DESIGN TIP: Color Selection

Over the last eight years or so, I have been exposed to many different levels of design expertise. My learning experiences came from various places… from my professors in college, the high-end residential designers during my internship, and my colleagues and superiors at my commercial retail design job for my first five post-collegiate years. I have listened to many opinions and stories, and both witnessed and personally experienced many trial-and-error “ups” and “downs.”

Although I still consider myself in the midst of the beginning of my career, I feel that the vast spectrum (no pun intended) of resources I have had the opportunity to gather my own information from has given me a unique set of skills in the design field. One of the most useful and applicable skills I acquired was color selection!

I’ve had a number of friends and family members approach me about help regarding paint selection in their home and workspaces. This includes color, shade, location, finish, and function! (Many of you are probably thinking, “There’s more to the decision than just the color!?” You betcha…)

First, let’s think about what should typically be the initial part of the decision… Location. Location will contribute to the right answers to the rest of your questions.
Keep in mind the following:
– Where is the paint going?! Simply, which room? 🙂
– What is the purpose of the room? (Cooking, bathing, laundry, sleeping…) Function will determine which Finish you want.
– How often do you use the room? If it’s most of the day, you’ll want something that really suits your personality, which is usually something pretty versatile.
– How often do guests use the room? If it’s a lot, you’ll want to make a more subtle statement to be aesthetically pleasing to more people.
– How visible are the walls from other areas of the house? You don’t want the colors to clash!
– Are any of the walls continuous into another main room? If so, you’ll need to make sure the color coordinates with the decor in both spaces.
– From which direction and how much does sun come into the room? Lighting makes a HUGE difference. And the amount and direction of sunlight contributes greatly to this. Don’t believe me? Paint a scrap piece of wood any color you want. Set it down somewhere in the room and leave it there to not only view during different times of the day, under different lighting conditions, but to take pictures of! Try again with the same piece of wood in another room on another day. You might be surprised!

Next, Finish and Function typically go hand-in-hand. This will help you avoid fading, chipping and bubbling. It will also contribute to easier cleaning and simpler future re-painting. Think about it this way: the shinier it is, the more slippery it will be, thus the easier to clean it will be, and the less saturable it will be. The basic levels from dull to shiny are: flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. Some companies offer even more specific steps in between those, but the five listed are typical. Following what I mentioned before about the “shininess” factor, you can understand why steering clear of flat finishes is the best decision for spaces like bathrooms and kitchens. Since flat paint is more absorbent, you want to stay away from that finish in areas of high moisture, more bacteria, and that require more frequent cleaning. However, this does not mean you should use gloss in a kitchen. Gloss finishes are more pronounced, and usually too harsh for something as big as a wall. It’s better for smaller detail, like trim. All of this considered: when in doubt, choose eggshell. It’s easy to clean, attractive, but not dramatic.


(Diagram courtesy


(Sample photo courtesy

Finally, the color and shade is the last, most important, and most FUN step! (Chances are, that’s why you’re reading this in the first place!) This will vary greatly based on your own personality, the goal for the purpose of the space, other decor, and current trends. Consider these tips when making your selection:
1. Don’t underestimate the power of sampling! Many stores offer them for free, or for only a few bucks. It’s worth it! Grab a few at a time, paint a small patch of each color on a well-lit main wall, spacing them at least a couple feet apart if you can to achieve better isolated visualization. Be sure to test out different finishes too!
2. Will you be using existing decor? If so, that obviously makes things a little easier because it is more limiting, which is a good thing for people who get overwhelmed by the “blank canvas” situations. If you’re buying new decor based on your paint choice, just keep in mind the end goal so you don’t just add to your list of choices to make. Otherwise you may run the risk of getting overwhelmed or frustrated, which can lead to bad choices that you won’t be happy with down the road.
3. Stick to your guns. Sometimes trendy isn’t always a good thing. Fads typically aren’t timeless (my favorite design word by the way!), so you are more likely to get sick of it sooner, which will cost you more money and give you more headaches. Your best bet is to go with your own personal tastes. What makes it feel like home to YOU?
4. How long do you plan to keep the color? The longer you want it to last, the more neutral you should go. Neutral shades will match with more decor. So when you switch out things like lamps, picture frames, and other decor and furniture over the years, it’s just one less thing you have to worry about if you already have a paint color that goes with just about anything!


(Photo courtesy, shows semi-gloss paint finish)

Paint selection doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be such a simple way to refresh your home or workspace in a big way! Approaching the task informed and prepared will make it anything but a chore.

Junk on, design-ees!

NOTE: The UpCycle Girls now officially offer design consultation services, including paint color selection. If you would like some help in this arena learning how to apply these rules, contact us directly and we’d be happy to help!


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