From Spotlight: When Your House Needs a Refresh…Paint!

The Right Way to Pick a (Gorgeous!) Color Scheme for Your Home

Because the wrong paint job can seriously wreck your home.

Brightly painted walls in a color expert's home
Image: Maria Killam, designer/Barry Calhoun, photographer

Picking a color for one room can be challenging enough. But picking a palette for your whole house?

That feels daunting. Coordinate your colors too much, and you'll end up matchy-matchy. Don't coordinate your colors enough, and you'll end up tacky-tacky.

And that not only messes with your mojo, it can be bad for home value. Because ugly colors turn off buyers, and you may not get the best price if you sell.

But you can end up with colors you'll love that'll also enhance your home's value by following these tips from two designers who recently recolored two different houses.

First, Find Your Inspiration

Rather than picking a palette from a big box store's paint brochures or from whatever Pinterest's algorithm serves you up, look into your own soul. Or, at least, into your closet or out your window.

"Designers always have a starting point," says interior designer Maria Killam, who also writes the "Colour Me Happy" blog.

It might be a favorite sweater or a photo of your favorite beach spot. Or a Killam says.

Or it could be a feeling you want for your home, whether that's cheery, bright, dramatic, cozy — whatever feels right to you.

For Killam, it was a feeling of "fresh." So she used a mix of flowers and foliage to come up with her inspiration:

A hot pink painted bathroom with flowers in the sink
A close-up of a yellow couch, pink curtains, & floral pillow

Images: Maria Killam, designer

For Melissa Mascara, principal designer at Melissa Mascara Design, wallpaper patterns inspired her palette.

White wallpaper with gold lettering in a bathroom
Blue and gray brown floral wallpaper in a dining room

Images: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

Learn (Just a Bit) About Undertones

Paint color undertones have the power to make or break your whole-house color palette — and you're not alone if your response to that is, "Under-whats, now?"

If you've ever had a beige that looks just right in the can, but turns an ugly shade of pink on the wall, it's a red undertone to blame. And it happens because undertones are almost impossible to see in the can.

But you need to because the undertones in your home's cabinets and counters can bring out the undertones you can't see in your palette — like that ugly pink beige mentioned above. White cabinets with a green undertone could be the culprit that changed it to something sickly.

Start With a Neutral And Two Other Colors

When choosing a palette, start with three colors. Three is a balanced number, and it gives just enough visual interest without overwhelming you.

Choose a neutral shade and add two more tones, all of which should come directly from your inspiration piece. As you put your palette together, keep in mind your neutral color should be in every room. That's what helps pull the whole-house palette together.

Killam chose white (Sherwin-Williams Shoji White) as her neutral:

A white, bright kitchen with green curtains and accents
Image: Maria Killam, designer/Tracey Ayton, photographer

And Mascara chose shades of brown, which are reflected in the wood floors, doors, and trim on the built-in shelves:

A neutral colored living room with blue and pink furniture
Image: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

"The trend isn't the one accent wall, like it was in the '80s or painting each room a different color like we did in the '90s," says Killam. "Now we're choosing a main neutral to go throughout the house."

Add More Colors

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to three colors.

Mascara ended up picking seven colors:

Paint color palette used by designer Melissa Mascara
Image: HouseLogic

While Killam went with six hues, including a customized color (yep, you can do that — most any paint store will help you):

Paint color palette used by color expert Maria Killam
Image: HouseLogic

A bright living room with pink shades, yellow furniture
Image: Maria Killam, designer

Repeat Colors From Room to Room

Designers create the coordinated look of a whole-house palette through repetition.

"Use any color at least twice," says Mascara. "For example, the dominant wall color in one space might become an accent color in the next." Mascara followed this rule by using turquoise paint in the home office and turquoise patterned wallpaper in the dining room.

Teal-painted walls of a home office
Blue and gray brown floral wallpaper in a dining room

Images: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

Note that having a six- or seven-color palette does not give you license to cram all the colors into every room in equal measure — or that each of seven rooms should be swallowed whole by a single shade. Yikes. Distribute your palette throughout the house in

Test Lighting and Sight Lines

Before committing to a palette, consider two more elements: lighting and sight lines (how the hues look when you see them from other rooms).

Rather than choosing paint by looking only at small swatches, buy sample-sized cans of your colors and paint them on poster boards.

Place your poster-sized paint samples so they're visible as you walk through the house. Then look down the hallway and from room to room to see how the colors play off each other. And notice how the light affects the colors, too.

A yellow-painted laundry room
Image: Maria Killam, designer/Barry Calhoun, photographer

In her project, Mascara wanted to maximize the home's light, so she chose paint accordingly. "Many of the spaces in our project didn't have the best natural light," she says, "so we brightened the walls in those spaces and kept the dark accent colors to a minimum."

A close-up of a light gray wall with dark accent furniture
Image: Melissa Mascara, designer/Jessica Issac, photographer

You may need to relocate certain colors, or even choose another color from your inspiration palette, to find the right flow. But once you've done so, you'll be all set to put your whole-house palette into play.

Related: Tips and Tricks to Paint Like a Pro

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Kelley Walters

Kelley Walters is a Southern writer and editor. She focuses on interior design and home improvement at outlets from HGTV to Paintzen. She lives in Italy a month every year, drinking Negronis and writing in internet cafes.