How To Pick a Whole House Color Scheme

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A friend of mine recently referred her co-worker to me to talk through a yet-to-be-determined whole house color scheme and, when my email reply got close to broaching the 1,000-word mark, I decided that it would be worthwhile to share here, too.

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Okay, so let’s jump right into it!! Really your best friend is going to be those generic paint chips. I’ve found a couple of helpful articles and blog posts that will help lay down the law on whole house color schemes (some of which can be found herehere and here), but when it comes down to it, nothing is going to be a safer bet than in-person, real life paint chips since everyone’s situation/style is different.

My advice is to choose your favorite color first and then go from there. If you aren’t quite sure what that color is, look at your furnishings and accessories (think: throw pillows, artwork, dishes, etc.) because they might give you some insight. If you like reds and creams, it might be best to stick with a warmer palette, whereas favorite shades of blue would mean a cooler toned scheme is for you.

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Once you have your favorite color in mind, pick a room (do this before choosing your actual paint chips since the room could denote a certain shade or intensity of that color). If you want to go bold first, choose a feature room—maybe a dining room or your bedroom—and stand in the space for a second.

If the room gets great light, you might be okay to go a little darker with your paint color. Otherwise, a low lit room will need a brighter color to give it a little bit of luminance (it will naturally “read” darker even if the paint on the chip looks too bright in the store).

When it comes to open spaces—like a big living room or open concept kitchen—it might be best to go with something a little more neutral, but ultimately it’s entirely up to you!

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Which brings me to my second point…Take those chips with a grain of salt! I used to grab chips willy nilly from the hardware store, bought the paint right then and there and brought it home to put on the wall. Big mistake almost every single time…It’s really a 3 step process (unfortunately). Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Pick out your favorite paint chips (whether that’s 5 of them or 55 of them)
  2. Bring the chips home and tape them on one wall of the room in question and keep an eye on the bunch throughout the day’s various light; mark your favorites as the day goes by
  3. Once you’ve narrowed it down to about 3 favorites, go back to the hardware store and buy test pots of the paint, come home and paint little swatches on the wall; again, keep an eye on the newly painted spots throughout the day and then mark your favorite. Then buy that gallon or two of paint with confidence!!
I am truly so, so impatient and have made the mistake of instant gratification in the paint aisle and it’s just not worth it. You’ll likely end up having to repaint down the line and that is NOOOOOO fun. You may know this from experience…Test pots are your best friend!
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Okay, so you’ve picked your first color. Now it gets a little bit easier. Most of the time your paint chip will have a bunch of lower or higher intensity hues surrounding your main color of choice and those likely are great choices! Or, another trick is to find it on the hardware store paint chip display and look horizontally across the row.
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For example, say you’ve chosen a pretty milky blue/gray but also want to incorporate an olive green in another space. Put your finger on your blue/gray square and slide it slowly over to the green section of the paint chip display (or just take note of it being the second square down on the paint chip, and find another “second square down on the paint chip” in the green section). My point is that you’ll want to try choosing colors in the same intensity, with a couple of darker/bolder hues thrown into the mix for fun.
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It’s all just a lot of trial and error—but with paint chips, not paint.
Before-and-After
(bottom image: Mallory Benedict)
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Personally, I went all out in our current house (lots of really dark grays and bright teals) and regret it. In my next house, I plan to do a lot of white and maybe a few cooler toned grays here and there. If color is intimidating to you, I say go white (or gray or cream) and bring in the bolder hues through accessories, furniture or even a bold accent wall. Those are a heck of a lot easier to switch out then having to repaint…
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Do you guys have any tried and true tips for choosing an entire house worth of color? We’re all ears!
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