting, views, and furniture placement in that particular area of the room.

Testing Paint Samples: Given the impact of natural light, it's advisable to test paint samples in the actual room and lighting conditions. Apply sample patches of different paint colors on multiple walls and observe how they look at various times of the day. Natural light changes throughout the day, and evaluating the samples in different lighting conditions will give you a more accurate sense of how the colors will appear in the space.

5. Use RGB Color Codes to Your Advantage.

RGB color codes are a numerical representation of colors in the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color model. This model is widely used in digital devices, such as computer screens, televisions, and digital images, to display and define colors. There are many different color models (such as CMYK, Hex, HSL and HSV), but RGB is one of the easiest to understand and reference when selecting a paint color.

The RGB color model is an additive color model, meaning that different intensities of red, green, and blue light are combined to create a wide range of colors. In this model, each color channel (red, green, and blue) has a value ranging from 0 to 255, representing the intensity or brightness of that color.

An RGB color code is typically represented as a series of three numbers, each ranging from 0 to 255. For example, the RGB code (255, 0, 0) represents the color red, while (0, 255, 0) represents green, and (0, 0, 255) represents blue. The order of the numbers corresponds to the red, green, and blue color channels.

By combining different intensities of red, green, and blue light, various colors can be created. For instance, equal intensities of red, green, and blue light (255, 255, 255) create white, while the absence of all three colors (0, 0, 0) represents black. Varying the intensity of each color channel allows for the creation of a vast spectrum of colors.

How To Hack Your Paint in RGB:

Depending on the undertones you are looking to achieve, harmonize with, or avoid - look to the RGB code of your desired paint color (by googling it)! The higher the value for the red, green or blue channel, the more intensely the color will lean towards red, green or blue. This is particularly helpful when trying to select very neutral colors such as off-whites, trims, and ceiling paints.

Now, also recall from Color Theory that there are complimentary colors, or colors that directly oppose one another on the color wheel. The complementary color pairs are: Red and Cyan, Green and Magenta, Blue and Orange. Therefore, the greater your Red, Green or Blue value, the lower the value of Cyan, Magenta, or Orange in your paint undertones.

6. Select the Right Paint Sheen.

Paint sheen refers to the level of glossiness or shininess of the paint finish. Consider both the desired aesthetic effect and the practical needs of the space. Higher sheens like semi-gloss and gloss are more durable and washable, making them suitable for areas prone to moisture and heavy use. Lower sheens like flat or matte provide a softer, more subdued appearance and are ideal for hiding imperfections. The choice of sheen can contribute to the overall visual impact and functionality of a painted space. Here is a more detailed outline of each:

Flat/Matte: Flat or matte sheen has a low or no gloss, providing a non-reflective finish and has become progressively popular in recent years for walls and other finished surfaces. Ceiling paint is typically flat. This sheen is great for hiding surface imperfections as it doesn't reflect light, making it ideal for ceilings and walls with less-than-perfect surfaces - for instance, our 100 year old horse hair plaster. It creates a smooth, velvety appearance and offers a softer, more understated look. However, it may be more prone to stains and can be less washable than higher sheens.

Eggshell: Eggshell is most widely known and is recognized by its subtle shine (similar to the texture of an eggshell, duh!). It strikes a balance between a matte and a satin finish, offering a slight hint of gloss. Eggshell provides a smooth and durable finish that is easy to clean and maintain, making it suitable for living rooms, bedrooms, and hallways. It offers more washability than flat paint and can resist mildew and moisture to some extent.

Satin: Satin offers a soft, smooth finish with a hint of gloss. Satin is versatile and is commonly used in areas that require frequent cleaning, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and children's rooms. It provides good washability, resists stains, and stands up well to moisture and mildew. Satin sheen reflects some light, giving a subtle glow to the painted surface.

Semi-Gloss: Semi-gloss sheen has a noticeable shine and reflects more light than satin. It offers a sleek, polished appearance and is highly durable and washable. Semi-gloss is commonly used on trim, doors, cabinets, and other high-traffic areas that require frequent cleaning. It can withstand moisture and humidity, making it suitable for bathrooms and kitchens. However, the higher gloss can also highlight surface imperfections and may require careful application (brush strokes are typically detectable).

Gloss: Gloss sheen has the highest level of shine and reflects light the most. It provides a lustrous, reflective finish that enhances the vibrancy of colors. Gloss sheen offers excellent durability, moisture resistance, and washability. It is often used on doors, trim, and cabinets for a high-gloss, polished look. However, it can also highlight surface imperfections and may require thorough surface preparation.

7. Google Your Preferences.

If there is a paint color you are leaning towards, google it! Typically there are a multitude of photographs of spaces that have used the paint color before. Getting a glimpse of a real-life application will help you get a better sense of the undertones of the paint, particularly when extrapolated to broader surfaces. You should easily be able to tell if a neutral color such as on off-white or grey leans more cool or warm, for instance. It's also a great way to gain additional inspiration for complementary accents!

8. Pull from the Pros.

As the expression goes, "imitation is the highest form of flattery." Most paint suppliers (Behr, Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams offer color collections with certain themes in mind, such as neutrals or historic colors. Certain designers may also recommend or feature their own product lines (such as Magnolia). These curated selections are less overwhelming and will align with your design tastes if you already know and trust the style of the designer.

