Last year, I shared my favorite tips and tricks for how I choose paint colors. I have a different approach when it comes to choosing paint colors and some of you may have seen that post. It’s my most popular post since I have been blogging and every month, I am always so surprised to see it pop up as my most visited blog post for the month. It just goes to show how so many of us really struggle with how to narrow down and choose paint colors for our home and I really hope that my post has helped in some way.
So today, I have updated that post with new paint color inspiration and I am also reposting the tutorial for how to eliminate undertones and shades and zone in on just the right colors.
This is a long post because I went into great detail but if you stick with me through the end all six steps, I promise, you will see that this is a really fast process and automatic. If you approach paint colors through a process of elimination, the perfect color for a room will jump out at you and make this process so much easier and a lot less painful.
Summer Shower Benjamin Moore via Martha O’Hara Interiors
Behr Nature’s Gift
These little tricks give you a quick way to make a color decision that you will be happy with and no more guesswork.
Sleepy Blue Benjamin Moore via Design Studio M
Benjamin Moore Abalone
Benjamin Moore Simply White
Step 1) Changing the Focus; Process of Elimination
The main thing that has really helped me more than anything in choosing paint colors is that instead of focusing on the various shades of a color that I like, I change my focus and eliminate what I don’t like about a color. This makes the process so much easier and I automatically eliminate different elements (I will go into below) that make my final color choices obvious.
When I am finished with my elimination process, I usually have one or two paint chip/cards left of my ideal color, making the paint decision obvious, instead of guessing if a color is right. This process also helps me to keep an open mind and broaden my color/shade choices and often times, my end color/shade is something I would have never considered in the beginning!
Sherwin Williams Simply White
Step 2) Determine (roughly) what color and tone you’re interested in for your space.
It’s really important to consider a smooth color transition from room to room and it makes all the difference overall in a home. This is big head start in narrowing paint choices by choosing the same undertone of a color of the space adjacent to the space you want to paint. For instance if one room is beige with a subtle green undertone and you want to paint the room next to it a blue-gray, choose a blue-gray with a slight hint of green undertone.
Dunn Edwards Dunn Edwards DEC789 Light Gray, Flat.
Sherwin Williams Sea Salt
If your color in the adjacent room does not have a strong undertone that jumps right out at you, try bringing a lamp close to the wall or looking at the wall in both morning and dusk natural light. If nothing jumps out at you, consider the undertone a “neutral”.
All colors have an undertone but some have more of a subtle undertone and this is where it gets dangerous! What seems like a safe neutral undertone can change and pop out under certain changes in lighting. All of the sudden you have what you thought was a perfect neutral beige and paint it on the wall, turn on the lights and now you have an ugly peach wall. Been there!
Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter
Step 3) Difficulty Choosing a Main Color
If you’re having trouble deciding on what general color you want to paint a space- I’m talking you don’t even know if you want red, green, blue, etc., and need some inspiration, there are some amazing resources and inspiration out there for you. Pinterest has become an awesome resource to see specific paint colors already on a wall and in a space. You can search by a specific wall color (if you have the paint name) or many pinners like myself have paint color boards dedicated to paint colors and specific paint names.
This is what my paint color board looks like:
Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
Fireplace is Sherwin Williams Black Fox and wall is Sherwin Williams Morris Gray
Sherwin Williams Dovetail
3) Picking the right paint cards/chips
Once you have some idea of what color you want (and hopefully you have an idea of the undertone), head to your paint store and zone in roughly on your ideal color and tone and pick up the card/s. But wait!! Now pick up all of the tones and shades surrounding your “ideal” color, getting the paint cards at least three deep/beyond your original color and moving into the next colors.
I pick up almost every shade and tone of my color because even if you think the color will never work, you have to have the surrounding cards to help you later quickly spot the undertone of the color.
