My colorful journey: Lessons in color and wall paint


That’s the word my plumber exclaimed when flipping a light switch, illuminating my bathroom some-odd years ago. No, he didn’t get an electric shock. Nor did he smell something horrible from the toilet. Rather, he was utterly stunned by the fluorescent-like green paint on the walls when he came to unclog a drain. I’ll admit, I should’ve warned him, as I had the same reaction the night before when I finished the paint job.

I’m sure the marketing-savvy paint company named the color “Green Apple” or “Fresh Lime,” and it looked absolutely AMAZING in that Pottery Barn photo I hoped to emulate. But little did I know at the time that this paint color only had a shot at looking decent if bathed in massive amounts of natural light and with some space to breathe. Lo and behold, when used in my tiny, non-windowed bathroom, I gave birth to “Neon Puke.”

That bathroom was painted over the following night because I could stand it no longer. Sadly, it was not the first time I had a “paint do-over.”

Of all the lessons I’ve learned over the years related to design and décor, “color” has been one of the hardest. So many factors come into play when choosing the right colors for décor, especially wall paint. Below are just some of the considerations to be made when selecting a color:

Amount and type of light – e.g., Is there mostly natural, incandescent, or fluorescent light in the space? Is the room northern-facing or southern-facing?
Other colors in the room – e.g., What are the colors of the floors, furniture, fixtures, artwork, accent or adjoining walls, trim and ceiling?
Time of day (related to light) – e.g., How does it look in the morning? Mid-day? Evening?
Amount or coverage of color – e.g., Are you planning to paint all walls or just one area (under the chair rail)? How big is the room?
Primary use of room (mood and function) – e.g., Will the room be used for sleeping? Preparing food? Reading? Socializing?
Other colors in your house or neighboring spaces – e.g., Do you wish to create harmony with complementary nearby colors? Are you looking for a contrast?
Resale value – e.g., Do you plan to sell your house in the near future, requiring you to pick colors with more mass appeal?

And last but not least (and assuming you don’t need to consider resale appeal) – personal preference. Cool grey paints may be the current trend, but if you “feel” better surrounded by warm colors, don’t fight your gut. Ultimately, it’s your space. You have to live in it and be happy.

See the three photos below for an example of how my living room was radically transformed by paint and color.

Original yellow living room

Original yellow-painted living room we “inherited” from past owners

Same living room painted cool grey, with brown furniture and turquoise rug

Final living room changes, with neutral white paint, orange sofas, and cream rug.

Also, make sure to paint a sample area on your wall first! Those tiny cardboard paint chips/swatches do precious little in giving you a true sense of how the paint will look in your room. You can use them as an initial guide, but take the time to buy a small can of paint (or two or three) to test out in your space. (Most paint stores offer these smaller, less expensive “sample-sized” cans.) Then, once you’ve painted a test area on your wall, leave it for a couple of days. Watch how it changes with the time of day. See how it looks with neighboring colors. Pay attention to how it makes you feel when you’re looking at it.


Small paint chips will only give you basic color direction.

Painting sample colors on your wall will give you the best preview.

Painting sample colors on your wall will give you the best preview.

As they say, paint is one of the quickest and easiest ways to transform a space. If you take a little time on the front end when making a selection, you’re much more likely to get a result you will love … and not scare your plumber.





Color repetition makes for harmonious home

When I was a kid — even a teenager — I had an odd way of picking out clothes. I had no idea that certain shades looked better on me than others due to my natural complexion, hair, and eye color. Thus, I would shop for clothes according to what colors I already had vs. didn’t. Let me demonstrate: “Hmm, that’s a nice mint green sweater, but I already have something in that color. Scratch. But here is a shade of pink that I’ve never bought before. Score!” Then, poof, it was added to my Rainbow Connection… er Collection. My wardrobe was literally a smorgasbord of every imaginable hue. Unfortunately, I borrowed that strategy when decorating the rooms in my first house.
While I didn’t have a blue room, green room, and red room, I did decorate as if each room was disconnected from the other. As a result, my house did not “flow well.” It was choppy. Bad feng shui. A bit schizophrenic. Although I’m not a fan of everything in a wardrobe or home design being overly matchy-matchy, I am a firm believer that there must be some consistent design elements, including color, which pull it all together.
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Not only is this more aesthetically pleasing, but it is practical, too. Once you pick some foundational shades, pieces in your home become interchangeable, letting you switch things up once in a while without having to reinvent an entire scheme. Pick a few neutrals as a foundation and then select a handful of colors which work well together, sprinkling them throughout. This doesn’t mean you can’t add other pieces not in your main palette, but you do want to make it look like there is a method to your madness — some type of underlying plan that makes your home appear cohesive rather than a hodge-podge of completely independent room units.
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For the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward a black, white, and greige (grayish beige) base, with a good measure of turquoise, orange, and yellow accents, in varying degrees of saturation. It’s simply what makes me happy — pure personal preference. However, I will say that most people who come to my home comment on how everything works well together and leaves them with a feeling of harmony. It’s more about the repetition of colors and patterns than “magic” colors, I promise you.
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I do like variety (as evidenced by my colorful past!), so I move furniture and trade out pieces fairly regularly. It keeps things interesting and inexpensive, yet always in synch. I don’t have to stay married to all of these colors forever, either. Styles and fashions come and go, just as do personal tastes. If and when I want to try a new look, I can merely replace one or two accents with others which still work with the remaining. Paint is the cheapest way to pull off the switch. No need to buy all new things!

What’s the best way to learn what colors look best with each other? In my opinion, it’s by example. Look around you. There’s no shame in being a copy-cat when you’re doing so in good taste. Find some photos or color schemes you like and replicate their essence. Then, add your own personal touch. Just remember, less is usually more.. and rainbows look better in the sky than in your closet or house. 🙂