How to Choose a Wall Color

Don’t be intimidated by color — picking the right shade is easy with these professional tips.
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“Color is a powerful tool,” says interior designer and author Kerrie Kelly. “It can accentuate architectural details as well as direct traffic and create flow in your home.” But how do you choose the color that’s right for a given room?

Spend some time with a color wheel to see what you like. You remember this tool from high school art class; it shows all the colors of the spectrum arranged in a circle and highlights the relationships between them. You may find yourself naturally gravitating to one side of the circle (say, cool blues and greens) or the other (warm reds and oranges). “Blues are all about tranquility and relaxation,” Kelly says. “Reds and rich earth tones are social-gathering colors. Choose according to how you’re going to use the room and the mood you want to create.”

Check in with trends. Some perennial combinations never lose their charm, Kelly says, like crisp blue-and-white kitchens or calming green bedrooms. But new ideas are exciting, too:

Kitchen With Contrasting Counters and Blue Lantern Lights

Sunny Kitchen With Contrasting Quartzite and Walnut Counters

In this light-filled blue-and-white kitchen, a mix of materials helps break up the large expanse of the central island and define its multiple functions. For the prep zone, designer Kathleen Walsh chose Vermont White Quartzite while watershed-finished walnut warms up the breakfast bar area.

Photo by: Tim Lee ©Tim Lee Photography

Tim Lee, Tim Lee Photography

A strong movement toward natural, eco-friendly materials has put granite tones, greens, browns, and whites in the spotlight.

Green Transitional Kitchen With Marble Island

Marble Island in Green Transitional Kitchen

A marble-top kitchen island sits in a beautiful, spacious mint green kitchen. Gas lamps and a glass display case add a traditional feel while stainless steel appliances give the space a more contemporary feel.

Photo by: Walt Roycraft ©Walt Roycraft

Walt Roycraft, Walt Roycraft

Whether you go neutral or bold on the wall, try accenting with metallic paints on furniture, lighting, plumbing, and accessories. “Silver, gold, bronze, copper, and pearl add elegance without being too heavy,” Kelly says. “In daylight, these colors appear neutral; in the light of evening, they impart a welcoming glow.”

If you want to make a statement, strong color palettes derived from Russian, Indian, and Latin design are on trend; blend them with traditional colors or neutrals for a thoroughly modern look.

Bedroom With Pink and Brown Patterned Wall and White Bedding

Fuchsia and Brown Moroccan-Inspired Bedroom

This Moroccan-inspired bedroom boasts a warm shade of brown paired with a lively shade of fuchsia. The combination creates a relaxing yet energizing space oozing with style.

Photo by: G CRAWFORD


Technology-inspired saturated colors like lime green, royal blue, apple red, sunshine yellow, and tangerine radiate energy and lend a sense of richness to a room.

Eclectic Living Room With Eclectic Furniture

Eclectic Living Room With Eclectic Furniture

Funky, unique furniture fills this neutral, eclectic living room with color and texture. Elegant, bright red chairs add a splash of color in the space.

©Photography provided by Donna Puzifera

Photography provided by Donna Puzifera

Use color relationships as your guide, but be willing to experiment. Complementary colors are those that lie opposite each other on the color wheel — that means they’re visually balanced, although the high contrast may be more drama than you want in a room. “Approximately opposite colors work well, too,” Kelly says. “For example, sage green (a yellow-green) pairs beautifully with violet. Sometimes combinations are more interesting when the colors aren’t direct opposites.” You may also like the look of an analogous color scheme, which pairs colors that lie directly next to each other on the wheel; these combinations are common in nature, so we tend to find them pleasing.

Multicolored Eclectic Dining Room With Bright Yellow Dining Chairs

Multicolored Eclectic Dining Room With Art Deco Flair

With hints of art deco style, this eclectic dining room is wild and wonderful. Gorgeous teal floral wallpaper, a soft lavender coffered ceiling, bright yellow velvet chairs, a funky bubble chandelier and a colorful chevron rug pull the eccentric look together.

Photo by: Nancy Nolan

Nancy Nolan

Layer tone on tone for a sophisticated effect. “A monochromatic color combination uses shades of a single color,” Kelly says, “to create an effect that’s serene and elegant. The key to success with this approach, because it’s so subtle, is to add texture and use varying scales of pattern in the materials you choose.”

Mix Up Your Lighting

Great Room Lighting Ideas

Thanks to a mix of table lamps, ambient lighting and cost-saving bulbs, this lavender-toned great room is beautifully lit both day and night.

Photo by: Brian Patrick Flynn

Brian Patrick Flynn

Go for a test drive. Paint swatches won’t tell you everything you need to know. Buy the manufacturer’s test size in your new color and brush some on the wall (preferably where you can hide it with a picture later). “Look at your paint sample in the morning, at noon and at night,” Kelly advises, so that you can see how the color changes as the light quality changes. 

Photo by: Steven Holmes

Steven Holmes

Don’t hold back. If you’re looking to inject some personality into a humdrum space, don’t be afraid to slather on a big, expressive color for the walls. You can always combine that bold wall color with neutral furnishings to make a statement without creating a headache. “There’s really no reason not to experiment with paint on walls, because it doesn’t represent a big investment to do it or to change it later,” Kelly says. “Color is undoubtedly the shortest route to a dramatic setting.”

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