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.