How To: Select a Paint Color
The right color can give a paint job your personal mark, so follow these guidelines when selecting paint colors for your home.
The most personal decision involved in any interior or exterior painting project is color choice. If green is your favorite color, you will be drawn to that color family when you go to your local paint store. If you like blue, you will probably find a place for it somewhere in your home. It’s important to follow your instincts when selecting paint color. Decorating your home with your favorite hues is what gives your home its unique personality.
But while it is true that there are no hard and fast rules about paint color selection, there are certain color systems that are appealing to the average eye. Understanding them can help you make the best decisions on color choice.
THE COLOR WHEEL
Every color bears some relationship to all other colors, but most successful color combinations will fall into one of the following categories listed below. You can also refer to a color wheel, a tool to help you understand the relationship between colors. Use it to select colors that will look great on your home. Work it to create almost limitless numbers of attractive decorating schemes.
Monochromatic. This color scheme employs only one basic color, but in several different values. An example might be a home exterior with light blue siding and dark blue shutters and trim.
Adjacent. This system combines two or more colors that are located next to each other on the color wheel: blue, blue-violet, and blue-green, for example. To get the best results with this system, try to select colors that do not have the same value and intensity.
Complementary. This type of scheme uses colors that are opposite one another on the color wheel, such as red and green, or yellow and violet. If you choose this system, you might want to select a subtle color and a dominant color to prevent the colors from clashing.
Triadic. A triadic scheme employs three colors that are equidistant on the color wheel, such as yellow-orange, blue-green, and red-violet. For best results, you should choose one dominant color and use the other two as subtle accent colors.
Hue: The basis of a color, such as red or green. Lighter or darker variations are still the same hue. Thus, a light red and a deep red are of the same hue.
Value: The lightness or darkness of a color. Light blues, medium blues, and dark blues have the same hue but different values.
Shades: Those colors with values closest to black—the darker blues, the darker reds, and so forth.
Tints: Those colors with values closest to white—the lighter blues, the lighter reds, and so forth.
Tone: A color’s intensity, brightness or dullness. When gray is added to a color like red, it dulls the intensity and renders it a darker tone.
ASSESS THE COLOR ENVIRONMENT
As you plan your interior or exterior paint job, look at the environment in which your color will appear. On the inside of the home, the color environment is created by the overall appearance of the walls and woodwork you will be painting, the furnishings in the room, and the hues in adjacent areas. To make the best color choices, take in the whole picture.
Likewise, when doing exterior painting, be sure to take into account the fixed colors of your home: brick, stonework, and the roof color, for example. The most flattering color treatments will be those that work well with these existing elements. Consider choosing a color that will pick up the color of a non-painted area—the brown that appears in your brick or a green highlight from your stonework, for example.
Also, remember that no home exists in isolation: Its appearance is affected by the appearance of neighboring homes and even the color of shrubs and trees around it. You probably don’t want to paint your home the same color as your next-door neighbor’s, but you probably do want to select a hue that will look attractive alongside it.
Furthermore, be aware of the fact that certain colors look more at home in certain surroundings. For example, earth tones are always a good choice in natural, wooded areas, but they may not be the best choice in other settings.
Another factor to consider is the architectural style of your home. Oftentimes, a home looks most attractive when painted in period colors. Formal Colonial or Greek Revival homes look great with white exteriors and muted interiors, while Victorians come to life with bold color treatments that accentuate ginger bread and other interesting architectural details.
FAIL-SAFE COLOR CHOICES
If “safety first” is your motto and you simply want your home to look neat and freshly painted, there are certain color treatments that will look good on almost any home. A near-surefire approach when doing interior painting is to paint the walls a neutral color like beige and the ceiling and trim white. In fact, if you keep the trim and ceiling white, a wide range of colors will look attractive on your walls.
Similarly, the safest approach to exterior painting is to use white, beige, or another neutral color on the siding and a darker accent color on the trim. Dark brown is often a good general-purpose color for exterior trim.
Commenting on the popular paint colors of the moment is, at best, a risky business. They can change at any time. With that proviso, it is possible to say that preferences are far more predictable when it comes to exterior paint colors than interior colors. For the past 200 years or more, white has been the top color choice for home exteriors in the U.S. A recent color study conducted by the Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute indicates that white or off-white still ranks at the top of the list. Earth-tone browns, tans, and beiges have always been popular, and they remain so today.
Interior paint colors are another matter; the “in” colors tend to change every few years. Of late, rich, saturated colors in darker shades have met with great success. For more advice on this year’s hot colors, ask your paint dealer.