9. When in Doubt, Keep It Neutral.

In addition to their general popularity, neutral paint colors play a crucial role in interior design for several reasons:

Versatility: Neutral colors are incredibly versatile and can work well with a wide range of design styles and aesthetics. They provide a blank canvas and flexible backdrop that allows other elements in the space, such as furniture, artwork, or decorative accessories to stand out, which also fosters the ability accommodate different design preferences and allowing for easy adaptation as styles change over time.

Timelessness: Neutral paint colors have enduring appeal and can withstand passing trends. They are less likely to become dated or fall out of fashion. This is especially important for those who prefer a more classic or understated look.

Visual Serenity: Neutrals create a sense of visual calmness in a space. They can foster a relaxing atmosphere, making them ideal for areas where a peaceful ambiance is desired (and which I would argue is a general vibe I enjoy in my entire home).

Enhancing Natural Light: Neutral paint colors can maximize the impact of natural light in a room. Lighter neutrals, such as whites, off-whites, or soft beige tones, reflect light and make a space feel brighter and more expansive and can amplify the natural light available, creating a more open and airy feeling.

Easy Coordination: Neutrals are highly compatible with a wide range of other colors. Neutrals provide a harmonious base that allows you to introduce pops of color or experiment with different accent shades without the risk of overwhelming the space.

Resale Value: Neutral paint colors are often favored in real estate and can enhance the resale value of a property. Potential buyers tend to prefer neutral palettes as they offer a blank canvas for personalization and easier envisioning of their own style and furnishings. Neutral walls create a sense of broad appeal and can make a home more marketable.

10. Test the Largest Swatches Possible, In Multiple Locations, with Accurate Lighting.

Testing a paint sample is important to ensure color accuracy, surface compatibility, durability, performance, and visual aesthetics. We prefer to compare small samples of multiple colors, then once down-selected, apply larger swatches. The larger the area of the sample, the more legible the undertones will appear.

Apply multiple coats. Depending on the opacity and coverage of the paint sample, you may need to apply multiple coats to achieve an accurate representation of the color. Often, darker colors will dry lighter and lighter colors will darken.

Beware of the under undertones. Note that if your surface isn't thoroughly primed, the contrasting undertones of the previous wall color may influence the rendering of the new paint samples. For example, our walls were originally a bright, mustard yellow. After priming, the yellow tones were still visible. As a result, any color painted on top would skew to appear cooler, or bluer in comparison to the yellow backdrop as opposed to a true white underlay. We took this into account when selecting our final paint color.

Daylight and artificial light both have a range of color temperatures that are also important to consider when selecting a paint color. Color temperature refers to the perceived warmth (yellowish tones) or coolness (bluish tones) of emitted light, typically measured in units called Kelvin (K). Different color temperatures will skew the color rendering of other finishes in the space.

Warm Light (2700K-3000K): Light fixtures with a color temperature of around 2700K-3000K emit warm, yellowish light similar to incandescent bulbs. This color temperature creates a cozy and inviting atmosphere, often associated with traditional or intimate settings such as living rooms, bedrooms, and dining areas, as it promotes a relaxed and comfortable ambiance. Our preference is to generally use 3000K for recessed lighting and 2700K for softer accent fixtures that we use to set a cozier mood at night.

Neutral White Light (3500K-4000K): Light fixtures with a color temperature of around 3500K-4000K emit a neutral white light that is neither warm nor cool. This range is often used in commercial or retail settings, offices, and workspaces where a balance between warmth and clarity is desired for task-oriented activities.

Cool White/Cool Daylight (5000K-6500K): Light fixtures with a color temperature of around 5000K-6500K emit cool, bluish-white light similar to natural daylight and are typically not desirable for residential applications. Cool white light is known for its clarity, crispness, and ability to enhance focus and productivity. Natural daylight is typically considered to be in the range of 5500K-6500K. 6000K is considered true white.

11. Consider Your Other Design Components. Mood Boards are KEY.

A mood board is a visual representation or collage that conveys the overall mood, theme, style, and concept of a design project. It is a collection of images, textures, colors, patterns, materials, and other visual elements that help communicate the desired aesthetic. Composing a mood board is a quick way to grasp how the elements of your space work together and will help you make decisions based on swapping different options.

Mood boards are often used in the professional industry, although they may be referred to by other terms such as "visual mockups" and extend from digital imagery, to physical sample palettes, to renderings and 3D models, to full scale built in-situ construction.

12. Stay Up-to-Date with Interior Design Trends.

Following trends helps you stay updated with the latest color palettes, furniture designs, and decor elements, ensuring your home feels fresh and relevant. Additionally, being aware of current trends enables you to make informed decisions when renovating or selling your property, maximizing its value and appeal to potential buyers or tenants. Here are some relevant trends to stay in-tune with right now:

  • Neutral Tones + Whites.

  • Bold Accent Colors on statement walls or used uniformly on trim and ceiling in contrasting gloss values.

  • Metallic Finishes in accent details and trim.

  • Matte Finishes on broad wall surfaces and plaster walls.

  • Custom Murals or Hand Painted elements.

  • Biophilic Colors: Nature-inspired colors like muted greens, soft blues, and earthy tones are chosen to create a connection with the outdoors and promote a sense of tranquility.

  • High-Gloss Finishes in trimwork and millwork reflect extra light.

  • Subdued Pastels: Subtle pastel shades, such as blush pink, soft lavender, and pale blue, are incorporated for a delicate and refined aesthetic.

  • Textured paint finishes, like limewash or roman plaster, add depth and tactile interest.


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