Making Paint Personal

It’s bad enough when you’re gazing at a menu with no idea what you want to eat. Worse, when your closet’s filled with things that give you no inspiration as to what to wear.

Now imagine you’ve given yourself the green light on redecorating with these unique paint ideas. These are bigger decisions — and more long-lasting. How can you make decisions on the right color, the right finish, the right texture, the right style?

While there are choices at every phase of a redecoration, there is no right or wrong. That knowledge alone should give you the confidence to take a few chances.

Bright room with orange wall and green couch

Inspiration for a wall color can come from a focal piece of furniture or wall hanging.

Perhaps you’ve always been a traditionalist — safely comfortable with Queen Anne furniture, wainscoting and warm floral prints. Or you’re a minimalist — believing that a white wall can stand alone and look adorned by one nearby chair. And maybe now is the time to step out of your comfort zone. Introduce some glass and stainless into a Chippendale room or pair a dramatic antique with abstract art. It is the tension between opposites that often makes for the most interesting room.

Still, we’re often told “go with what you know.” In this case, it’s “with what you’ve got.” When redecorating a room, the furniture comes first. Painting a wall every year is easy — finding new furniture, not so much. That sofa or important chair can become the “lead” piece in color and accessorizing.

Look at a pattern or a weave and choose a color you love: the turquoise threads in a woven upholstery might make for a dramatic ‘fourth wall’ color. The black wrought iron swirls of a cocktail table could be repeated in a rug, in occasional chairs or even in a stylized wallpaper, and a secondary color in that wallpaper might suggest paint shades for other walls. Inspiration lies all around.

Coloring Your World

Try this simple exercise for figuring out what you really like.

1 Get a small notebook and pencil.

2 Begin to look around.

3 Record everything that catches your eye.

In the parking lot, a lovely mocha-colored car seems to stand out. The doctor’s office has an octagonal coffee table that is unique. A cashier wears green nail polish that’s fun and happy. You see you’re always drawn to red-tone shirts. Your mother’s beige sofa feels safe and homey. And lately, you notice you’re wearing gold rather than silver.

colored pencils

After a week of recording…

gather enough colored pencils to cover the colors and hues you’ve described. Now the fun begins. Cut some little shapes to represent your sofa, chairs, rug, and color them with some of the shades your notes tell you liked. Lay them against backgrounds from your list.

For instance: A pale beige sofa sits on a mocha rug, in front of an apple green wall, with an octagonal stainless table in front. Geometric patterns of red and peach in the drapes may match a dramatic red and gold sculpture on the green wall. Now cut some more “furniture” and try it again with different colors!

Mind the Light

We know that there is almost nothing absolute … no pure white or pure black. In the case of paint, it is the pigment that gives it its hue … its basic color. And it is light that brings it to life.

Bright room with light shining in

Plan for the changes in appearance natural light can bring at different times of the day.

Natural sunlight is the purest light and provides the purest colors that we perceive. But the orientation of a room to a light source and the sun’s natural movement will change the coloration of the paint from season to season and even hour to hour. For instance, note if you have strong afternoon sunlight. If so, a soft coral wall may become a fiery volcanic red. Does your window point east? That suggests that with diminished afternoon light, your celery-colored walls could morph to pea-soup mud. Yet even north-facing rooms, the most difficult to decorate, can be turned to advantage. Instead of trying to lighten them, simply give in to the darks and shadows with soft chocolate and grey tones, perhaps set against white furniture or carpet.

Artificial light can affect color too. Incandescent lighting produces light with a yellowish cast. Newer halogen incandescent bulbs produce a brighter light that is more like sunlight, but which still drowns out blues and cool colors. Expensive “full spectrum” florescent lights produce light that most nearly resembles natural sunlight.

Textured walls, swirled surfaces, or popcorn ceilings deflect and bend the light as it hits them and produce a darker appearance.

Always remember to paint sections of the wall with several choices before selecting your overall paint color. Once it’s covering a whole room it will likely appear darker. Then make sure to observe it at various times of the day and with different artificial bulbs. Decorating with light begins with a little trial and error.