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How to Create the Perfect Whole House Color Scheme: 10 Steps to Follow

Updated: Apr 19

Before buying that first bucket of paint, there is an incredible power in thinking carefully about a cohesive color scheme that works from room to room in your home. Continuity of design helps create stronger senses of connection and flow and will help your spaces feel larger and more open. Learn how to craft your whole house palette to elevate your design projects with careful intention and thought.


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Whole House Palette With Neutral and Affordable High End Coastal Modern Design

Shop current Target faves from Studio McGee and Magnolia to round out your perfect palette. Neutrals never rock the boat!

 

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1. Identify Your Mood, Personality and Character.

If you are like me and enjoy browsing on Zillow, imagine what those 40 images would capture and say about the character and personality of your home or your lifestyle. Do you want to revere the historic quality of your home? How do you want people to feel when they spend time in your home? Do you want it to feel contemporary, comfortable, chic?


Designers strive to create environments that positively influence the wellbeing of occupants. The most popular "atmospheres" that are strived for in residential design include:

  • Calm and Relaxing

  • Warm and Welcome

  • Cozy and Inviting

  • Serene and Tranquil

  • Bright and Airy

  • Modern and Sleek

  • Eclectic and Vibrant

  • Rustic and Charming

  • Luxurious and Elegant

  • Playful and Lively

  • Timeless and Classic

  • Coastal and Relaxed


When my Chris and I decided to revamp our 1920's American Foursquare home in Rhode Island, we naturally gravitated toward a coastal modern aesthetic anchored by the timeless and classic architecture that originally drew us, like a magnet, to our home. We wanted to respect the character and history of our region while freshening up a very old and outdated home. We knew that the right color palette would be crucial to achieving the desired ambiance. While, at the time, while warm neutrals and beiges were super popular, we went against the grain and instead opted for neutral cool-leaning tones that felt fresher and crisper in our particularly worn out spaces. In a poetic sense, the soft grays, calming blues, and muted greens evoke the tranquil feel of our coastal region and infused our home with a soothing and relaxing atmosphere. Moreover, the colors complement the classic architecture of our Foursquare house, bridging the gap between its timeless charm and our contemporary vision and "interventions."


I really wanted a space that we would want to spend weekends in, that felt like vacation all the time and where we weren't sad if we were rained in or didn't need to book a destination vacation to enjoy fresh air. Our goal on every project has been to align our concepts to coastal serenity with modern elegance, creating spaces that truly feels like a comfortable, yet functional retreat right in the heart of Rhode Island.


To balance the cool tones of the existing architecture, we mixed in natural wood finishes and breezy, beachy textures to warm up the space and help it feel comfortable and inviting. We often lean towards natural fibers like jute and weaves in the décor such as rugs, fixtures and furniture and opt for light, breezy fabrics and upholstery such as linen.


Rhode Island has a rich history, as well as our home, so we incorporated classic elements in the space of the era in which the home was built. Our light fixtures and hardware have modern lines while mixing in finishes and subtle influences from the 1920's architecture and style - such as bronze and exposed bulbs.




Rhode Island Coastal Vibes we love from Amazon:



2. Create Continuity and Flow.

Due to the open nature of our first floor and matching trim accents, it made sense to link our rooms together using identical paints. We feared that overly distinguishing the spaces would work against our moderate open flow concept, which is quite atypical of a Foursquare and for the historic homes in our neighborhood, so we wanted to make sure to emphasize it as much as possible. It is okay to paint a whole house one color, but this only really works if the color chosen is either a neutral (white, cream, pale beige or light gray) with different accent colors layered over the top, or if you use different tones and shades of the same color in different rooms, chosen to suit that particular room. We knew we


Whole house palette color plans with neutral coastal modern paint colors from Benjamin Moore

3. Assess Your Lighting Conditions.

Lighting conditions have a significant impact on the overall appearance and perception of color within your home. Different lighting sources and intensities can alter the way colors look, leading to variations in the overall house palette. Here are some key aspects to consider regarding your lighting conditions:


Natural Light: The most dynamic and influential lighting source is natural light. Sunlight changes throughout the day and varies in intensity and color temperature. In the morning and evening, natural light tends to be warmer with a golden hue, while during midday, it is cooler and bluer. This can make colors appear differently at different times, so it's essential to observe your color choices under different natural lighting conditions.

