Picking Paint

When I was thinking about the topic for my first blog post, I asked myself, “what is the topic or issue that people ask me about the most?” And it came to me: people are afraid of paint!

Don’t stress. Picking paint should be fun, and the result is instant gratification. If you’re having problems picking a color, try these steps and hopefully, you’ll find the perfect color for your space!

  • Find inspiration
  • Find a swatch
  • Try it out!
  • Go one shade lighter


It sounds simple, but find color somewhere, anywhere, that you appeals to you. Maybe it’s the color of a shirt in a magazine. Or perhaps it’s a book jacket. As an example, I chose my inspiration in this image of a kiwi.

Color Inspiration

I think that the green is cheerful , warm and perfect for a kitchen.

Ask yourself how the color you chose makes you feel. Does it make you feel comforted? Excited? Inspired? Great! Agitated? Angry? Depressed? If so, pick a different inspiration!

A simple rule of thumb: if it’s not a color that you would dare wear as an article of clothing, it’s not a color that you will like on your walls. If the color doesn’t make you feel good when you wear it, you will probably have the same feeling when your walls are wearing it.


Once you have your inspiration, take it (or a picture of it) with you to your local paint store. Whether you utilize Benjamin Moore or Home Depot, paint stores have an overwhelming array of pretty little color chips that will attack your senses and make you want to turn and run. But do this: take your inspiration and hold it up in front of the swatches. Scan across the colors. When you’re looking at your inspiration and the swatches at once, you can easily identify the color range that is close to your sample.

Grab color chips that are close to your color image – don’t be too picky. The paint store wants you to take these chips because they want to sell you paint. Don’t be ashamed to take whatever color chips appeal to you.

Initial Swatch (Photo/Benjamin Moore)

I caution you stay away from colors that look like they came straight from a Crayola marker or crayon. While these bright colors are vibrant and beautiful, they will overwhelm a room and your eyes . If you’re dead set on a color like this, find that bright, exciting color, and then you can step up on the color chip a few shades to a less intense shade of that color.

In my example, I found the chip that I feel contains the colors of my image:


Photo/Benjamin Moore

There are several ways to test paint. The free way to “test” your paint selections is to tape
the chips to the wall in the room you want to paint. They are small samples, but they will give you a general feel for the color. Benjamin Moore makes large paint chips in limited colors, and Benjamin Moore and several other companies also make small tester pots of paint (again, limited colors) that will allow you to test the paint in several areas of the room.

If you feel that you need to see the paint color on a larger area, purchase a quart size jar of paint to try on your wall. It is more expensive than the small tester pots and certainly more expensive than the free color chips, but if it prevents you from having to buy multiple gallons of paint, it’s worth it!

Paradise Valley 559 (Photo/Ben. Moore)

O'Reilly Green 555 (Photo/Ben.Moore)

If you don’t want to paint test areas on your wall, paint a white foam core board instead. Hold it up in all areas of the room to see how the lighting and shadows affect it. Observe your test area with all different lighting possibilities in the space: lights on, lights off, morning, noon, and night.

In my example, Benjamin Moore Paradise Valley #559 was the closest to my inspiration image. But it was far too saturated and vibrant for me. I wouldn’t wear it, and I know it would be too strong on four walls. So, I am going up the swatch card to the second color from the top, O’Reilly Green #555. It is not overwhelming in the small chip, and I think that it will have enough impact without screaming Kermit the Frog.


Easter Hunt 554 (Photo/Ben.Moore)

I make this suggestion because most people have a tendency to go for saturated, rich colors that intensify when they are on all four walls of a room. Look at your color chip and go up one color on the swatch from your selection. If you have already chosen the top (and thus lightest) color on a color chip, go with it! But if you are feeling nervous, have your painter add some white (try a 1 part white to 5 parts color proportion).

In my example, my selection is now O’Reilly Green #555, but I am going to go up one more color on the swatch card to Easter Hunt #554. It is a lighter, less saturated version of the same color.

This was the progression of my color selection:




(Ben. Moore)

If you feel like you’ve found your color, start painting! But if you are unsure, revisit your color chips. The beauty of paint is that there are endless possibilities, and because there are so many options, you will find a color that suits you and your space.


While you are making your color decision, there is an important selection to make: paint finish. Most paint companies have a similar range of finishes. The rule of thumb is that with a flatter finish, imperfections on the wall surface are less apparent, and with a higher gloss, imperfections are more visible. Another rule of thumb is that the flatter a finish is, the less durable and scrubbable it is, and the glossier the finish, the opposite is true.

Valspar has a great summary of finishes and their appropriate uses (and a good list of tools that you might need): http://www.valspar.com/do-it-yourself/steps/Painting_Choosing_Finish.html

My recommended finishes are as follows:

  • Ceilings = Flat finish
  • General Walls = Eggshell or Satin
  • Bathroom & Kitchen Walls, Moulding & Cabinets/Doors = Semi-gloss

I also suggest using a Low-VOC paint, available now from many brands, to avoid that “fresh paint” smell. Just like the new car smell, the odor is created by man-made chemicals that can irritate people with sensitive allergies.

As all things “green” go, the healthier the product, the more expensive it is. Low-VOC paint is more expensive than standard latex paint. But as with most things, you get what you pay for when it comes to paint. The difference in paint products is the binders and pigments. Speaking from personal experience, the higher priced paint typically equates to a product that has a more consistent coverage and often requires fewer coats than the lesser product.

I hope that this post gives you some inspiration to use your individual color sense and go paint!

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