The 3 biggest paint color mistakes most people make and the best tips for how to choose paint colors for your home interior rooms like a pro interior designer.
There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours painting an entire room only to step back and discover you absolutely hate it.
Ask me how I’ve learned the hard way. 😩
Not taking a day or two to choose paint colors for your home can cost money, more time, and extra back-breaking effort fixing a bad paint decision. Or you’ll just possibly live with a color for years that doesn’t make you happy, and that’s just no fun at all.
Over the past decade, after many frustrations, Robert and I have honed our paint color selecting method. Our room designs have been featured in countless magazines. And we’ve curated our own Bless’er House x Romabio paint color collection. We have made the mistakes so that YOU don’t have to.
Literally every single day, I have multiple paint color questions in my inbox about how to choose paint colors for kitchen cabinets, bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, etc.
And while I want to help, my response is usually the same, “Only you can truly decide the best paint color for your home. Because choosing the perfect one through a screen is pretty much impossible.”
One of those give a man a fish, teach a man to fish kind of things…
So while we’re in the process of deciding the perfect paint color for Olivia’s preteen bedroom, this is paint color selecting method that I swear by! It totally works and has NEVER let me down.
The 3 Biggest Paint Color Mistakes Most People Make
Mistake 1. Choosing your paint color first
When you’re designing a room, a lot of people think they should start by choosing the paint color before anything else. But this immediately creates an obstacle.
It’s so much easier to match paint colors to a rug, a fabric, a wallpaper, a piece of art, or even tile than the other way around.
(In our kitchen, we used our existing green toned countertop as inspiration to choose our lower cabinet color Sherwin Williams Billiard Green.)
Mistake 2. Choosing a paint color from a swatch at the store
Have you ever needed to paint a room so you drove to the hardware store, flipped through the hundreds of paint swatch strips on the wall, found one you liked, and went straight to the paint mixing desk to get a gallon of it?
Have you ever gotten home with that paint can, painted the entire room with it, and discovered it looked completely different at home than it did in the store?
Paint colors in the store will look different than they will in your room because of lighting and undertones.
Never trust a paint color swatch at the store having only glanced at it for 5 minute. It’s full of lies.
Mistake 3. Painting color samples directly on a wall over an old color.
If you paint a dark green color sample on a lavender wall, your eyes will start to play tricks on you.
Do you remember that black and blue / white and gold optical illusion dress that everyone argued about several years ago?
Color cast and lighting can alter how our eyes perceive color, but there are tricks to help you see colors more clearly that I’ll teach you in this post.
I’ll explain how you can avoid these three common mistakes in this post and what you should do instead that will help you pick the best paint color for your room every time.
5 Steps for How to Choose Paint Colors for Your Home
Step 1. Start with an inspiration piece
Whether you’re designing a room from scratch or planning a room refresh using home decor you already own, choose one item that will inspire your entire room you can use to get color matched for paint.
Inspirations to Color Match for Paint
- A piece of art or tapestry
- A rug
- A fabric such as a quilt, curtain, or pillow
In this shared girls’ triple bunk room, I used that large piece of beach scene art as my inspiration starting point to match paint colors (Romabio Carolina Sky).
In this shared twin bed girls’ bedroom, I used that rug as my inspiration starting point to find a paint color for the walls (Sherwin Williams Evergreen Fog).
Take your piece of art, wallpaper sample, or fabric swatch to the paint store, and they can color match it for you with several different shades to try.
Step 2. Consider the psychology of color theory
There is such a thing as the psychology of color, and you’re probably already aware of it. (If you don’t believe me, think about your color association to brands in marketing.) Red is energetic, white is clean & pure, blue is peaceful, etc. Color theory can influence our emotions, mood, and behavior.
Before diving into paint color choices, decide first how you want to feel when you walk into a room and think about what colors will create that feeling for you.