  • North-Facing Rooms: North-facing rooms tend to receive indirect and consistently cooler light throughout the day.

  • South-Facing Rooms: South-facing rooms receive the most sunlight throughout the day, resulting in brighter and warmer light.

  • East-Facing Rooms: East-facing rooms receive morning sunlight, which is typically cooler and softer compared to the intense afternoon light.

  • West-Facing Rooms: West-facing rooms receive afternoon sunlight, which tends to be warmer and intense.

Whole House Palette Sun Diagram with color temperatures based on room orientation

Artificial Light: Different types of artificial lighting (such as incandescent but most commonly LED) have distinct color temperatures. Incandescent light tends to be warm, and most LED light products offer a range of color temperatures to choose from (or can be adjustable). Options can range from 2700K-5000K, varying from warm to neutral. These variations can cause color shifts in your home's palette, making colors look warmer or cooler than intended. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K) and defines how warm or cool the light source appears. Lower Kelvin temperatures (around 2700K-3000K) create a warm, cozy ambiance, while higher Kelvin temperatures (around 5000K-6500K) produce cooler and more energetic lighting. Natural Daylight is considered to be 5000K-6000K.


For recessed fixtures used across all of the spaces in our home, our favorite product for both price point, function, and ease of installation are the Halo Canless Dimmable fixtures from Home Depot and Amazon, in both 4" and 6" depending on the room. We love how the color temperature is "selectable" and can be changed over time, increasing flexibility for different preferences which is helpful for resale.


For accent fixtures such as a pendant over the sink or our bedroom sconces, we use 2700k LED Edison Bulbs.


Lighting Color Temperature Chart in Kelvin for Interior Lighting Design



4. Draw From Existing Architectural Elements and Character.

Considering existing architectural elements in a home when crafting a whole house palette is crucial because these elements serve as the foundation and framework for the overall design. The architectural features of a house are permanent and cannot be easily changed, so it's essential to work with them rather than against them.


Architectural elements, such as moldings, trims, columns, and built-in features, contribute to the character and charm of a home. By incorporating these elements into the color palette, you can enhance their visual impact and make them stand out as unique features. Some architectural elements carry historical or cultural significance. By considering these elements in the color palette, you can help preserve the authenticity and integrity of the home's design, respecting its original style and character.


Some architectural elements naturally become focal points in a room. For instance, when searching for homes, we were immediately drawn to the coffered ceilings and wall paneling on our first floor. While originally these features were a beautiful wood finish, the wood was in bad shape and we knew we wouldn't be able to restore it to proper quality. We also wanted to brighten our spaces as much as possible. After careful consideration, we decided to paint our wood accents.



However, in an effort to conserve them as "features" we made subtle twists in our paint selections to emphasize the architecture. While we decided to paint the coffering white, we contrasted the ceiling panels (that would typically be painted white) to match the wall finishes. This allowed the space to feel cohesive while allowing the beautiful trimwork to stand out.


We used the same color for the wall paneling as the adjacent plaster walls but dialed up the gloss. Considering the original material was wood, it felt counterintuitive to use a matte finish paint on the glossy paneling. A semi-gloss surface has a slight sheen that adds depth and dimension to the paneling. We wanted to showcase the character of the paneling while still achieving a polished, modern, open and bright look, and the semi-gloss finish allowed us to strike that balance.


Take a look at the Before and After's of our Living and Dining Room spaces to see more pictures of these transformative projects!



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5. Consider Adjacent Finishes.

Considering adjacent finishes, such as millwork, tile, and counters when building a whole house palette is essential for creating a cohesive and harmonious interior design. Regardless of whether your plan to replace these finishes or add new, the more you can anticipate about the way different finishes interact with each other will significantly impact the overall look and feel of your home.


If finishes in adjacent areas clash, it can create a jarring effect as you move from one room to another. Colors that don't harmonize or patterns that compete with each other can make the entire house feel disjointed. Coordinating adjacent finishes allows you to strike a balance in the overall design. For instance, if the kitchen backsplash tile has a bold pattern or color, you can balance it with more neutral countertops or vice versa. This ensures that no single element overwhelms the space, and the different finishes complement each other in terms of proportion and visual weight. Strategize and be deliberate about your focal points.



