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How to choose the perfect interior paint color

Don’t let the infinite paint swatches at the store scare you–these steps will help you make a great choice

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painter painting an interior wall

Nothing refreshes the interior of your home like a new coat of paint. But painting is a lot of work, and, depending on the size of your home, it can be an expensive project. That’s why you need to carefully consider the paint color you choose before you get started.

The work involved in painting your interior will pay off if you’ve chosen the right colors. It’s tempting to pick your favorite color or a palette you find fashionable, but there’s more to consider than just shades that you like. Your paint should compliment your furniture, look sharp under any lighting and emphasize the parts of your house you want to highlight.

If that sounds like a lot to keep in mind at the same time, don’t worry. We're going to break down the steps to finding the perfect interior color for your house.

bright colored living room

1. Get inspired

Don’t step into a paint store and grab the first color that matches your rug. That comes later. In the beginning, you may not even know where to start. Let’s fix that.

  • Check out blogs and boards: Your first step is to find some inspiration. Pinterest and other online idea boards are great places to see what others have done. This is a great way to see design concepts in practice and identify what you like and what you don’t. You never know what you’ll find.
  • Follow trends...to a point: Online pinboards and magazines can help you along, but don’t follow trends too strictly. The bolder, more drastic the trend, the less likely it is to stick around. Sure, a black and purple home may be in vogue now, but that could change in a matter of months. Remember, you want to enjoy your interior for a long time; trends don’t last forever.
  • Consider your focal points: Where do you want people to look when they step into a room? This is a key question you should ask yourself when choosing an interior color. If you have some wall art you are particularly proud of, choose a color that will emphasize that art. Choose wall colors that won’t wash out your fun furniture or pull focus from your fancy television.
bedroom with neutral walls

2. Set the right mood

After you’ve seen what others are doing and gathered some ideas, it’s time to think about mood. Every room, whether you notice it or not, gives off a certain mood; colors create energetic or calm atmospheres. Here’s how colors can help you find the right mood:

  • Warm colors for energy: Choose colors that match the energy and movement of high-traffic areas like living rooms, foyers, hallways. Light reds, oranges or yellows create energy and vibrancy in a room.
  • Cool colors for calm: Cool colors are popular choices for sitting rooms, libraries and bedrooms because they cultivate tranquil atmospheres. Understated blues, violets and greens create intimate moods suited for quiet, restful rooms.
  • When in doubt, go neutral: If you’re unsure about the mood you’re going for, neutral colors are always smart options. Beige, gray, off-white and some browns can give a sort of blank canvas that will work with any decor. With neutral walls, you can let the colors of your accents or furniture create the mood for you.
  • Don’t neglect flow: When you’re trying to decide on the right moods for your home, take some time to assess the “flow” of the house. Connected rooms should transition into each other smoothly without awkward, stark color changes. For example, let’s say you want your living room to be a warm, energetic orange, but you want your bedroom to be an intimate blue. Consider painting the hall that connects them a neutral beige or pale yellow to create a smooth transition.
open paint cans with different sheens

3. Choose a paint finish

You’ve got your color shades picked out, and you’re about ready to test them. All that’s left to choose is the paint finish. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Matte: A matte (or flat) sheen will absorb light and eliminate gloss or shine. A matte finish will also hide any blemishes or imperfections in the wall, but it’s hard to clean without taking some of the paint off. Matte sheens are good for low-traffic rooms like the master bedroom.
  • Satin: Satin finishes have a subtle shine to them, but they aren’t overly glossy. Paint with a satin sheen is easy to clean, making it a popular choice for living rooms, hallways and children’s rooms.
  • Eggshell: As its name implies, eggshell sheen has about the same shine and feel as an egg. It’s a good middle-ground between matte and satin. Eggshell finish is more durable than matte, and masks imperfections better than satin. It’s a smart choice for dining rooms and living rooms that may see a few bumps.
  • Semigloss: A semigloss finish gives a painted area some shine while protecting it from stains. Semigloss is ideal for baseboards and trim, especially in kitchens and bathrooms because those areas get a lot of moisture. Semigloss paint is easy to clean, but its shine makes dents and imperfections more visible.
  • High gloss: You don’t want to paint your walls with high gloss because the shine would be overwhelming. It is, however, a smart choice for cabinets, doors, trim and anywhere else that can get scuffed or stained.
couple looking at different paint swatches on a wall

4. Test it out

Now that you’re a finish expert, it’s time for some actual paint testing! I know you’re eager to get your project done, but take the time test the paint to make sure it’s what you want. Here’s what you do:

  • Get some swatches: Go to the store where you’ll buy paint, and get paint swatches for the colors you like in various shades. When you get home, hold the swatches up to every wall in the room you’re going to paint. Hold colors up to your artwork, your lights, your furniture, your electronics, your pets, that weird lamp you have to keep around because it was a gift and everything else that will be in your room. This will give you an idea of how your accents will look against the colors and help you make your choice.
  • Paint a spot on the wall: Nothing beats seeing the real thing, so ask for a sample of paint from the store. Paint a large enough spot on the wall (about a square foot of space) and see how it looks when it dries. Do this with a few shades of paint to give you a range to choose from.
  • Bring in the light: A paint’s color will change in different lighting, so as the test paint dries, bring in any lamps that are usually in that room, turn on overhead lights and open blinds or curtains. Set up the lighting in your room as if the room were finished. This will give you the most complete picture of how the finished paint will look.
  • Leave it for a while: To get a feel for the color, let it stay for a while. Give it a day or two, view it at different times of the day and get a feel for it. If you’re still not sure after a day or so, it may not be the color for you.
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Bottom line

Painting your interior can seem like a chore, but if you follow these four suggestions you’ll find your perfect color in no time. You’ll hopefully be living in your house for a while; take the time to choose interior colors you and your family will enjoy for years. When it comes time to decorate, check out our guides for decorating your living room, your bedrooms and the rest of your interior.

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