Written by Judy Ostrow
Selecting paint colors that complement your decor and enhance the appearance of your rooms can be a daunting task. If the idea of straying from soft white or basic beige gives you pause, hesitate no more. A wide assortment of product samples, oversized color cards, interactive websites, home retailer–created paint lines, and personal color coaches now exist to help you identify just the right tints for your abode.
While some people relish the prospect of sorting through hundreds of tiny paint chips and cards to find a few perfect shades, most folks dread the thought. A few years ago, small color blocks on a strip, or preselected palettes in manufacturers' brochures, were the rule; only a couple of brands offered samples of paint that consumers could try out at home. And forget about getting a tester in a custom color: The gallon can was often the smallest size available.
This scenario has changed dramatically. A broad range of paint manufacturers, from bargain brands to premium labels, now offer 2- to 4-ounce sample pots and pouches for nominal cost. Although European companies such as Farrow & Ball and Fine Paints of Europe led the way with this trend, popular domestic brands have joined them, including Ace Paint, American Tradition, Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, California Paints, Pratt & Lambert, Devine Paints, Pittsburgh Paints, True Value, and Behr.
With these testers in hand, homeowners can apply the chosen colors on a wall or on pieces of foam core board, then live with the hues before taking the plunge. Since natural and artificial light and furnishings influence the look of a color, at-home sampling helps consumers more accurately gauge how a shade will appear in their own houses. If a hue proves unappealing, customers can try another without repainting the whole room or blowing their budget.
In the Cards
Although not as accurate as actual paint, color cards, which are more generously sized than chips, can also ease hue anxieties. Instead of the 1-by-2-inch chip-on-a-strip, consumers can find a selection of Glidden colors on 3¾-by-6-inch sticky-back sheets; these can be repositioned on a wall to test the shades in different rooms and times of day. Martha Stewart Signature paints, available through Sherwin-Williams, and Pratt & Lambert both offer heavyweight 3-by-5-inch color cards with a punch-out center. Place the peephole over fabrics, floors, and trim to see how the shade would play into its future surroundings. Further evolving the color card, Devine Paints provides 8-by-10-inch sheets covered in real, spray-painted hues, and also offers groupings made with hand-applied daubs of paint. The company claims using actual paint on the cards gives the customer a more accurate perception of the color that comes out of the can.
Easy-to-use tools enabling online experimentation and color selection are increasingly available on manufacturers' websites. Several companies, including Pittsburgh Paints and Ace Paints, have created online multiple-choice quizzes that reveal your color affinities and create a personalized palette gleaned from their offerings. Others, such as Glidden, Sherwin-Williams, and Valspar, which makes American Tradition paints, have online virtual painter programs that allow you to select a room from their library of images, then preview it in any of their hues or color combinations.
On Benjamin Moore's website, consumers can access the free Makeover Program, where interior designers are "on call" to help with color decisions. Within seven to 10 business days of filling out an online questionnaire and sending in a picture of your project, you will receive from the company product recommendations, color cards, and suggested complementary hues for adjoining rooms.
If you're craving a one-stop shop for a completely color-coordinated decor, you'll appreciate the new paint ranges from furnishing companies like Pottery Barn. The home retailer has worked with Benjamin Moore for years to create companion paint colors for its catalog pages and store vignettes. This fall, the brands have begun offering consumers nearly two dozen of these shades, which are formulated to complement Pottery Barn's furniture, textiles, and accessories. Each season, 20 to 24 new hues will be introduced; shoppers can pick up fan decks of the colors at either company's stores. Similar programs are available at Restoration Hardware, which offers an eponymous collection of two dozen hues of latex paint at its stores and online, and at The Silk Trading Company, which carries its own line of over 45 organic, milk-based paints designed to correspond with the retailer's draperies and lighting.
Call in an Expert
If color coordination isn't the solution, perhaps a color pro is. These specialists range from individuals with degrees in art, design, and color theory to interior designers who provide color advice as a distinct offering of their full-service businesses; for a fee, these professionals visit your home and work with you to construct a palette.
Peggy Fortuna, a Pound Ridge, New York–based color consultant, begins the selection process by conversing with her client. "I start with the customer's likes and dislikes, then walk through the rooms, making note of the furnishings and decor," she says. From there she lays out a suggested palette, showing how the hues will progress through the house. She leaves color cards that the customer can tape to a wall and view in different lights before making a final decision. "It's a good idea to let others in a household see the choices, so they can weigh in," says Fortuna.
Fees for color consulting services vary, with some experts charging by the hour and others according to the scope of the job; advice on a single room will require less work—and be less expensive—than a whole-house makeover. Many paint departments of large hardware and home centers, as well as full-service paint stores, will provide contact information for local consultants. As with any contractor, be sure to check references before you hire anyone.
When it comes to selecting your home's color scheme, you've got help aplenty. No matter how you begin, be it with sample jars, oversized cards, your computer keyboard, a home retailer's palette, or an outside pro, nowadays you have an expanded support system for coloring your world.