Fix-It Friday: Coloring Your World With Confidence… How To Choose A Paint Color

Woman with color plates in front of a green wall
Fix-It FridayHome Improvement 3 Comments

Choosing a paint color can be a daunting and stressful feat, especially if you don’t know where to start. I’ve seen many people with that deer-caught-in-headlights look as they stand stupefied in front of the paint chip wall. As far as I’m concerned, there should be a sign over the display that reads, “WARNING: Prolonged staring at paint chips can cause nausea, dizziness, and hallucinations!”

When renovating homes, clients often ask me my opinion as to what paint color they should “go with.” Loaded question! What works for me, may not work for them – color, like any matter of taste, is a very personal choice. My response to their question always involves several other questions. What mood do you want to create in this room? What décor are you going with? Have you been in a room you can remember that you loved the wall color? And so on…

There are so many factors that play a part in paint color choice. Over the years I’ve accumulated a list of ways people can narrow down color choices so coloring their world can be an enjoyable, effective, and stress-free process.


How To Choose A Paint Color

Woman Holding Paint Can With Painted Question Mark On WallWhat mood do you want to create? It’s an accepted belief in both the scientific and design worlds that color affects mood. When choosing a color you have to consider if it’s a room for relaxation, work, conversation, etc.

Here’s a broad stroke Color-Mood guide:

REDS = sensuous, warm, bold, appetite inducing

YELLOWS = happy, energized, stimulating

GREENS = nature, wellness, fresh & clean

BLUES = water, tranquility, calming

How much natural and artificial light is in the room? Dark wall color absorbs light. That might be fine if you want a dim, moody room, but it must be considered beforehand. Also keep in mind that creating artificial light takes up a large part of your power bill… another thing to think about!

Have you chosen your furniture and décor yet? If you have, choose a complimentary or sharply contrasting wall color that works with your décor color palette. If you haven’t and need to get the wall color up, go with a neutral. If that’s too boring for you, you can always go back and choose one or two walls to paint with an accent color. In my NY apartment, I painted the living room Benjamin Moore’s Navajo White, then after the apartment was set up, I chose one wall and painted it BM’s Warm Cognac, a color that I loved and pulled from my couch cushions.

Playroom interior.

Pull colors from nature. I had a friend who was building a small beach bungalow. She was utterly flummoxed by color choice. I suggested she take an oyster shell and choose a color palette from it. She pulled three colors from the shell – white, light gray & periwinkle – it worked and she loves it!

Pull colors from a loved article or object d’art. Let’s say you have a cherished vase or antique rug you just love, pull colors from it and build from there! Paint technology has gotten pretty amazing where you can go to a paint store with, let’s say, a vintage Blue Willow teacup, and have them match that exact color.

Browse design magazines. Tear out images of rooms that you really love and hang them in the room you’ll be painting. Envision the space with those colors and you’ll surely get inspired.

paint sampleInvest in paint jar samples. Once you’ve narrowed down colors, using paint chips really do nothing to help you understand what the color will look like around the room. It’s definitely worth buying the small sample sizes to do color tests at home.

To do that, get a large sheet of poster board, paint it, and hang it on the wall. Put the “tester” around different parts of the room and at different times of the day, as these factors will affect the color.

TIP: As a general rule, know that the colors on paint chips appear darker to the human eye once applied to the walls.


On a final note, paint finish is an important element to consider. Flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss all have a different look and functionality. Keep in mind that flat finishes have no “scrubability,” where as higher shine finishes wash well.

From a design standpoint, there’s no hard and fast rule on finish. Creatively, you can play with shine and no shine. For example, I once painted a wall with 4 inch strips of the same color, but alternated flat and satin. It gave the wall a subtle stripe pattern that created a designer element with simple wall paint.

Now that you’re armed with painting know-how power, go color your world with confidence!

Norma sig


Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.

Add your question to the comments section below or email it to Women You Should Know.

Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.

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  • Jean B.

    Norma, Perfect timing!!! We just purchased a new home, and your “choosing paint colors” couldn’t be more timely for me. I am going to commit what you have said to memory.

  • Jean B.

    As always, Norma, great advice!!

  • Gromet32

    I would add 2 tips

    The color on the wall always looks darker than on the paint chips so therefore choose a color 3 to 4 shades lighter than what you think you want on the sample paint and paint a 2 foot square.

    2) If you live in a part of the country which gets dark 4pm in the winter consider choosing your shade at night with your electric lights on. This is how you will see the paint color most of the time so it is the time you should select it.

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