Do you want your bedroom to feel dramatic and sophisticated? Paint it black like we did our black primary bedroom.
Do you want your kitchen to feel vibrant and fresh? Maybe painting your cabinets green would be a good idea.
Do you want your home to feel simple, clean, and minimalist? Go for a clean white like we did in our en suite bathroom.
Once you pick paint color families that will provide the feeling you want the room to have, you can start the next step…
Step 3. Use social media, search, and apps for paint color ideas
This is totally optional, but it helps if you love seeing paint colors in action.
Pinterest, Google, Instagram, and paint color apps have made searching for paint color ideas so much easier, but don’t totally rely on color images you find on the internet or in magazines to make your final decision.
These should only serve as a guide.
Cell phone screens and laptop monitors all have different color balances and make it nearly impossible to tell what paint colors really look like in person. Not to mention, not all rooms and lighting scenarios are created equally.
Get a general idea of some paint colors you might want to sample from photos online, and make a list of your favorites or a color “family” you want to try.
Some paint color apps allow you to upload a picture of your room to “try on” different paint colors. Some apps even allow you to upload your inspiration piece from Step 1 to match paint colors to wallpaper or fabrics right from your phone.
Most apps and paint color websites are not 100% accurate, so it’s still important to sample paints in person in your room. But they are helpful if you need an extra visual guide.
Step 4. Identify paint color undertones from swatches
It’s easy for most people to see a “mass” color tone – the main color you see when you first glance at a paint strip.
But a paint color’s undertone can be tricky. And if you’re not careful, that cool gray you were hoping to paint your living room ends up looking like a baby boy’s bright blue nursery.
Warm paint colors have undertones that are orange, yellow, or red. Cool paint colors have undertones that are green, blue, or purple.
How to Train Your Eyes to See Paint Color Undertones
1. Put a paint strip swatch on a piece of white printer paper and look at them in natural light (no lamps, just soft sunlight from a window). You’ll be able to see the undertone better against the stark, true white of the paper.
2. Look at the darkest colors on a gradient paint chip strips. It’s usually easier to see undertone in the darkest shade on the strip.
3. Determine if the paint swatch is warm or cool. (Warm paint colors will have a red, orange, or yellow undertone. Cool paint colors will have a green, blue, or purple undertone.)
Look at those white paint color swatches in the photo above. Against the white paper, you can see the far left swatch has a yellow undertone, so that strip has warm paint colors. The second to the far left has a green undertone, so that strip has cool paint colors.
They might look white to the naked eye, but the white paper helps us see the colors for what they really are.
Step 5. Brush large paint samples on white card stock and test in your room’s lighting
Whatever you do, don’t skip this step. It absolutely pays off.
Once you have narrowed down your favorite paint colors you want to try out after examining their undertones in Step 4, purchase a sample pot of each.
It’s absolutely worth taking a day and spending a couple of bucks getting samples mixed at the paint desk to take them home and see how they look in your room’s unique lighting since it will save you later from wasting money and time on a paint color you hate.
Use clean brushes to paint color samples on white poster board or card stock and tape them to different walls around the room that you plan to paint.
Leave the boards up for a day or two and look at them in different lighting throughout various times of the day. The colors will look different depending on the room’s natural light morning, noon, and night and on gloomy days and sunny days.
How Lighting Affects Paint Colors
When deciding on a color, try to use light bulbs in the room that you will use in the final room design.
How Light Bulb Temperatures Affect Paint Colors
- Daylight bulbs (above 4500 Kelvin) will make colors look blue.
- Warm white bulbs (between 2700 – 3000 Kelvin) will make colors look yellow.
- Bright white bulbs (between 3000 – 4500 Kelvin) are the most neutral and will reflect the truest colors.
Giving yourself at least 24 hours allows you to see how the color samples behave in different light so that you can rule out the ones you don’t prefer.
How Sunlight Direction Affects Paint Colors
A paint color can look completely different from one room to the next because the direction of the sun’s light can also change how colors look.
