How to pick the perfect paint colour for every room in your house, according to interior designers

Business Insider US
  • We asked two interior designers how they choose paint colours for their clients' homes.
  • A few things they consider: how different paint finishes interact with certain surfaces, how natural light affects the way colours look, and the mood they're trying to achieve.
  • They also shouted out specific colours to solve a variety of design dilemmas, from making a small room look bigger to adding warmth to a rental with a bad lighting situation.
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At the outset, painting a room in your house to give it a fresh look seems like a fun DIY project. However, with so many different colours and finishes to choose from, landing on the right shade can quickly become overwhelming.

To help you out with the challenge, we consulted two interior designers who have experience navigating the vast world of paint: Nicole Gibbons, HGTV personality and founder of Clare, an online startup that sells a curated selection of paint; and James Farmer, the owner of a full-service interior design firm in Perry, Georgia.

They answered our questions about how to pick and pair colours, how to paint wall trim, and the best shades to fix a variety of design dilemmas. Read on to learn how to use paint to really make a room shine.

Here's how to choose the perfect paint colour for your home, according to experts.

How to pick a finish

Benjamin Moore

Consider the type of surface you're painting before picking a finish. Oil-based satin finishes are great for cabinets and handrails that are touched often. The oil allows them to be wiped down without removing the paint, unlike latex.

I love to use a sheen or lacquer or satin finish on ceilings - it reflects and refracts light in a lovely way. Rarely do I used a matte. Eggshell works great for surfaces like sheetrock walls. -James Farmer

How to pair colours

Benjamin Moore

Opt for colours with like colour temperatures. Colours can be bucketed into two groups: they're either warm or cool. Pairing colours with like temperatures always results in harmonious colour combinations. For example, pairing cool hues like blues and greens together works well. Or pairing a mix of warm neutrals such as a soft beige with a rich brown or a deep shade of orange will be equally pleasing to the eye.

Go monochrome. Think tone on tone. It's a very sophisticated look and is almost foolproof to pull off and make work. Think colours within the same hue but slightly different tones. I love a painted ceiling or matching door to really extend the look.

Opt for complementary colours. Opposites attract and this certainly holds true when thinking about colours in terms of how they're positioned on the colour wheel. Colours opposite one another on the colour wheel tend to be very complementary and look beautiful paired together. -Nicole Gibbons

Tips and tricks to help you make a decision


Farmer says, "Try it, try it, try it. It's just paint. Try it in the room and live with it for a time." Here are a few more tips to consider, from Gibbons:

Natural light is king. Clean, bright, natural light will show colour in its truest form, but when it comes to whites and neutrals, things can get tricky. If you love white, that doesn't mean you must stray away from it. Lighter colours help the room to feel more spacious and are great in rooms with low, natural light.

Colour perception can be tricky. What looks good in one space, might look completely different in another, depending on the lighting, and what other colours are in the room. Look to find colours that complement or balance out any contextual hues or objects that may be in your space.

Add a mirror. Mirrors are an example of a contextual object. They help reflect light around the room, making it feel brighter and creating the illusion of a larger space. This is also something you can find at a thrift store or at your local flea market and is a quick affordable solution. Look for a large mirror with a pretty wood frame that you can freshen up with a new coat of paint to tie it in with your décor.

Move your paint swatches around. This will let you see which colour resonates most and how each one will look in both the brightest and the dimmest parts of your rooms

Ultimately, go with your gut. Colour is all about creating a mood and being thoughtful about how you want to feel when you come home each day. -Nicole Gibbons

How to paint wall trim


Prepping your space for painting is actually the most important step when it comes to achieving high-quality results. Before you actually put paint roller to wall, you'll want to do things like:

  • Fill holes
  • Sand over rough patches
  • Wipe down your walls so they're clean and dry
  • Mask all of your doors, trim, windows, and electrical outlets using painter's tape

Choosing a high-quality paint will always save you time and money because it allows for an easier, more even application and offers better coverage, so you end up using less of it.

When using a paintbrush (most likely for cutting in and painting trim), you'll have the most control if you nestle it between your fingers, like a pair of chopsticks, right where the bristles and the metal ferrule meet.

Use an extension pole! It will give you greater leverage so don't have to keep bending down to load your roller, which reduces strain on your arms and back.

Painter's tape helps you achieve super clean lines and most people assume it's best to remove the tape after your paint has completely dried. It's actually best to remove your tape when your paint is just dry to the touch, but not dry all the way through, usually about one or two hours after painting. -Nicole Gibbons

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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