FAQ: How to Choose a Paint Color for Your Home

The other day I was working on one of my client's design projects and it occurred to me how generous my parents were in letting me use their house as an experiment of sorts! Whenever I had an idea, they usually let me try it. I remember painting the guest room headboard wall a coral color as an accent 8 years ago (it was so crazy bold...I can't believe I did it! So glad I have my blog to document this...ha) It is now a nice neutral color. Then I volunteered to take down the old floral wallpaper in our bathroom (bad idea...I cried real tears, it was so hard!) and painted it yellow. Yep. A few years later, I thought a pale blue would be nice so they let me change it. And just last year we all agreed it needed to go more neutral, so it's now a pretty greige color (Malibu Beige by Kelly Moore). My room has been purple (thankfully I don't have pictures of this!), blue and green (so bad), mint green (which I loved!) and now a neutral color as well.

They let me be creative and always supported me and I'll forever be grateful for that! But I'm also so sorry for all the paint color changes ;) Ha! I just had to tell open with that, before I share a few of my best tips for choosing a paint color for your home since I've got years of experience from trial and error. This is one of the most frequent questions I get, along with asking for paint color suggestions (saving that for another post!) so hopefully I can help! This is the process I always suggest my clients follow when choosing paint.

Paint is probably the cheapest way to drastically change the look of your room, so this is one of the first decorating updates to consider! Just wanted to note, paint will look very different on a swatch than on your actual walls. I'm mentioning this because I think people are often surprised by their wall color when it's up if they don't follow some of these tips.

1. Consider the lighting in your space.
Natural light will make the color appear in it's truest form! If you get lots of natural light then you could go a little darker with your paint color and not have it feel TOO dark. Fleurescent lights will cast a blue shadow on your paint and can cause the color to have a blue undertone, while incandescent bulbs will cause a yellow and warm tone to the walls and room in general. 

If you have incandescent bulbs everywhere and no natural light to help balance it out and want to paint your walls yellow, the lighting will only intensify the yellow paint. It might be too overwhelming! Something to think about when choosing colors. If you want to downplay the color the lighting in the space is casting into the room, try to choose a color that will offset the lighting. For example, one of my current client's walls was a medium to dark gray with a subtle green undertone, but with the skylight they had in the room and the way the recessed cans and windows were positioned in the room, the color went VERY green in the afternoon and evening. They hated it and wanted something that would look more like a TRUE gray. So we found a lighter gray paint with a blue undertone to help counteract the green shadows in the living room (Stongington Gray by Benjamin Moore, in case you're wondering!) It worked like a charm and now they love their wall color.



If you love the HUE of a color, but think it's too light or dark, you can actually get it lightened or darkened by the paint store. For example, this Stonginton Gray paint above is actually at 75%, because the true hue was a little dark, which we were trying to avoid. 

2. Consider the mood you want to set.

Warm colors like red, orange, yellow, coral, beige peach, or anything that has those undertones, tends to make a room feel more intimate. Cool colors like blue, green, purple, and grays with cool undertones tend to make your space recede and feel larger. I could do a whole separate post on color psychology, but for now, I'll keep it at this: every color comes with a slew of psychological pieces to it that you might want to consider when painting your walls! 

A neutral backdrop for black and white touches throughout...

or a seaglass blue on the walls for more punch....

3. Consider the function of the space.

This is more to help you figure out the sheen of the paint you'll want. If you have kids, you'll want higher sheens for cleanability. If you get a ton of traffic in your house you'll also want a higher sheen. 

Flat (no sheen, hardest to clean)- Matte - Eggshell - Satin - Semigloss - Hi-Gloss (highest sheen)

For public spaces like family rooms, kitchens and hallways, eggshell or satin is great. Bedrooms can also go eggshell or satin, but some people prefer semigloss because it's easy to clean because of the high sheen. For trim, doors and molding I suggest satin or semigloss (but typically lean to semigloss). For bathrooms, I usually do satin or semigloss. Ceilings are flat. 

