How to Pick Paint Colors

Domestic CEO has 4 easy steps to picking the perfect paint color for your home.
Painting your space can be a big deal. It either takes a lot of effort on your part, or a decent chunk of change to have someone else do it for you. Yes, we all know at least one person who swears she loves to paint and repaints her house on an annual basis.
But most of us normal people dread the thought of it. If you are going to go through the trouble of taping the edges, covering your floors and furniture with plastic sheets, the actual painting, AND the clean up afterwards, you want to make sure that you picked the right paint. Am I right?
So, how do you make 100% sure that you are going to love the color that you put on your walls? It takes a little bit more than just going to the local hardware store and picking the first paint sample that catches your eye. In fact, there are 4 steps that I follow when choosing a paint color for a room in my home.
Flickr/Maureen Diddee
Step Get Ideas
First, start looking through your home for inspiration. Inspiration can come in many different forms, but my favorite place to start is in my closet. A few years ago I was told by an interior designer friend that you should surround yourself with colors that you know look good on you. I wish I had met this designer before making this mistake. I painted most of the areas in my house a gold-brown color. It's a great color, but I've never felt comfortable in those areas. When the designer friend told me this tip, it made total sense. I NEVER wear anything with gold undertones, and I usually look horrible in brown. All the neutrals in my closet are grey and black, and my colors all have a blue undertone. If I would have just used this one piece of advice, I would have prevented years of not really liking my living areas and a major repainting project.
When looking through your closet, besides just figuring out which colors you feel most comfortable in, make sure to consider the feeling you want to create in your room, as well. If you want the room to be calming, you may want to focus on the colors that are in your favorite pair of lounge pants or PJs. If you want the room to be energizing, use the colors from your party clothes.
Another place you can find inspiration is with a specific piece you want to incorporate into the room. Maybe it's a carving you picked up on your last vacation, or a vase that you found while antiquing. If it speaks to you, find a way to incorporate it in. Don't try to find an exact match to the color to use as the main color of the wall, but rather a neutral color that will allow the item to stand out. If you want to use more of the color from the item, I would recommend using it as an accent color, either on a single wall or finding more items with that color to bring into the room.
Step Collect Paint Chips
Once you've narrowed down your search to a color or two, go to your local hardware or paint store and pick up paint chips. Because the lighting in the store is likely much different than the lighting in your home, I would recommend picking up the 10 chips that surround the color you think is "the one." I can't tell you how many times I've gotten home, hung the little square of color in the room, and been disgusted with how it looks in that space. To prevent having to go back to the store again, pick up more colors than you think you will need. How they appear in the space will depend on how much natural light comes into the room, what type of light bulbs you use, and even the colors that already exist in the room, like the floor and ceiling.
Once you bring the paint squares home, hang them on your walls and live with them for a couple days. Go into the room in the early morning, middle of the day, and at night. See how the colors look different at different times of the day. Each time you look at them, toss out the one you like the least. Do this until you only have 2 or 3 chips left.
Step Buy Samples
Now that you have 2 or 3 colors that you think look good in the space, go back to the store and purchase samples of those colors. Hardware and paint stores typically sell 8 oz. jars of paint that can be tinted to any color they carry for a few bucks. This will allow you to go home and paint a 3'x3' square on your wall in each of the colors to really test them out. This square doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be full color. In other words, don't worry about taping off a beautiful square, but do make sure to apply at least 2 solid coats to ensure you are getting the full color. Again, live with the painted spots for a little bit. After a day or two, pick your favorite and you are almost ready to go purchase.
Step Math is Your Friend
While you are living with the paint samples, determine how much paint you are going to need to buy. To do this, you will first need to figure out the square footage of your walls. Take the length of all the walls and multiply by their height. Subtract 20 square feet for each door, and 15 square feet for average windows (although you may want to do your own calculations if you have large windows or doors). One gallon of paint will usually cover about 350 square feet, but if your walls are currently just drywall without paint (you will know because they will feel dry and sometimes powdery to the touch, not smooth or silky), you will want to use a primer or get an extra gallon because the walls will suck up the paint quickly.
Now that you know which color you want AND how much you need, you are ready to get started. Just make sure to pick up the painters tape and plastic sheeting while you are at the store. Even though I'm sure the folks at your hardware store are really nice people, you don't want to see them any more than you already have!
If you want to see some of my favorite painting ideas, head on over to my Pinterest page.
Do you have a question about anything in this episode? Let me know in comments or send me an email at Or you can post your comments on the Domestic CEO Facebook wall or on my Twitter feed!
Until next time, I'm the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.

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Have a question about this project?

3 of 7 questions
  • Suzanne
    on Apr 22, 2017

    My fiance and I are buying a 100 year old home, it was renovated recently but I am not liking the colors in the house they are a peach color. We both love antiques and the old farm style , I will send pictures of the house and was wondering if you could please give some suggestions. They outside of the house is Blue gray with white trim.
  • Suzanne
    on Apr 22, 2017

    This is the house upstairs, downstairs , kitchen and one of the bathrooms that I had posted a question about earlier.
    This is the 100 year old home .

  • Jordan Le Bouton
    on Feb 20, 2019

    We bought a house that is painted red. I don’t think I want to paint the house. My question is: what colors would look good against it. I want to plant annuals and perennials. I got an email today where she is planning a white and blue garden. But I want riots of colors. Always in an apartment where I couldn’t plant. But we are even getting married in the back yard. So want blooming flowers around the yard.

    Thank you.

Join the conversation

3 of 26 comments
  • Madison Stephens
    on May 17, 2017

    Are you crazy?? One of the number one rules to selling a home is DO NOT paint any of the rooms if you don't need to!! The buyer almost will always repaint it and it will be a waste of money. Come on, that's something your grandparents would know!
    • Lesley Owens
      on May 20, 2017

      Madison: Well, "yes" and "no" on that-- I had a friend selling a house in the San Diego area. They were *huge* Chargers fan, and thus the livingroom/great room area was BRIGHT gold and blue (Charger's colors!) What may look great when all your friends are over for "game nights" may drive the potential buyers right out the door. Why? Because even though painting is relatively cheap and easy, they don't see past the eye-soar (in their view) that they are presented with. The same goes for the very-popular-in-the-mid-ninety's "one red wall" amongst a bunch of neutral walls. While the "one-red-wall" theme has it's place, it may NOT be what your potential buyer will like. It's better to go with neutral tones which show case potential. And, a fresh coat of paint with filled in holes where the wall pieces were formerly placed shows care in a home--another important aspect. Did the previous owners upkeep the place? If they show it in the best possible light, fresh and new, it speaks to the care and upkeep of the place. Don't think you need to repaint the ceilings? What if it means an extra $5K? Would you put that 2 days worth of effort in? I would. That fresh coat of paint can make a heck of a difference, because even if you think "the bathroom ceiling is just fine!" a buyer may not have that same perspective. The other thing to think about in terms of color *are the colors themselves*. There are different theories out there, but having color theory in college, I can speak to some tried-and-true things: Darker colors, even in neutrals, can make smaller spaces appear EVEN SMALLER. Do you want the kitchen to look like a cave or a warm and inviting place, that appears large? If it looks small without the addition of chairs and a table, people know that the addition of furniture will make it seem even smaller. This is NOT a selling point! A larger room, such as a great room, can handle a slightly darker shade of a neutral. I like to "break up the space" with a white or barely-off-white semi-gloss on the moldings (but that's me). I think it focuses some of the attention on the natural lighting sources in the room.

  • LadyOtheLake
    24 minutes ago

    I really appreciate the math for paint purchases. It help tremendously!

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