Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big Advice About Paint

My May House Beautiful is here. "The Big Advice Issue". Though I've paged through it only briefly, I've seen enough to know that it delivers what it promises. All the inspiration we've come to expect plus nuts and bolts, real-world decorating advice backed up by examples and reasoning. The stand-out tip for me so far? This from the editor's page: "Pick your paint colors last." Woo hoo for me! Validation from none other than Stephen Drucker! (Why, oh why, is he leaving HB?! I'm so sad about that. Happy for him though. Read more about it.)

Let me tell you a story... A few years ago I attended a series of classes at a local college, refresher courses if you will, as I prepared to re-enter this field. One of them was a basic overview of interior design principles and techniques that I used as an opportunity to pick up the tools and get the juices flowing again. For one assignment, our instructor divided us into groups of three. Each team was given a program—the objectives and goals of a specific space and client—and was asked to use the resources in the classroom to design a concept board.

My partners insisted that we select paint colors first. I said "Let's choose upholstery first", "Let's look at flooring" and things like that. Repeatedly. They ignored me and, I sensed, considered me quite annoying. They successfully overruled me, chose a couple of paint colors, and we set about searching for fabrics, carpet, tile and wood finishes. A process which took far longer than it should have and here's why:

We live in a world of limitless paint color choices. Every conceivable hue, tint, shade and tone is out there somewhere. And if you haven't the time to search for just what you think you want, custom color mixing is as close as your nearest home-improvement store. There will, however be only one sofa that you fall madly in love with. One hand-scraped, reclaimed hardwood that you must have as your kitchen floor. One, and only one area rug that makes your antique dining set sing.

Most new homeowners will rush to paint all the rooms before moving in. "Toasty Taupe in the living room!". "Cloudless Sky in the bedroom!". It seems to make sense. Painting while the rooms are empty. But choosing paint colors without first knowing what you'll put into those rooms could be a big mistake. Adding other elements after paint could cause a clash of undertones. Now the paint looks too pink, too yellow, too gray. What seemed like the perfect fresh green for your living room walls might look dirty or dull after you bring in your new sofa. Even if you don't plan to buy a whole room full of new furnishings right away, know what you will buy when you can buy and base your paint choices on that. Or base your paint color on an element in the room you know won't change: your heirloom chair or a cherished piece of art.

It takes some planning and thinking ahead, but in the end, it will always be easier to find a paint color that complements your new chairs and carpeting than it will be to find an upholstery fabric you love that goes with a hastily chosen paint color. One more tip about paint from House Beautiful via Stephen Drucker: "Never, ever paint an entire room until you've lived with big sample boards of three possible paint colors for 24 hours". Or, as in the above photo, samples painted directly onto your walls. However you go about it, give yourself time to see the paint colors you're considering at all hours of the day. In both natural and artificial light.

To read a step-by-step guide for choosing paint colors, click on the photo above. The solid, basic advice is easy to follow. If you still don't trust your own judgement, hiring a professional who's done this countless times before will be worth the cost—in both time and money. For a fun way to explore your favorite color combinations, click the image below. Seriously. Click on that cabbage. And to see how one amazing artist interprets the color schemes she sees in everyday objects and nature, click here to visit Kris. Her love of color is contagious.

Color is fun! Choosing color can be too. But, whenever possible, do it last to get it right. Oh, and my classmates who chose wall color first? They also dismissed my suggestion to paint our imaginary room's ceiling a soft, complementary color. Never heard of such a thing, they said. I hope they've learned more about choosing and using paint colors by now. (Or have chosen different careers.)


the gardeners cottage said...

Hi Tracy,

First, love the new header.

Second, nice post full of info. Too bad your classmates didn't know how brilliant you are. Ha!

I just got a subscription to T&C so I still get Stephen. Can't wait to see what he's gonna do there.


Kathysue said...

I have always given my clients the guideline of choose the least available element first so of course that is not paint. I will usually choose it last after we have enough elements selected to pull a color. I did a post on Whats your Spring board and it involves the process of choosing elements including paint. I always tell clients to use a piece of poster board to swatch colors and always put minimum of two coats for the full affect of the pigment. Move it around throughout the day. The first thing in the morning test is always a tried and true test. Our minds are clear and our first vision of that color will be either a posetive or a negative. Great post,enjoyed reading it and by the way you were right on and your fellow students should have listened to you.

Struggler said...

Well, firstly, thanks for linking up.

Secondly, this advice makes perfect sense and in fact I've heard on multiple occasions that an area rug is the trickiest room component such that starting there is a good idea. So why, then, am I so keen and excited to pick paint colors for my whole house? I think it's because it's a small place and I want it to feel very harmonious and not change at each doorway. Also, Beloved Husband is so scared of color that I'm bracing myself for one tricky conversation rather than lots... :)

Averill said...

You're absolutely right. It's easy to find a good paint color, but hard to find a great fabric or rug. You've got to do it first. Of course I ignored my own good advice when we moved into the new home last summer but for the most part I don't regret it. I knew I wanted to go big and bold in a few rooms and had a general idea of what would go in them (once I could afford the purchases). I say rug or fabric first, then paint.

Living It At Home said...

Great advice on paint. It is always so hard with all the choices out there. When we first moved in, we hardly had any furniture. I had to pick colors. Sooo difficult! You can see what we did on my side bar of "before and after" of my living room and dinning room. I have lived with the colors for awhile now and I am ready to change everything. I get restless!

pve design said...

I think that the palette is so individual of what one selects, and it needs to evolve.
Good advice to live with it first before committing.

A Gift Wrapped Life said...

Thank you for the comment and good laugh.....I forced that computer to apologize or else I was throwing it out. I agree on the paint colours, I always did them last for clients, I thought everyone did! it just makes sense but good for you for bring up something that might not be obvious.
Have a great weekend.

Acanthus and Acorn said...


Boy, do I hope those people found other careers!

Lots of sage advice here, especially for people confused by where to start!!!

HB came in the mail today, looking forward to taking a look....

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Tracy, and I totally agree!

Your new blog header looks great.

Sorry I haven't been to visit very often lately. I have commitments that are keeping me from spending a lot of time in blogland but I always enjoy my visits here. Hope all is well with you!

Jill said...


You always know just the right thing to say, I LOVE your comments the best of all!

Can't believe you are already an empty nester! You are too young. Obviously you started having kids earlier than I did! I will need to be wheeled into high school graduation for my baby!

I loved your advice about taking care of yourself while you are taking care of them! I am trying to do just that - something that allows me to still be a SAHM but also uses my brain and skills!

I so appreciate your encouragement!


Linda Merrill said...

So true - it's always a struggle with clients - to get them to pick the paint last!

maría cecilia said...

Hola Tracy, thanks for these great advices, I`m totally dizzy when choosing wall colors and I think I`ve done many errors in the final result.
Maria Cecilia

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I'm sending this post along to my aon and daughter-in-law, Tracy, as they are trying to choose paint color for their living and dining rooms.

Traci Giles said...

Great advice. Especially for us non-decorators who have been known to (shamefully averting eyes) paint the whole house yellow before moving in. That was several houses ago, I won't do it again, and I love your reasoning and will follow this advice. I have directed a friend to this post (she is mid-project) and hope she can find inspiration. :)

rachel @ perfectly imperfect said...

i SO agree with your advice- i learned the hard way. it's not too bad for me because i knew what furnishings we were bringing to our new home, but i have a few regrets... finding a rug to go with my paint choice is NOT easy! : )
wish i had read this a year ago... ha!

K M Flanagan said...

Amen, Amen, and Amen! Paint colors should always and forever be last.