Perfectly Painless Way to Pick Paint (say that 10 times!)

Oct 10, 2012 | Projects

We are painting our living room and are in the middle of deciding what paint color to paint the walls and the brick fireplace.  Currently, the walls are a mustard color and the brick fireplace is, well, brick colored.

I want to paint the walls a smokey blue gray color and the fireplace either white or charcoal gray and after getting samples from Sherwin Williams, Home Depot, and Benjamin Moore, I think I’ve narrowed down my choices.  I’ve painted way too many rooms to count and have devised a pretty good method for picking paint that won’t drive a person crazy (well not too crazy anyway!).

The first thing I do before even going to the store to look at paint chips  is to get some inspiration from  It’s a blog where you can search for paint colors by color family (“blues” for example) and you can pull up real pictures posted of real rooms painted by real people, really.  If you are at a total loss on what color to choose, you can also pull up rooms by type (“living room” for example) to see what people are painting certain rooms.  The great thing about the site is that people are thoughtful enough to list the manufacturer and color so that you can test that color out in your room.  For example, this is my inspiration picture of the color I want that I found on the site:

Oyster Bay by Glidden

Oyster Bay by Glidden

Now, I know that colors look different in all kinds of lights and in different rooms, but the site gives a good jumping off point.  After looking at the suggestions, I always go with two colors to start out with- one in the lighter range of what I am looking for and another color in the darker range so that I can figure out the shade that I want to go with.  I paint BIG swatches of those two colors up on my wall both in a light area and in a dark area of my room.  I also try to put a little next to furniture and also next to my trim to see how the color combines with my furniture color and also how it looks against the trim.  It’s especially important to put the color next to your trim since the wall color and the trim have to look good together.  Also, if the trim is white, then the color against the white gives a good idea of the tones in the color.  You should be able to clearly see if the color is more green than blue or more yellow than brown when paired with white.

After narrowing down the shade, I then look at the two colors and decide if I need to adjust the tone.  For example, I may look at one color and immediately decide that it’s too blue so that color goes in the reject pile.  The remaining color may not be perfect, but it’s closer to what I want, so it stays and is the “winner” for that round.  I then evaluate that color and decide what needs to change to make it perfect (e.g. “it’s closer to what I want, but it’s still too green”) then I get another sample that has less green in it and I paint it next to the winner from the previous round.  I look at both, decide which one I like better then evaluate how THAT color could be better and the cycle continues until the color I’ve chosen is perfect.

I always have two colors to compare at the same time.  Any more than that, and it all starts to look like one big crayon box and it’s more difficult to compare the colors.  Also a note about the “reject” pile of paint samples:  I always keep the one(s) that I like but that don’t work in that particular room and stick them in my “maybe later” pile.  All the other “rejects,” I Freecycle so that someone else can have the benefit of my paint research and also so that paint samples don’t pile up in my garage.  If you don’t know what Freecycle is, go to to find out more.  But in a nutshell, it’s a site where you can post things that you want to get rid of for free and if someone wants it, they pick it up usually at your house.  It’s a great way to recycle the things that you don’t want that someone else may want/need.   You could also try the free section of Craigslist.

So, that is my fairly painless way to pick paint colors.  Although it’s worked for me over the years, I still always end up with a big reject pile…  But in the end, the color I paint is always the right color for the room.  When I find the perfect color for the living room, I’ll be sure to post it.