How to Choose Colors for Your Home's Interior

First impressions matter. The color of your walls is the very first thing people see when they enter your home. When you have the right interior paint colors, it can transform not only the look of your home, but also set the mood for your family and guests.

Choosing Paint Color is an Art

There aren't really any formulas or "a+b=c" models for picking colors in your home. Choosing paint colors is deeply rooted in culture and personal taste. However, certain guiding principles can help you find the colors that will help you love your home.

Guidelines for choosing paint colors

1. Take your time

Especially if you have recently moved into your home, it can be a good idea to live with the current colors for a while to get a sense of how the light changes throughout the day, how you’re going to use each room, and how the furniture and decor look. You may be surprised how different a color can look in the evening compared to during you did your mid-day showing.

Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If the previous owners had a vastly different style than yours or you already know the look you want, getting the painting done before you move in can help you feel at home right from the start.

2. Work general to specific

First think of the overall look & feel you want for your home.

First think of the overall look & feel you want for your home.

When choosing colors, don’t go straight to the paint rack. It’s too easy to become overwhelmed by all the choices or distracted by colors that don’t fit your overall goals. Instead, focus on the feeling and function of each room. You may want to ask yourself questions like:

  • Are you trying to transform the whole look of your home or just give it a little refresh?

  • What feelings, emotions, and energy levels do you want in your home? Do you want your home to be a quiet, calming place to relax at the end of a busy day? Or a vibrant, dynamic launching pad to brainstorm your next adventures?

  • What is the purpose (or main activity) for each room?

  • What furniture, art, and decor will you be keeping and which will you replace?

  • What features of the house (and each room) do you want to emphasize and which do you want to downplay?

If you get stuck, a Color Theory consultant can help you figure out which colors will best deliver the feeling you’re trying to achieve. Our consultants have a deep understanding of colors and how to best use them in different spaces. A color consultation with them can take the stress out of picking the right paint colors for your home.

3. Start with what you have

Unless you are planning to completely redecorate, it’s a good idea to start with what you already have in your home. Take note of the colors and patterns in your favorite furniture and decor and pick paint colors that continue those themes. If you are planning to get new furnishings and decorations, you may want to pick out the major items before choosing your paint colors since it can be easier to match a paint color to decor than vice versa.

4. Choose a connecting color

A neutral paint color can give a unified feel throughout the home

A neutral paint color can give a unified feel throughout the home

Now that you know the feelings that you want to achieve and have a few colors in mind, it’s time to start fleshing out a color scheme. The backbone of your color scheme is the color that will be used most throughout your home as a connection or transition between the different areas. It is usually a neutral tone, but doesn’t have to be. This connecting color is often used in entrances and hallways because those rooms are your portals to other parts of the house. It is also often used in the living room or other central location. Because the living room serves as a landing and launching site for your daily activity, having a neutral living room can be a great way to restore balance and recalibration in your home.

Neutral doesn’t have to mean boring. Too many people default to a bland off-white just because they are afraid of choosing the wrong color. But choosing the right neutral can help set the right backdrop for your daily living. Neutral colors are great because they allow for easy transition from room to room without making it difficult to look in different color families for satellite rooms.

In some cases, you may need to adjust the shade of the connecting color to accommodate different lighting conditions throughout the house. Sometimes the best way to achieve a unified look is to adapt the color for each room. A few years ago, we painted a home white and used a slightly different shade in almost every room. (See the pictures)

5. Work from a unified color scheme

Once you have a connecting color, you can go throughout the house room by room and work on how to incorporate the connecting color and your other chosen colors in each room. Start with the heart of your home. This might be a big open space like an entrance or open living room. Take a look at a few color families and narrow it down to the family you like best. As you go, compare each color you have chosen to the other colors to ensure they work well together and with the connecting color.

It’s best to plan a color scheme for your home as a whole, rather than for each area individually. Each room can & should have it’s own look, but it should feel cohesive with the house. Choose a family of colors that you can draw from in different areas or objects throughout your house. As you choose colors for each room, look at them from the perspective of adjoining rooms so you know that it will look good both when you’re in the room and as you’re entering. Working from an overall color scheme can give your home a unified look & feel.

6. Let each room’s personality shine

Vibrant colors in the ceiling paint and decorations give this nursery a whimsical flair.

Vibrant colors in the ceiling paint and decorations give this nursery a whimsical flair.

The visual energy in the room should match how you use the room. For example, if you want your bedroom to be a calming oasis, soft blues and tans may be appropriate, with small & subtle accents. Your workout room, however, may use bright blues and bold accents (in the same color scheme as your bedroom) to pump up the energy.

You may have heard of the 60-30-10 rule. This is a general rule of thumb for choosing colors. Of course, as most rules, there are times when it should be stretched or broken, but it’s good to keep in mind.

  • 60% of the room should be one color. This is usually the color of the walls and is typically fairly conservative.

  • 30% of the color should be a supporting color. This can show up in an accent wall, floor coverings, or furniture. Depending on the look you’re going for, this may also be a mild color or it can be a bit more bold.

  • The last 10% is the “pop.” Here’s where you can have a lot of fun. Use throw pillows, decorations, and other items to give your room life and personality.

You can use some visual tricks to emphasize or downplay the size or features of a room. For example, light colors can help a small room feel more spacious while dark colors can help a large room feel more cozy. Stripes or other shapes can also be used - vertical stripes can give the illusion of height in a room with low ceilings or horizontal bands can visually lower ceilings that are disproportionately high.

7. Adjust for the Light

As you choose your colors, take into account the different lighting conditions in each room and how the light changes during the day. Color is dynamic and as the light changes, different hues (colors) take on different personalities. Direct sunlight, indirect sunlight, and artificial light each change the appearance of colors in different ways.

For example, the same blue that can be fresh and uplifting in a front room full of warm sunlight may be downright depressing in a basement room with no windows.

Direct sunlight

Direct sunlight

Indirect sunlight

Indirect sunlight

Artificial light

Artificial light

If you can, it’s best to test your paint color on all walls. What may be a soft, creamy yellow on one wall may look gaudy on another wall in the same room because the light hits it differently.

If the light doesn’t play well with a color that you love, you don’t necessarily have to abandon the color. Try adding lamps, changing the bulb in your light fixtures, or adding translucent colored window coverings. Or you may also be able to find a different shade of the color that works better with the lighting.

8. Explore all your options

Of course, painting the walls is an impactful way to bring color into your home. But it’s not your only option. Trim, flooring, window coverings, furniture, decorations, and even books on a shelf are also ways to create and enhance a color scheme.

Though floors are not typically a focal point of decorating, they do occupy a large surface area and their color and material can greatly impact the overall mood of your home. Using the same type of flooring throughout your home is a subtle way of conveying visual coherence. Similarly, changing the flooring can help to signify a change in the way spaces are used.

Let us help!

Color Theory Consultants take the hassle out of choosing paint colors

Color Theory Consultants take the hassle out of choosing paint colors

Our consultants are experts in helping you find the colors and styles that will transform your house into a home that you love. If you’re trying to get a new look for your home, a one-hour color consultation may be the best investment of your whole project!