Painting indoors: The right colour choice doesn't come out of the blue

Though it’s sheer delight for some and a true nightmare for others, colour selection is invariably a crucial step once the decision is made to get out the brushes and rollers and paint a home’s walls and ceilings.

If you lack the “colour touch”—that seemingly innate ability to create a successful harmony of hues—the following advice will surely be a big help!

Key steps in your “palette project”
“You want to choose an ‘anchor’ for a new décor scheme: an item that you’ve always loved, or perhaps one that you’ve just fallen in love with,” recommends Sophie Bergeron, a Colour and Design Manager for Benjamin Moore paints. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a painting, a sofa, a cushion or a photo—as long as it’s something you really love, your favourite colours are very probably part of it. This is a proven method for designing your colour palette.”

The next step is to go on a “colour safari.” Hunt for inspiration in home décor magazines. Head for your nearest fabric store. Be curious and trend-aware, but above all trust your feelings: it will be fairly obvious which colours “speak to you.”


Harmonies, contrasts and reflections
In addition, here are some basic principles to guide you on your quest:


  • Choose colours that blend well with the most expensive existing décor element in a room; e.g., the carpeting, sofa or window dressing.
  • In the various sections of open areas (e.g., living room, dining room, kitchen, entryway, stairwell), colours must blend properly to create harmonious connections. A transition between areas painted in contrasting colours, however, can be softened by adding a decorative element that includes both those colours.
  • In a bedroom, office or bathroom, on the other hand, it’s often a good idea to create an ambience distinct from that in the rest of the house.
  • In a darker room, you can maximize natural-light dispersion by painting the window trim white, in a glossy finish.
  • Remember that darker colours and matte finishes absorb light rather than reflecting it.
  • A colour will usually appear darker when applied to the ceiling, because that surface receives an average of 30% less light than the walls and floors.

How to look more closely and choose wisely
Keep in mind that, once you’ve been to the paint store and started looking at colours, your memory is your least reliable ally! “Apparently, we don’t retain a precise visual memory of a colour for more than two or three seconds,” Ms. Bergeron notes. So bringing back samples is a must. Some useful tips:

  • Remember that the colours on paint chips are reproduced using matte paint. The glossier the finish you choose, the darker those colours will appear.
  • To get the best idea of how colours will look after application, whether on walls or ceilings, lay the samples directly against the surface to be painted, and especially where different colours and finishes will intersect. Ask if larger-format samples are available; they will help you judge the colours better.
  • See how the colour samples look in daylight as well as with the artificial lighting you use at night.
  • After you find a colour combination you like, wait a few days and then study the effect a second time to be sure.
  • Don’t rely on what the paint looks like in the can or when it goes on wet. The colour will always appear darker after the paint dries—and in fact, with latex paint, it takes from 14 to 28 hours for the final hue and gloss to become apparent.

All these tips and tricks, of course, are only worth following if they help to create a living environment that is conducive to the well-being that you seek. Beyond what the current fashions and trends say, what really matters is for you to feel at home in your home.