- North-facing rooms get the least amount of light with a slightly cool/blue/gray colored light most of the day and year. A blue, green, or purple color may appear even cooler. For rooms with northern exposure, choose a paint color with a warm undertone.
- South-facing rooms are the brightest and appear slightly warmer with steady sunlight most of the day and year. Most paint colors work well in south-facing rooms as they are often seen as the most desirable and most forgiving for a variety of paint colors. Since rooms with southern exposure can be slightly yellow, cool paint colors work well in them.
- East-and-west-facing rooms have the most drastic color changes throughout the day as the sun rises and sets. Whether you use warm or cool paint colors, they will always look different in rooms with eastern and western exposure depending on the time of day, so be sure to sample in both types of lighting.
How to Create a House Color Scheme for Interior Rooms
Related: See Our Calming Whole House Paint Color Scheme
1. Keep it simple. You can use more than one color in a room, but try to keep it to three colors maximum. If you want to have bold colors, keep it to two and make the third color a neutral to keep the room from feeling overwhelming.
2. Pick the boldest first. Choose your boldest color first when paint selecting. Neutral colors are more lenient. Maybe put that bold color on an accent wall with grid molding and neutrals in the rest of the space for relief.
3. Greens and blues are for the color curious. If you want color but are afraid of being too bold, choose either green or blue. Those two colors are the most plentiful in nature (we’re surrounded by those colors most with trees and blue skies, so we are naturally drawn to them).
Greens and blues feel less overwhelming to most people in large doses than other colors on the color wheel. Think about how a pair of blue jeans goes with pretty much anything. Same goes with navy blue paint. Even though it’s technically color, it can behave like a neutral.
Recommended Green and Blue Paint Colors:
4. Use paint swatch strips to your advantage. When in doubt, choose 2-3 colors on the same paint swatch strip or in the same color collection.
They’re already formulated to go together and will have similar undertones so you can easily find complementary colors. Paint brands often work with designers and artists to create color collections, so rely on those to take out the guess work.
We created our own Bless’er House Paint Color Collection with Romabio Paints to make the process easier on others who ever need help when selecting a color palette.
Most importantly though, don’t be afraid! Paint isn’t permanent and, even though it can be frustrating, paint can always be changed if you decide you don’t love it.
How to Choose Paint Colors for Your Home Recap
- Start with an inspiration piece
- Consider the psychology of color
- Use social media, search, and apps for paint color ideas
- Identify paint color undertones from swatches
- Sample paint colors on white card stock and study them in your room’s lighting
It all does seem like a lengthy process, but I’d rather spend a day or two choosing the right paint color than regretting the wrong paint color for years after (or having to repaint an entire room because of a color mistake).
Does that help? Maybe? Have you used any of these tips before? I hope they put you on track to choose a color you love.
If you have any paint color questions, hit me with ’em! I’ll try my best to answer them in the comments.
More Paint Color Inspiration
- 9 Designer-Approved Off White Color Paints to Try
- Green Kitchen Cabinet Inspiration
- 12 Best Sage Green Paint Colors for a Relaxing Room
- The Most Recommended Blue Grey Paint Colors
- The Most Recommended Navy Blue Paint
- The Most Recommended Blush Pink Paint
- The Best Paint Colors for Gray Trim
- The Best Gold Spray Paints – Ranked
Frequently Asked Questions
Light wall colors like light neutrals, off-whites, and pastels can create the illusion of a bigger room. You can also try painting walls in semi-gloss or high-gloss to reflect light. Here are more ways to make a small room look bigger.
High contrast paint color palettes can make your home look expensive (the lighter or darker shades on paint swatch strips). Think bright white walls and dark charcoal doors or dark navy walls with white trim. Here are more tips to make your house look expensive on a budget.
The color blue creates a feeling of peace and calmness and studies have shown it can improve sleep quality.