Choosing a color at a paint store is a complete waste of time because the industrial lighting is not remotely similar to the same lighting that you will have in your space. The trick here is to basically, you are recreating the same color chip/card layout in your own space like it was at the paint store, but using the dominant lighting that will be in the space that you want to paint like this:
Benjamin Moore Shale
4) Eliminating Tones
Next, go into the room that you’re going to paint and use the lighting that is used most of the time in that space. For instance, in my guest bath, there are no windows, so I eliminated my colors by looking at paint colors with the overhead horrible vanity bathroom lighting that I have in this space (I purposely took my pictures with this awful lighting just to show you how lighting impacts colors)
Lay your paint cards out in color/tone order just like it was laid out in the store. Organize by shade as well- with the lighter at the top of your column, to darker at the bottom. Make your columns with the neutral undertones in the middle and move into each perspective undertone to the right and left for each new column like this:
If you look above, you can see that I have the neutral tones of the blue-gray in the second column from the left. You can see that to the left, the cards move into the gray brown undertones and to the right, it moves into the greens and darker blues.
So as you look at your laid out colors under the lighting for the room, eliminate and take away the cards of a certain undertone that you know you don’t want. If you know you want a certain undertone, you keep those cards. If you’re unsure, keep them for now. If you want to stay as safe as possible with a neutral undertone, go right to the middle and eliminate the cards to the right and left. When you lay your cards out this way, the safest and most subtile undertones can now be spoted immediately because they should be in the middle.
In my guest bath after eliminating the undertones that I knew I didn’t want, I got down to about 6-9 color choices:
Benjamin Moore Slate Blue
Wall color is Benjamin Moore White Dove
Step 5) Eliminate Shades
Now that you’ve narrowed your colors down and eliminated tones, the next step is to eliminate shades. This another easy elimination. Obviously if you want a lighter shade of your color, eliminate the darker colors and vice versa. For me, I wanted something right smack in the middle. so I eliminated and removed the cards for the lighter shades and the darker shades and kept the shades in the middle.
By eliminating shades, I automatically narrowed my choices down to three colors (again, notice how the light in this space really alters these colors):
I know there are a lot of different opinions on choosing a shade of a color but someone once told me that for lighter shades, go one shade darker and for darker shades, go one shade lighter. I’ve always done that and it’s usually right on target for me. In this case, I wanted a medium shade and again, it’s obvious because it’s the color in the middle of my laid out cards!
Once you eliminated the shades from your choices, remove the cards.
Cabinet Color is Repose Gray
Step 6) The Final Decision
After you eliminated the shades and taken away the cards, you should have just 1-3 color choices left. Most of the time when I get to this point, my ideal color is usually obvious and jumps right out at me just like it did below for my guest bath:
For my guest bath, I picked the Krypton (the color in the middle) because the color to the right had WAY too much blue and the color to the left, didn’t have enough blue. Without laying out the paint cards and having the colors with the undertones to the right and left of my color, I would not have been able to see the undertone differences! Imagine how disappointed I would have been had I simply picked the too blue color to the right (Rain) at the paint store without seeing how much blue undertone it had!
The moral of this super long story is that the only way you can truly see undertones clearly is by putting them next to similar colors with varying undertones and choosing colors with the lighting in the space.
So the final choice is really the only big decision to make as the rest of the decisions are pretty much automatic elimination. As you can see, even the final choice was hardly a choice to make in the case of my guest bath.
Sherwin Williams Sea Salt
Benjamin Moore Vapor Trails
Door Color is Sherwin Williams Gray Harbor
Step 7) Get a Sample of your Final Color Choice
Odds are that you have either nailed your final color/tone through this process or you’re extremely close but you may need to tweak the shade. Just to be safe, it’s best to get a small sample of your color and paint a large poster board in your sample color and let it dry. After it dries, tape it to your wall. You will quickly see if you want to go up or down a shade once you get it on the wall. Keep in mind that if you are torn to two final color choices, talk with the people at the paint store and they can suggest formula tweaks or diluting with a certain percentage of white.
Benjamin Moore Providence Olive
If you take away two things from me today, remember that you need to have colors surrounding colors to really spot true undertones and always choose your paint colors in the space you want to paint with the dominant lighting. If you just do these two things, I promise you, you will stand a much better chance of being happy with your final color choice!
If you want to see a lot more paint color inspiration or see paint color palettes, you can go to those posts by clicking the image below:
Thanks for hanging out with me today!