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How to pick the perfect paint color every time

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by your options, but choosing the right paint color is easier than you think.

After giving it a great deal of thought, you’ve finally decided that you’re going to paint your living room “blue.” Feeling empowered by your decision, you head to the paint department of your favorite store only to be faced with more shades of blue than you ever imagined possible. You feel like you’re back at square one.


“Choosing colors can be a daunting task,” says Architect William Hirsch, Jr., author of Designing Your Perfect House. “It would seem with so many colors to choose from it would be easy to find just the right one. But there are millions of colors in the world with subtle differences in hues.” And many times, even with all of those color choices in front of you, that perfect blue continues to elude you. But these tips can help:

1. Step away from the confusion

“Sometimes it’s easier to pick a color when you are not standing in front of a rack of a zillion colors,” says Hirsch. “Instead, start by finding an object — such as a throw pillow, a dress, some curtains — in a color you love. Take that object to the store and find the color that matches. This will automatically narrow your choices and make the choice easier.”

2. Go with your gut

“Take note of which colors are your ‘first blush’ choices,” says Hirsch. “Often, the colors that initially catch your eye will end up being your best bet and final choice. Spending too long pondering your decision can lead you to question your own judgment.”

More: The difference between milk paint and chalk paint

3. Decide after you leave the store

“Don’t make your final decision in the store,” advises Hirsch. “Take home a strip (or several) of color samples that might be candidates to evaluate. This way, you will see the colors in the context of your home and under the lighting conditions for your space.”

4. Pay special attention to neutrals

“If you are choosing light colors, particularly off-whites, look at the deeper colors — the colors with more saturation — on the color strip that belong with the off-white color to determine the underlying tint of the off-white,” suggests Hirsch. “Who hasn’t chosen a white paint color only to see it turn pink, or yellow, or greenish when the whole wall or room is painted with it?”

More: 13 Front door colors to die for

5. Focus on one color at a time

“Cut the paint sample strip, or fold it so that you can see only the paint color itself and none of the white backer card,” says Hirsch. “Because our eyes gauge contrast, the bright white of the backer card will distort your perception of the actual paint color. You’ll get a better read on the true color without the influence of the white card.”

6. Test the colors

“Buy a small can of the paint you choose (or a couple of possible colors) and paint a sample area on the wall at home,” recommends Hirsch. “The small cost of the can of paint will be a worthwhile investment to get the color right before you spend a good deal of money on all the paint for the entire project (not to mention the time wasted if you have to repaint the room to correct a mistake).”

7. Ask for help

“Ultimately, it might be worth the cost of a one-hour consultation with a good interior designer,” says Hirsch. “They have used many different colors and probably have a dependable palette of colors that will provide the expected results.”

More: 15 Hacks to rock your next painting project

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