The colors that you choose for the walls, ceiling, floor and accents of your home make an important decorating statement.  Colors not only reflect your personal tastes but also establish the character of your home.  Because colors affect how you feel when you are in a room, they may be used to create a mood.  Moreover, colors can be selected and combined to influence how you and others perceive the physical dimensions of a room.

There are limitless paint colors to choose from, and each year manufacturers introduce new ones and collections organized in themes.  Begin by deciding which you like best.  Then consider what the room will be used for and what overall effect you wish to create.  Paint color can be used to alter the spatial proportions of a room, highlight features and detract from flaws.  Important factors to consider include the room’s lighting and existing (and planned) furnishings.  By combining your personal color preferences with the needs of the space to be painted, you will be able to avoid mistakes.  Important factors to keep in mind are:

  • Understanding color.  Know how colors are created and how they work with one another.  The color wheel is a useful device for understanding color, making decisions on color combinations, matching paints with furnishings and architectural elements in the room.
  • Creating an effect.  Rooms can evoke different moods:  the feeling of a cozy bedroom is different from the mood of a formal living room.  The paint colors you choose will help create the mood.  Colors can change the perceived dimensions of space, making small rooms feel larger and large spaces more intimate.
  • Reading the room well.  You can use paint to hide faults, such as pipes or surface flaws.  In the same way, you can use color to highlight room elements and features.  A room’s light plays a large part in color selection.  Be sure to consider both natural and artificial light sources.  Thus study the room in morning, mid-day and night.

Paint colors fall in and out of favor, as with other products.  Fortunately, paint color cycles usually last for 7-10 years rather than the 1-2 year cycles of fashion.  When changes do occur, they are gradual.  As a result, the colors you choose now will not be out of date anytime soon.  The current color trend is for warm colors, inspired by nature.  Even cool colors, such as blues and greens are being made warmer with the addition of complementary colors.  While most chosen colors tend to be pale when used over large-scale surfaces, you can enliven them by adding bright accent colors to trim.

Take into account the properties of color and other principles that affect how colors work, both alone and together. Consider these factors before choosing colors.

  • Color temperature. Warm colors are grouped together on the color wheel – they contain elements of yellow and red. Warm colors can make a surface appear to come toward you and a room feel more intimate. Cool colors contain elements of blue and green, making the surface seem to recede and the room feel larger.
  • Color pyschology. The primary and secondary colors are collectively referred to as “The Big 6”. Each is associated with a sense of emotion:
  • Green – natural.
  • Blue – cool.
  • Orange – bold.
  • Yellow – sunny/warm.
  • Red – distinguished.
  • Violet – intense.
  • Shading. A light colored surface reflects more light than a dark one. Consequently, rooms painted in a light color will appear more open and larger than they really are. Even a warm color can have this effect if there is a sufficient amount of white in it. Dark colors absorb light and make a room feel smaller.


  • Tint – a color that has had white added to it. White makes the color more opaque and cools the color.
  • Shade – a color that has had black added to it.
  • Neutrality. Neutral colors such as beige, taupe, gray, cream can provide the backdrop for other colors in a room’s overall color scheme involving furnishings as well as surfaces to support and tie together colors or to create harmony.
  • Relativity. Colors appear more intense when set on or near a white/off-white background. Dark colors look even darker when adjacent to light colors. Complementary colors – those that lie directly opposite each other on the color wheel - appear more intense when used together will provide contrast and can create drama. Related colors – those that are positioned next to one another on the color wheel – blend together, do not clash, and will create a harmonious scheme.

Create effects by following the principles of color.

  • Unify interconnecting rooms. Create an impression of unity and spaciousness by painting rooms in related colors. The colors lead the eye from one room to another and give continuity.
  • Alter perception of dimension. Make a long, narrow room seem wider by painting the short walls a warm, dark color so that they seem to move toward the viewer. Painting the long walls a cool, pale color will make them appear to recede.
  • Adjust room height. Painting the topmost margin of a wall a lighter color than the walls give the illusion of spaciousness and a high ceiling. If the wall has picture rail affixed to it as molding, use it as a natural color break. Painting the upper margin a darker color than the area beneath will serve to lower the apparent height of the ceiling and make the space more intimate and informal.

The type, quality and intensity of light can change the appearance of color. Be sure to consider the light sources in a room based on time of day.

  • Rooms with windows facing south receive the most amount of sunlight. As the sun moves across the sky during the day from east to west, the amount of apparent light changes. This is further influenced by the season.
  • Bright colors seem brighter in direct sunlight. Generally, natural light at noon has a blue cast and an orange cast at sunrise and sunset.
  • Light has color and changes perception. Artificial light is organized by how it is produced. Incandescent light has a yellow cast slightly deeper than sunlight and works well with darker, warmer colors. Fluorescent light contains blue and works with bright colors and whites, and is often used in kitchens and bathrooms. Halogen light gives a strong white light that defines bold colors but can wash out muted tones. Unintended effects may occur due to lighting. There are color-correcting lights that can be used to adjust for how color is perceived.
  • Where color is viewed makes a difference when evaluating samples, e.g. inside, outside, in shadows, etc. Colors need to be seen, compared and evaluated in relation to each other, i.e. how they look when in combination with other colors used in the scheme or with objects having those colors.

Consider the dominant colors in the furnishings you own or plan to add to the room. Just as the colors of walls and trim should work well together, so should the painted surfaces harmonize with furniture, artwork, window treatments, carpet, furnishings, etc.

  • If you want your furniture to stand out or blend in with the wall colors, select colors appropriately.
  • Houseplants add green to a room’s color scheme and will cool down very warm wall colors.
  • Natural wood floors and trim add brown to a room’s color scheme and warm it.
  • Patterns. If an item’s fabric is the focal point of the room, select a wall color painted the same as one of the less dominant colors in the fabric. This will allow the item to stand out and not overly blend or collapse into the overall room color. By the same token, if a room’s furnishings are all within related colors, painting the walls a complementary color creates a harmonious scheme drawing attention to those furnishings.