3. Once you have an idea of a few colors, put them to the test.

This is the most important step! I BEG YOU to try out the paint on your walls or hold up huge samples of the color on the walls. This is the only way you'll know if the color will work or not. I have my clients get samples of 2-3 colors we're considering, put them in big swatches on different walls in all the rooms so we can see what the light is doing to the color in the actual space. We leave them for a day or two and then make our final selection.

Another note here: anytime you're selecting materials or paint for your home (cabinets, backsplash, countertops, etc.) it's imperative that you hold the sample in the correct orientation to see how it looks. In the case of paint, you'll want to hold the paint swatch up vertically on the wall as opposed to holding it flat in your hands. To get the full effect, you need to see the color in the orientation it will actually be in in the space. Backsplashes you'd hold vertically, while countertops you'd lay horizontally...make sense?!

4. Don't overwhelm yourself with too many options! 

This is one of the biggest mistakes I see in my clients if I come in halfway through a project because they realized they can't do this alone. Often they are deciding between 10 shades. Look, there's no way you'll be able to make a decision between 10 shades that are so similar! I always suggest a max of 3-4 colors going up on the walls to decide between. If you hate all of those options, THEN go back to the drawing board and get a few more options. 

5. Consider the function of the space & how to add dimension.

Once you've decided on colors, it's time to nail down the sheen. If you have kids, you'll want higher sheens for cleanability. If you get a ton of traffic in your house you'll also want a higher sheen. 

Flat (no sheen, hardest to clean)- Matte - Eggshell - Satin - Semigloss - Hi-Gloss (highest sheen)

For public spaces like family rooms, kitchens and hallways, eggshell or satin is great. Bedrooms can also go eggshell or satin, but some people prefer semigloss because it's easy to clean because of the high sheen. For bathrooms I usually do satin or semigloss. Ceilings are flat. 

To add dimension I like to do the trim, doors, and molding in a higher sheen. I suggest satin or semigloss (but typically lean to semigloss). If you're painting a room all white, it's a good idea to use a different sheen, like eggshell on the walls, and the same color but in semigloss for the molding, to create that dimension!

6. Create flow with the rest of your house. 

Do this by making sure the colors blend from room to room. One way I do this is usually by painting the walls a neutral color and accenting with pops of color in the fabric choices, pillows, curtains, artwork, and accessories. Like my client's house example above, we have gray walls with some blues and greens through the rug and the pillows (coming soon). Even though the kitchen is a separate room, they still need to flow together, so we will be bringing a few touches of blues and greens to the kitchen as well, but can also add in other colors as accents if we wanted. Just be sure to pick a dominant color that you might see in a few places throughout your home, but then each room can have it's own accents. 

Hopefully these tips help you in selecting a paint color for your home! Let me know if you have ANY paint color questions. I'll be sure to answer them in my next paint post!

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  1. I love posts like this! So informative, keep them coming!

  2. This is perfect timing and very helpful! How do you choose the ceiling color? I’m thinking of painting my interior simply white, ballet white or cloud cover. I don’t even know where to start in the color area or what sheen to use. Maybe there’s a basic ceiling color that’s pretty neutral?


    1. Hi Jodi! I usually just do a standard ceiling color that the painter picks up. It's a flat paint. Just ask your painter! Hopefully the info about the sheens will help you decide on sheen for the rest of the walls :)

  3. Hi Michaela, I have a question : we are painting our basement. We have some natural light downstairs (but not a lot) and incandescent bulbs. I'm trying to pick a light "greige" color that won't look yellow! Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Brooke! Ah, I'm so sorry I'm just seeing this. Since you have incandescent bulbs, that will shadow the space more yellow or at least warmer tones, so if you want a true greige, you're going to want to go with a gray that leans to the blue / green side so that the yellow shadow the lights will cast won't make the space look TOO yellow. Gray Owl, Stonington Gray, Classic Gray (very light neutral), Collingwood, Moonshine, Chelsea Gray (darker), Sterling, Wickham Gray. Hope this helps!


Thank you for stopping by! If you have a specific question, please email me at hello@michaelanoelledesigns.com. I always reply to emails! Have a blessed day! xoxo

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