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How to Select Paint Colors for Interior Spaces

Updated on June 20, 2012
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Preparing a Paint-Finish Schedule

Selecting paint colors for a new home or even one small bedroom can be an overwhelming process. In the past, many of our clients have come to us as a result of a lack of self confidence around this very issue. Coming up with a color scheme and making these decisions can be a very emotional procedure. So, how does someone go about this task?

As a designer, it’s my job to work with a homeowner in making all of the decisions involved in their finished space. It’s always important to be very specific in putting all of the selections together in an organized fashion. The completed document is referred to as a “finish schedule.”

I don’t think we’ve ever worked on a finish schedule that didn’t involve a lot of very thoughtful and time consuming decisions. The process doesn’t necessarily just involve selecting a color scheme, as it also involves dealing with the different lighting situations which occur throughout the day and within the project.

This process can really make someone feel a sense of zero confidence and a whole lot of ambiguity. It’s so important to methodically organize the selections in a written document, otherwise referred to as “the finish schedule.” So where do we begin?


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Define The Mood of Your Space

The technique that works best for me is not a mysterious formula nor a science. It involves a lot of trial and error, patience, and big sample swatches being put up on a bunch of walls. It is equally important to evaluate these samples in varying lighting conditions. This is the method that works best for me, in every situation, time and time again.

When I’m working with a client, I have certain techniques that we use to help this process along. It’s always important to come up with an overall game plan of what the space is going say. We try to define a personality of the space by selecting five adjectives at the beginning of every project. It does make the process a little more fun and it helps to get everyone on the same page.

The descriptive phrases are selected in the very beginning of our working relationship, and once they’re chosen they become almost set in stone. We try not to deviate from these adjectives, as it describes a finished feeling which we’re trying to achieve. This helps to keep the project moving forward and to have everyone working for the same goal.

Technical Knowledge Is Required

After determining possible color selections, the next step is to begin creating the finish schedule. Sheetrock surfaces require a latex paint and an oil based paint or enamel is used on all of the woodwork, including doors, shelving and trim throughout the space.

Each paint color comes in a variety of finishes, so it’s very important to understand the correct terminology. This can usually be explained by a good salesperson wherever you plan to purchase your supplies. Once these selections are made, the designer will help organize these choices by preparing the written “paint finish schedule.”

If you’re doing this alone, it’s very important to specifically specify the color, the finish, and to clearly identify each surface with an exact paint number and quality. The final written document needs to be extremely precise and it does help to have a clear understanding of all of the appropriate terms.

Put Paint Options on Several Walls

Mistakes can be very costly, as well as time consuming. It isn’t necessary to have the final color selection exact on the first attempt, as it may take several samples before the exact color is selected. It’s a good idea to label each sample as it’s put up, with pencil, directly on the wall. Put each sample on several unlike walls to compensate for different lighting conditions. Then wait until the sample is totally dry and check it at different times of the day.

So all in all, the process of selecting paint colors needs to be slow and methodical. There are so many different opinions as to what color will work best in each situation. This is definitely a matter of opinion. If you're very decisive and willing to do a lot of leg work on your own, the process may be easy. Just know that getting the right shade and liking it once it's up, doesn't always work out the first time.

Remember, this isn't a science. Trial and error is definitely a big part of the process, and having technical skills does help alleviate time consuming and costly mistakes. Paint colors definitely effect the mood of the space. Buy sample paint and test the colors on the walls. It's always surprising, how different colors may look, once they're on the walls. Trust your instincts. If you don't like it in a small sample, it doesn't get better when the job is done.

A Simple Do-It Yourself Project

I included a link above from an article I read this morning which shows a bunch of great photos where paint is applied to just portions of the walls!! What a neat idea. I remember when the Donghia showroom in Houston had done a drapery display which was fabricated with two different fabrics. The hem, actually about 2 feet at the bottom of the drapery, was made in a solid fabric and the top part was a sheer. I loved it and began using different renditions of that concept on several projects.

The article which I read this morning applied a very similar concept, but refers to painting walls. Check it out. There are lots of great examples of painting just portions of the walls and it seems like a really simple do-it-yourself project. It's a great idea to take your room or space to a new level.

I liked the examples which illustrate a darker color applied to the bottom portion of the wall. This will help create a better sense of balance in the room. The technique seems fairly simple. If you use the blue painter's tape, it will help to keep the lines nice and straight. Definitely check your lines. They need to line up and be parallel with the floors.

Some of the examples shown in the article involve painting wide stripes which run up and down. I love stripes, but that's a lot more tedious project. Painting just bottom portion of the walls is a much less complicated project, and it can really change the entire look of the room.

Just a simple idea that I think is definitely creative.

Creativity is Subjective

Colors and painting the interior of a space is very subjective. What one person likes is really just a matter of opinion. Lighting can really effect the way different paint colors look inside of the home. Colors change in day light and with warm lights which we use to light our homes in the evening. Take your time, put samples swatches up in several places. Live with the samples a few days, and evaluate those samples.

Painting is suppose to be a fun project. Try and play with different techniques and be willing to experiment. It's fun to be a little creative. Safe is not always the best solution.

Interior Design Resource Book

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