Choosing Interior Paint Color in Your Design

Choosing Interior Paint Color

New paint may be just what is needed to spruce up a room, so let’s do a primer on testing and selecting color for interior walls.  As you may know, light and surrounding colors have the greatest effect on our perception of color. 


For example, notice the shift in color when placed on different backgrounds;

colour relationship examples

The yellow is affected by the surrounding color. It is bright when put on a blue contrasting background and is more subdued on the green.


You will also want to remember that your color samples will be affected by the existing wall color.  Applying a primer base coat (white) will give you the paint’s true color or you will have to apply several coats of the new paint.  Rule of thumb:  Even with a base primer to cover old paint, two coats are needed, so plan your budget accordingly.



If you are able to do some testing, by all means, do paint swatches, especially if you are going to paint directly on the existing color.  If you don’t wish to apply directly to the wall, you can use large paint color chips and paint on large white boards or paper to emulate the primer.  You could also use SureSwatch from HomeDepot, a low-tack adhesive roll of clear film that will enable you to see sample color.  I cannot stress this enough, TEST, TEST, TEST.  Watch them in natural and artificial light for a day or two. Remember, colors will shift as the light changes.

Simply Organized logoGlidden paint tests


You will then need to choose your trim color.  Will you be painting colored walls with white woodwork or, lighter walls and dark trim?  White is the standard—beautiful and clean—with hundreds of shades to choose from.  Your choice here will depend on the amount of contrast you desire.  If you are looking to achieve a soft look, less contrast, keep the values of the color close.  You would want to keep that in mind when you pick a companion color for the ceiling as well.

ceiling detail

You may want to use the same color on both the ceiling and the walls.  Monochromatic treatments create a strong, clean look and are popular in both contemporary and traditional settings.  They create a calming effect in a room, leaving the contrasting color to come from the furnishings, furniture and the art.

Koket black and white kitichen


Dark trim is a great way to emphasize light and space and makes everything feel elongated.  This style works very well if you are going with a neutral scheme and creates a contemporary aesthetic.  In the bathroom below, the dark trim and molding and warm walls work to create a very bold effect and enhance the natural textures in the tile and flooring.

neutral color lavatory with dark trim



To create the illusion of more space, the rule is that a darker wall color will bring the walls closer and lighter colors create the illusion that they are further away.  I don’t always agree with this rule as darker rooms are also like objects at night, they have fewer boundaries and can feel more expansive.  They can be very cozy.  I think it depends on where the room is located in the house and again, the natural light.  Narrow hallways that appear ‘tunnel like’ can be made to look longer by painting the end wall a darker shade than the side walls.

Koket blue living room


This principle also works in rectangular rooms, should you wish to give them a more squared look.  Or, you can paint one side an accent color to break up the different vertical planes.

To add ceiling height, reduce the contrast between the wall color, cornice, and the ceiling.  Using a white on the ceiling that is sympathetic with the wall color and makes the eye less aware of where the walls end and the ceiling begins.  Graduating color is another way to trick the eye.  Use lighter tones starting from the walls. then to the trim and an even lighter shade on the ceiling, this will create a soft yet elongating effect in the room.  Using the same color on the walls and woodwork is the simplest way to make the room appear taller.



Last year, cool greys, blues, and whites were very popular and are still palettes I am very fond of.   This year, color forecasts show a shift into warmer colors.  Warm blues, greens and greys and creamy whites.

Heather Scott Home & Design interior photography: michael hunter

Heather Scott Home & Design


Greys are as versatile and varied in their options as the world of whites.   Grey and white make great color combinations as well.  Like any other color, grey will  change color according to natural light.  If you have a good amount of natural light in a room, you may want to look to using a soft pale grey as it will act more like a neutral.  Still, consider how that hue will look in both natural and electric light.

Grey undertones tend to neutralize and balance color because they diffuse pigmentation, offering a more muted look.  I often use muted paint colors, Dunn Edwards being one of my ‘go to’ manufacturers.

Grey and white luxury bathroom


In the dining room below, I specifically selected a high contrast paint pairing.  I wanted a dramatic room with crisp lines and light airy ceiling.  Again, sometimes an accent wall of deep brown or navy are just the right accent to a white room.

Dining room with dark walls



You must also consider the paint finish which can vary in shine, or gloss.  Flat finish has no gloss to it at all and is harder to clean.  When I want a room with no shine to it what so ever, I recommend a flat finish.  I use this in many of the Spanish style homes I design to capture more of the true architectural feel as it was originally intended. At the other end of the spectrum is a gloss or high gloss finish.  This finish is very shiny and will show every imperfection on the wall so special prep work needs to be considered which can cost more.  I have seen walls with 12 coats of gloss paint used to achieve a mirror-like effect.  Most homes use an eggshell or a velvet finish on the walls as it is easier to clean should it get scuffed.  Wet rooms like bathrooms are typically painted in semi-gloss as it is a good moisture barrier.  Benjamin Moore has a paint specifically made for bathrooms called “Aura Bath and Spa Paint”.  This paint gives protection without having to use a high gloss paint. The most common finish for trims, casings, and doors is semi-gloss. paint finishes All these finishes can vary depending on what you want the finished product or feel of the room to be.  As a designer, this is a special consideration based on architecture, ceiling heights, furnishings natural light, and other aspects. Paint finish has a huge impact on design at this level of aesthetics, so a great deal of planning and testing take place. One last thing.  Use a good quality paint. They are more concentrated with finer pigments and higher-grade resins giving them more even color and a durable finish. The quality of a great paint is that it is creamy and not chalky. Like ice creme, the thicker and creamier, the better. Floral-Icon-blue-blog

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About the Author: Lauren55