Picking Paint Colors: It’s Personal, Not Theory

photo: Jennifer I.

Committing to a new paint color can be nerve-wracking.

A friend once taped 15 paint chips to the wall, and asked her visitors to choose their favourite — of 15 variations on beige.

Her inability to break the Bonds of Beige isn’t unusual. Embracing color is a lot to ask in a neutral world.

“Beige is popular because it’s not white,” is my rather unscientific theory. And beige walls are to homes what silver is to cars — great for resale.

White’s so stark and cold, and color’s a big commitment. It’s so… bold.

Three years ago,  I chose to paint two accent walls fire-red, and friends said I’d become “angry” in the space.

Honestly, I had apprehensions. I’d read the literature on colour, too. Yet within a year of painting those walls, I loved the look so much that I painted another four in the same fiery red. Two years later, I still don’t have to take anger management classes, and my then-doubtful friends love the space.

Psychology of color

For more than a millennium, some theorists have believed colours have different psychological, physical, and even spiritual properties. Red, they say, is a color of anger, blood, vengeance — but others will say it’s a creative color, symbolising passion and exuberance.

Whoa. Two contradictory theories. Which is right? Good question. What’s your gut say?

Take the colour green. Ask practitioners of the ancient art of chromatherapy, they’ll tell you green stimulates the Fourth Chakra, the heart, and helps one’s sense of love and responsibility. Ask authors of fashion mag “decor advice columns” and they’ll tell you not to paint a bedroom green because it’ll make your skin look sickly, and heaven forbid you don’t have a vibrant complexion dans le boudoir. A modern “color therapist,” however, will suggest green soothes turbulent emotions, is relaxing, and inspires empathy, so it’s perfect for a bedroom.

Despite all that, my bedroom is a deep grass green from floor to ceiling, and I love my emerald cave. Maybe color therapists are right. Or maybe green’s just right for me.

photo: peapodsquadmom

Choosing paint colors: take a chance

My “color theory” approach was simple. “I love green, I bet it’ll look nice. That’s an beautiful shade… Hmm, I’ll do the ceiling too.” Three years later, I still love my “grassy” space.

Every time I paint, I try something completely different. Change is good for us, and can be surprising when it’s all around you. Go ahead, take a chance.

If you can’t change your world, you can change your wall color.

Personalize your space with color

A colour isn’t something to choose because an expert who’s never been in your house says it’s a great choice. Color’s not something a “theory” can solve for you. It’s not something you pick because Nate Berkus used it in some Rhode Island “Urban Barn” model home. You can’t say “Oh, any shade will do.”

Color is personal. It’s about you. More importantly, it’s about your space.

Your home has lighting conditions no other home has. No store, no show, no magazine can replicate how light enters and floats around your home.

Light affects color. Other tones in your space — on shelves, art, linens, furniture, and even built-in accents — all change how other colors play in your home.

What are the odds you’ll “pick badly”? Well, let’s say it happens. Big deal. Order some pizza, invite friends, have beverages, re-paint, and laugh. Sounds like fun.

Overcome the ‘color commitment jitters’

Doing test patches can eliminate that. A few dollars, an hour of effort, and a couple painted 3×3’ squares lived with for a week or two, and you’ll know what works. It’s a good move when you have the Color Commitment Jitters. Take it slow, see how a week of daylight unfolds with your choices.

So, how do you pick the right color, then?

Don’t worry about design shows, magazines, or other people’s opinions. Instead, turn to ‘80s music, and do like Roxette says: “Listen to your heart.”

How to find your color

Look around your home. What colors do you have a lot of? When do they look the best? What looks good next to them?

React emotionally to colors, and make note of what inspires which emotion. When you’re looking at chips, don’t be afraid of the Dark Side. Remember, it will be different on a wall with furniture and art breaking it up, natural light spilling in. The color will be warmer, too, at home, as stores have cold lighting. Take all the similar shades of the chips you like — one’s bound to work at home.

Color is a deeply personal choice, but it doesn’t hurt to bring along a visual friend who might be able to help you understand how to make colors work for you — or how a more muted color might be better suited in that space.

Picking paint colors is fun!

As a kid, picking paint was an exciting thing to do with Mom, and still is fun to do alone today. There’s nothing like a complete color makeover of my home. My vivid eclectic space helps my creative life and keeps me hopping.

That’s my relationship with color, but what’s yours? Some people in demanding careers need a more restorative and zen place after a long day. It really is about you, so embrace your tastes, explore them.

Like most things in life, committing to a color is about following your instinct. Sometimes you choose badly, but when you get it right, the reward is wonderful.

Next time you color your world, take a chance, choose paint that inspires you.

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