How to Pick Paint Colors

Quick and Dirty Tips
by Quick and Dirty Tips
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.
Quick and Dirty Tips
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3 of 8 questions
  • Suzanne 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 Jordan Le Bouton on Feb 19, 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.

  • Mike Williamson Mike Williamson on Aug 13, 2020

    I like the black accent wall shown here with off white walls.

    I plan to do this in my bedroom.

    What is the best way to determine which wall will be best suited for the black accent wall, especially using black and white?



Join the conversation
2 of 27 comments
  • LadyOtheLake LadyOtheLake on Feb 26, 2020

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

  • I had to laugh at your post, I am that person who is constantly painting my rooms! Even when I visit family I paint for them! Maybe I like the instant gratification? I just used SW Underseas at my sisters house, now I want to paint a room at my house

    that color, just addicted to color I guess!