How to Pick Paint Colors (or 50 Shades of Gray)


Last night, I emailed the Excel spreadsheet with all of my paint decisions over to the builder and I felt relief greater than when I turned in my thesis in grad school. Much like with grad school, the deadline didn't stop the stress dreams. I woke up a few times, mid-dream, freaking out over a color decision.


Here's what I learned about picking paint colors:

  • Don't paint swatches on your walls like they do on TV shows. The swatch colors will bleed through unless you hit those spots with 30 layers of primer. Instead, you need a brush out.
  • Make your own brush outs. You can pay your painter or paint store to do a brush out for you – which is taking a sample of paint and painting it onto a special type of poster board. It's generally $5-10 here for someone to make a brush out for you, but with a few supplies, you can make your own for much less. Our paint store sells tiny 3 inch paint rollers packaged with it's own tiny tray and the special brush out paper, all conveniently near the register. I used about three of those, plus four sheets of special poster board that I cut into smaller pieces. The little Benjamin Moore samples cost $4 at my paint store. That was the biggest expense, and we went overboard. I think I bought 20 different 2 oz containers, which still seems a little crazy, but colors that look nearly identical, can look very different when painted out. The $4 jars cost less than a ton of regret. 
  • Look at your brush outs during different times of day in the room they will be used. It sounds simple, but colors change so much in different lights. What looks like flat gray, may actually be blue in better light. Or that blue may actually be a gray. This blue/gray dilemma occurred in nearly every room of my house. 
  • A single comment on Apartment Therapy can really get into your head. It may have been made by a pseudo-hipster commenting on a non-iPhone from a cafe serving only hand-pressed sustainably-harvested coffee with intricate designs in the foam that are then Instagrammed immediately, but that comment will stick. 
  • Use like a real authority. Not the comments – please, not the comments – but real life photos of the paints you are considering are incredibly helpful. 
  • Ignore the paint names. I stuck with Copley Gray a little longer than I should because I lived near Copley Square in Boston. Sometimes it's not a sign, but a coincidence. Move on. 
  • If you're going to let your kids pick their room colors, then stand back and let them. I violated this when Rocket asked for a black ceiling, one black wall, one red wall, and one blue wall. The fourth wall color kept changing. I said no, this was not a crack house. We negotiated and he settled with San Francisco Giants orange on two walls. It turns out that orange is bright – and truly the best match for the Giants' orange appeared to be called Oriole, which was all wrong. I bought four orange samples and he went with the one I picked up by accident for their bathroom: August Morning. I keep calling it cantaloupe. I thought about overriding him, but a jumble of child psychology got in my head and I let it go. It's a happy color, probably the happiest in the house, which makes it appropriate for this kid. 
  • Bring whatever item you are trying to match into the paint store. Lighting makes a huge difference, and bringing a key item to the store saves many trips back and forth, trust me. Major League baseballs are not white, they are more Mountain Peak White.
  • Accent walls are dead. Sorry if that hurts, but that's what a commenter on Apartment Therapy said. 

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