You know the feeling: seeing that perfect paint color on someone else’s wall. You ask, “What IS that color?” and they say the magic words followed by a few random numbers and a vendor. It’s such a lovely “Ah-ha!” moment that fills so many of us with a deep sense of relief and signifies the end of an exhausting search. But…there’s a but. Before you go painting your walls that-beautiful-shade-of-whatever that your mother/sister/friend had in her dining room over Thanksgiving, know that not all walls are alike.
Three different colors. Except they're the same color. Except they're different. Benjamin Moore's "Hancock Green" (HC-117). (Images from L to R via: Benjamin Moore, Decor Pad, House Beautiful)
Always remember to test your colors before your make a choice, and definitely take the time to get to know your light sources! The changes in color rendering between a room with northern exposure and southern exposure can be huge. Likewise, the change in a color you saw in someone’s dining room at 11am can be markedly different from how it will appear in yours at 6pm.
Now suppose you saw that magical color in a Restoration Hardware catalog? Or in the swatch-sized “designer favorites” section of a magazine? Or in a spread from Dwell? You should admire it, clip it, use it as inspiration, and resolve yourself to perhaps having to engage in a full-on hue hunt before you commit to a color. I know that sounds tedious but it’s all about getting the right shade for you. Someone else’s Lemon Chiffon just might be your Vanilla Ice Cream, if you get what I’m saying, and all it takes is some sample tins, large swatches, and patience to find the right color.
All pretty blues, but my eye doesn't read them as the same color. Fallow and Ball's "Chinese Blue (No. 90) (Images from L to R via Chinoiserie Chic, House Beautiful, Farrow and Ball)
I always advise my clients to be bold when testing and paint a swath of color on two walls with different exposures. In terms of size, I’d recommend covering an area at least as big as a piece of copy paper; if you’re squeamish about that you can paint a piece of poster board, but remember, the sheen and absorption of paint on that poster board will not be the same as your wall material. Once your test swatches are up it’s a waiting game; observe the shade at different times of the day for a few days and you’ll avoid seeing your beautiful beige turn into apricot when the sun does gown. And if you remember nothing else, remember this: never ever pick a paint color from your computer monitor.
If you get really stuck with colors, or just want a fresh perspective, color consultations are a good option for many. I do lots of them and encounter as many frustrated experts as I do uninterested “I guess I should paint” bachelors. In fact, getting assistance from a color consultant is something that can function as a mini-class. I frequently give lectures on light and color composition to clients, and leave them with gorgeous walls and some extra design savvy. Sometimes people seek color advice remotely, and sure, it can be done, but I’d be wary of anyone trying to do a color consult without stepping foot inside your home; the effect of light is too dramatic to not have knowledge of first hand, and even though the cost of an online color consult is usually pretty affordable it’s a potential waste.
As you spend the next month going in and out of beautifully decorated holiday parties, keep noticing the walls! Just be careful, methodical, and comprehensive when you do your color picking. …and if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it!
Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.