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Why Do Color Swatches for Paint and Fabric Look Different in the Store than Home

Updated on May 24, 2012

Why Do Color Swatches Look Different in Stores than In the House

  • Lighting in stores is different than the lighting in your house. Lighting affects color by the color of the light. White lights vs yellow lights will make fabric or paint colors look like different shades.
  • The surrounding colors in a house will pull colors out of paint and upohstered furniture that may not be highlighted in the store. That's why a color will pop out at one place vs another
  • The size of the swatch at home can have a very different feel than the full sized furniture. This can be particularly challenging on trying to decide on the right color. Use large swatches when possible.
  • Paint Swatches rarely look like the paint color once it is dry on the wall. So get sample paint colors and paint large swatches on the wall

The color poll

I've bought furniture and paint and was surprised the color looked different in my home?

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The difference between the actual furniture and the fabric swatch

A picture of a chair in the store we are considering.  It looks like a light brown
A picture of a chair in the store we are considering. It looks like a light brown
Here is the large color swatch of the same chair above on my floor.  See how much darker it looks?
Here is the large color swatch of the same chair above on my floor. See how much darker it looks?
Here is the small fabric swatch of a lighter color.
Here is the small fabric swatch of a lighter color.
Here is the large fabric swatch compared to the small sized swatch - not the same colors, but gives you an idea of size
Here is the large fabric swatch compared to the small sized swatch - not the same colors, but gives you an idea of size

Picking out Paint and Fabric Color Swatches

We have all been to the paint store or the furniture store and wondered how a particular color would look in our homes. Is this yellow paint too yellow, is this color fabric light enough or is it too close to another color so that it looks like it's poorly matched. I've watched my wife look at color swatches for hours pondering if the color is just right. Well, there is a solution to this. Most stores are happy to send you home with paint color if you're planning to give you house a fresh coat of paint, or fabric color swatches if you are picking out a new couch, chair or rug. Ahh, but there is still a problem.

Fabric color swatches can look much different in the store than they do in your home. This can be caused by the difference in lighting in the store than your home or the colors that your furniture draws out of the swatch. So, you'll likely have the option of taking home a swatch of fabric to see how it looks. Now, there is a problem with this as well. Sometimes small color swatches look different than large pieces. So you will need a very large fabric swatch to have a true sense of how it will look in your home. Although, nothing is perfect. Sometimes fabrics are still a bit different when they are covering a piece of furniture than what the swatch suggests it will look like, but short of staging your house with the furniture, a large swatch is your best option. At Crate and Barrel, a store I'm way too familiar with, you can give a $50 deposit and take a large swatch home for two days, see how it looks and then return the swatch and get your deposit back. It's better to go through this trouble and reduce your chances of picking the wrong color in the store and ending up with a piece of furniture that isn't the right color and makes your wife bitter for years until you're forced to buy a new piece of furniture.

Paint color swatches are actually more tricky. There can be thousands of color choices that you can thumb through. Then you can bring home these small strips of colored paper hold them up to your walls and imagine how it will look painted. If your wife is like mine, she'll probably ask every lady that comes in the house (especially her mother and sister) about the nuances of these paint swatches that all look so similar you probably couldn't differentiate them if they were more than six inches apart. But, this is a very important process and one not to be taken lightly. After narrowing down your paint swatch selection to three to five colors per wall and a few trim colors, you need to go back to the paint store and get samples or small cans of paint to paint a large swatch section on the wall, so you can get a sense of its applied color on your wall. If the light strikes your wall in different sections, you may have to paint multiple swatches of the same color so you can select a color with the least amount of risk. After you select your paint color, this is both a blessing and a curse, you can easily change the color by repainting the wall if you don't like how it looks fully painting. As an old pro that has painted swatches, and then actually held up art work that goes on the wall for hours so that several ladies can give their opinion, I'd like to offer this advice. Stay calm. Drink a few beers and remember it will only get worse if you complain. However, learning how the color swatch process works will likely make you feel better and know that many others have gone through it as well.

Off to the store to get some more swatches...


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    • ellahall2011 profile image


      8 years ago

      Informative hub!thanks for sharing, Paul.Love it.

    • Elyse Haldeman profile image

      Elyse Haldeman 

      9 years ago

      I recently painted my living room, and the first can of paint I brought home was just too dark green. I tried convincing myself that I liked it, but finally had to go back and get a different color. Wish I had bought a sample first. I told the Home Depot people they need a painting therapist. I drank quite a few beers myself! :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This article is hilarious - been there done that. I have what my husband calls shrines all over the place with swatches and fabric books. Right now trying to pick fabric for patio furniture - have to go to the store to get more beer! :)

    • profile image

      Tracy Monroy 

      9 years ago

      Sheila B's got a great point. Lighting plays a huge role in your color scheme and the kind of light you get in a room changes by the season. Picking out the color scheme of the paint and fabrics takes time. Great article.

    • profile image

      sudha madhuri 

      9 years ago


    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Great hub, and thank you for a laugh. You do have problems.

    • tdeeds profile image


      10 years ago

      Up against a wall in our garage I keep a couple good size pieces of plywood or sheetrock (3 or 4 feet by 5 or 6 feet) that I paint with my test colors. I can move them around to different walls or even different rooms to check the color, lighting, etc. Works pretty well for me.

      Good tips about fabric samples; the bigger the better!

    • walkin profile image


      10 years ago from India

      Nice article on Swatches !!

    • ChristyJC profile image


      10 years ago from Texas

      Good tips! Thanks! :)

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      10 years ago

      I always suggest to people that they live in a house a full year before deciding on colors so they'll know what natural light they get at all seasons.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      10 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Thanks Paul, I love this hub, I have been thinking about my up and coming project, and I look at my list and it's getting longer. I am going to go paint, and that perfect color eludes me, I am just not that fussy.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I've seen people who are very talented in this area completely repaint rooms because the color was still not right -- even after doing all the things you propose, Paul. When you don't get it right, and you care, do it over, and just know that that sometimes happens.


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