In regards to my decorating skills, I often get asked if I went to design school. The short answer is yes, kinda. I started out my college career majoring in interior design and spent a year in the program at Washington State University. But being an indecisive, flaky 19 year-old, I changed my major and got my degree in something completely unrelated to design. It’s something I’ve regretted for many years.
My one year of design school coupled with my God-given knack for decorating have been a huge asset to making my own home look good, running my own decorating business and writing this blog. But the biggest way I’ve honed my decorating skills is by trial and error, by not being afraid to experiment, and learning from the mistakes I’ve made.So I wanted to start a new series here on the blog called Decorating Mistakes to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way or that I’ve seen many of my design clients struggling with. My hope is that this series will save you from making some of the same mistakes in your endeavors to tastefully decorate your own home.
One of the aspects of design that most people seem to struggle with is selecting paint colors for their walls. With thousands upon thousands of paint colors to choose from, it’s no wonder this can be such a daunting task.
So how do you know how to even start selecting a paint color? Well, let me tell you two stories from personal experience that illustrate what not to do.
The first story is from many years ago when we bought our very first house. All of the walls in our house were stark, glossy white. I knew I wanted to warm things up a bit and tone down the sheen, but I had never been through the process of selecting a paint color before. So Jacob and I stopped into Home Depot, pulled out a few light beige samples, compared them and then chose one of the colors we both thought would look good in all of the main areas of the house. We were in a hurry to get the house painted before we moved in so we bought a 5 gallon bucket of the paint, went home and started painting.
We spent a full day painting all of the walls in the family room, dining room, and hallway and when I finally stepped back to admire our work, it looked like we had painted everything a yellowish-peach color. It was definitely not what I had envisioned. But after spending a lot of money on the paint and a whole day painting, we were not in the mood to repaint. So we lived with it for 5 years until we moved.
I learned two very important lessons from that mistake.Don’t rush into choosing a paint color. Paint swatches in a store are going to look completely different than they do in your home. Do yourself a favor and at least take the swatches home to see how they look in your home’s lighting, next to your furniture.You want your walls painted before you move in. I’ve been there and I get it. But if you pick the paint color first without considering what else you are going to put in the room, you pin yourself in a corner as far as finding the right things to match it.
Get the room planned and then select the paint to support all of the other elements in the space. You can take your color cues from fabrics, whether it’s accent pillows or a rug that has a pattern or print to it. That’s a great jumping off point for selecting a color for a space.
The second story is from when we moved into our second house. It was a brand new house and all of the walls were a blank slate, covered in flat off-white builder grade paint. I craved warmth, a little color and a paint sheen that was easier to wipe clean. Determined not to make the same mistake I had in our first house, I turned to some of my favorite decor blogs to see what paint colors they had used in their homes. This time, I wasn’t going to blindly choose a color while in a home improvement store.
I fell in love with how the color Tobacco Leaf by Marth Stewart looked in Melissa from The Inspired Room‘s home. It’s a tan color with a hint of warm gray, which one would think would go well in just about any room. I figured that since it looked so good in her house, surely it would look great in mine too. So I went with it.At the time, I didn’t realize that paint colors look different from house to house, depending on lighting, furnishings, and flooring and trim colors. I didn’t take into consideration that all of our furniture is tan, our carpet is tan, and our trim is wood toned. Duh.It’s a decent paint color and it doesn’t look terrible, but with all of the tan furnishings and fixtures in our family room, it just looks like a boring sea of tan. Even though the paint color has a touch of gray in it, it reads as tan because of all of the tan items surrounding it. If I had the time and energy, I would definitely repaint the room with a color that provides more dimension and contrast.
The lessons I learned from that mistake:Just because a paint color looks good in someone else’s house, doesn’t mean it will look good in yours. Unless your home is an exact replica of someone else’s house with the same furnishings, fixtures, and lighting, paint colors are going to look different from house to house.For example, I painted a few rooms in my house with BM Revere Pewter, but had it lightened by 25%. One of my friends liked the color, tested it on her walls and decided it was too dark for her home, so she had it lightened by 50%. Another friend decided she liked it too and tested it in her home. It looked perfect in her home at full strength. Three different homes all tried the same paint color and it looked different in all three houses.
The moral of that story: Always test paint colors on your walls!!You need to choose a paint color that will compliment your furnishings, fixtures, and lighting and not match it exactly. If your wall color is too close to the color of your furniture, your room will end up looking very boring and not well-thought out. Try going several shades lighter or darker than your furniture or choosing an accent color.
These rookie lessons I learned might seem like total no-brainers to many of you, but you wouldn’t believe how many of my friends and design clients say things like, “I’m going to paint my space xxx color because I saw it on Pinterest and loved it” or “My sister painted her kitchen xxx color and it looks so good that I want to use the exact same color in my living room.” I always end up telling people the stories I just shared with you to illustrate how those are not good ways to make paint color decisions.
The no-fail way I now select paint colors is to bring my paint swatches into a space and select a handful of colors that will compliment what is already in the space and give the room the kind of personality I envision. Then I go to the paint store and purchase sample cans of those colors and test them on the walls in the space. It really helps to be able to see the paint colors up on the walls in different lighting situations to know which one is going to work best.I recommend waiting a few days and looking at the samples on your wall at different times throughout the day, when the lighting changes. You want to make sure it’s a color you really like and can live with long-term, unless you enjoy painting your walls repeatedly 🙂
I have used this method when selecting paint colors for every room in my current house and many, many clients’ homes and it has worked every single time. It’s just too bad I had to learn those lessons the hard way!