Here are 5 tips, from the pros, on choosing interior paint colours that give your home rich personality.
So you’ve renovated your house like a skilled surgeon, fixing structural flaws and preserving each room’s distinct architectural character. But something’s still missing. More than likely, that something is colour—the renovator’s secret weapon.
Did you know that crown moulding can visually raise the ceiling or lower it, depending on how it contrasts with the walls? Or that deft use of colour can turn one room into a lively gathering place and another into a relaxing space for curling up with a book? In today’s open-plan homes, where kitchens, living rooms, and dining rooms are often one large space, colour is used to help define interiors and create focal points in relatively featureless rooms. The trick, of course, is figuring out how to pick paint colours to use and where to put them.

How to choose interior paint colours

1. Create a colour scheme that matches your home’s furniture

Always remember that while there are thousands of paint chips at the store, there are only seven colours in the paint spectrum,” says Krims, referring to red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (what Colour Theory 101 students are often taught to remember by the mnemonic device, “Roy G. Biv”). “I always suggest eliminating a couple even before you go to the paint store.”

Here’s her sure-fire 4 step method for creating a colour scheme:

  1. Start by selecting three colours from an existing object in your home. “Take a pillow from the family-room sofa, your favourite tie or scarf, or a painting—anything that conveys comfort or has an emotional connection for you—and take that object to the paint store,” says Krims. “Find three sample strips with those colours, and you instantly have 15 to 18 colours you can use, since each sample strip typically contains six paint colours.”

  2. The next step is to choose one of the three paint colours as your wall colour and to save the other two to be used around the room in fabric or furnishings.

  3. To choose the colours for adjacent rooms, take the same original three colour sample strips and select another colour.

  4. Finally, choose a fourth colour that can be used as an accent: “Splash a little of that colour into every room of the house—by way of a pillow or plate or artwork. It makes a connection between the spaces,” Krims says.

2. Decide on the finish to create an appealing visual effect

Once you have your colours in hand, consider the finish you’ll be using. Though today’s flat paints have increased stain resistance, conventional wisdom has long held that a satin (also called eggshell) finish is best for walls because it is scrubbable and doesn’t draw attention to imperfections. Semi-gloss and high-gloss finishes, it was thought, were best left to the trim, where they could accent the curves of a moulding profile or the panels of a door.

Today, however, finishes are also being used to create visual effects on the entire wall. Paint one wall in a flat or satin finish and the adjacent wall in a semi-gloss, both in the same colour, and “when the light hits the walls, it creates a corduroy or velvet effect,” says Doty Horn. Similarly, you can paint the walls flat and the ceiling semi-gloss to achieve a matte and sheen contrast. (The ceiling will feel higher the more light-reflective it is.) Keep in mind that the higher the gloss, the more sheen and the more attention you draw to the surface. Used strategically, colour and gloss together can emphasise your interior’s best assets.

3. Match the colour to the feeling you want in the room

The psychology of colour is a minor ­obsession among paint professionals. Many say you should choose a colour based at least in part on how a room is used and the mood you want to establish.
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, co-founder and editor of the blog apartmenttherapy.com suggests, painting social rooms (dining rooms, kitchens, family and living ­areas) warm colors like daffodil-yellow, coral, or cranberry, and give private rooms (home offices, powder rooms, bedrooms) cooler hues like sage-green, violet, or sky-blue.
Keep in mind, when it comes to emotional effects, of course, one person’s welcome-home orange will be another person’s signal to scream.
Debbie Zimmer, for one, declares that “red will increase your appetite—and your blood pressure; blues and greens are nature-like and calming; purple is loved by children but not necessarily by adults; yellow is inviting; and orange can be welcoming but also a little irritating, depending on the tint, tone, or shade.”

Research done by Behr indicates that yellow can stimulate the brain, so it might be worth considering for rooms where homework is done; but avoid yellow in bedrooms, where the goal is generally to chill out. Instead, explore these calming colours in the bedroom to help you sleep better.

4. Know your whites

Whites come in a staggering variety. Pure, “clean” whites are formulated without tinted undertones. These are favoured by designers looking to showcase artwork or furnishings and are often used on ceilings to create a neutral field overhead.
Most other whites are either warm—with yellow, rust, pink, or brownish undertones—or cool, with green, blue, or grey undertones. Behr’s Mary Rice says: “Use warmer whites in rooms without a lot of natural light, or to make larger spaces seem cosier.” Cool whites, by contrast, can help open up a space. Test several at once to see which one works best with the other colours at play in the room.

5. Using colour architecturally

One of the most effective ways to use colour to transform a room is to play up its architectural features. Moulding, mantels, built-in bookcases, arched doorways, wainscot, windows, and doors all offer an opportunity to add another layer of interest to colored walls.

Painting moulding and doorways

For subtle emphasis, Sheri Thompson, director of colour marketing and design for Sherwin-Williams, suggests painting moulding or doorways just one step lighter or darker than the primary wall. “It’s a subtle shift in colour but it really brings your eye to the detail,” she says.
Painting a metallic glaze right on top of an existing painted element, like a ceiling medallion, is another way to draw attention. “A copper or bronze finish is very translucent and it gives a nice shimmer that enhances the architectural feature,” says Thompson.