6. Think About Room Function.

Different rooms serve specific purposes, such as relaxation, work, dining, or socializing. The right color palette can support and enhance the functionality of each space. Warm, earthy tones in a dining room can foster a sense of coziness and encourage gathering, while cool and airy colors in a bathroom can promote a spa-like ambiance.


Each room's function also influences its design elements, including furniture, decor, and lighting. A well-planned color palette helps tie these elements together, creating a coherent and aesthetically pleasing design.


The color palette can play a role in defining functional zones within open-concept spaces. By using colors strategically, you can delineate areas for different activities, creating efficient and organized living spaces.


Current Target Faves from Studio McGee and Magnolia that allow for flexible function. Benches are perfect ways to enhance seating for entertainment or to add little moments of decor oomph:


7. Start with Your Common Spaces.

The common spaces of a home are areas that are shared and used by multiple occupants and guests. These spaces typically include the living room, dining room, kitchen, entryway, and sometimes hallways. Common spaces are used regularly by all household members and visitors. Since these areas see the most foot traffic and activity, these spaces should take precedence in setting the foundation for your wholistic design concept.


Common spaces are often the first areas seen by guests when they enter the home. Placing energy and emphasis (and perhaps more of the budget) on these spaces will most efficiently lead you towards a successful design. Common spaces usually require more attention to detail and planning due to their larger size and greater visibility. By starting with these areas, you can efficiently select colors, furnishings, and décor that will work well in other rooms as you move through the rest of the house, saving time and effort.


The colors chosen for the common spaces can free you up for more adventurous and bold color decisions in adjacent rooms and hallways. When you have a solid foundation in these common areas, it becomes easier to make choices for private spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms, ensuring a complementary overall look. Private spaces, such as bedrooms and home offices, often reflect individual preferences and personalities. By establishing a cohesive palette in the common areas, you provide a versatile backdrop that can adapt to the diverse styles or playfulness that you may be interested in introducing elsewhere in the home.


Whole House Paint Palette with Coastal Modern Netural Paints from Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams


8. Layer in Accents, Pops of Color, Contrast and Texture.

Layering accents, pops of color, and contrast into your whole house palette are small and easy ways to add depth, visual interest, and personality to your home's interior. Select specific areas or objects where you want to incorporate accents and pops of color. These can include throw pillows, rugs, curtains, artwork, decorative accessories, or even a colorful accent wall. Focus on a specific inspirational piece that you'd like to focus on per room.


Leverage Color Theory to develop a complementary or analogous color scheme for the accents and pops of color.


9. Balance Modern and Historic.

Balancing modern and historic elements when designing a whole house palette can create a unique and harmonious living space that combines the best of both worlds. If you have an old home, bringing modern touches into the finishes, hardware, and furniture styles will help the home feel more up to date and crisp. If you have a new construction home consider mixing more antiques and rustic, softer elements. Antique or vintage furniture, accessories, and art can add a sense of history and charm to the blank canvas.


Shop Current Target faves with the perfect blend of neutral modern texture from Studio McGee and Magnolia:


10. Put it All Together.

Remember, your Palette is more than just paint - consider all of the following elements of your spaces. We've included our top picks for selections on products and finishes you may not yet have considered to whet your palette (pun intended)!

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Existing Conditions

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Dominant Colors

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Trim and Ceiling Paints

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Accents

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Wood Finishes

How to Choose Your Floor Finish

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Millwork

Most Popular Cabinet Fronts of 2023

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Stone and Tile Finishes

Most Popular Countertops of 2023

Fave Backsplashes of 2023

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Hardware and Fixtures

Light Fixtures

Door Hardware

Cabinet Hardware

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Metal Finishes

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Textures and Wall Treatments

Shiplap

Wall Paneling

Wallpaper

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Furniture

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Decor


Whole House Palette With Neutral and Affordable High End Coastal Modern Design

 

The ultimate goal of a whole house palette is to create a sense of harmony and flow throughout your house. By considering your existing architectural and lighting conditions, working from a neutral base, considering color and finish relationships, layering in accents, and gradually transitioning between spaces, you can create a cohesive and visually pleasing whole house color palette.


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