Mary Lynn Bruny

Apparently, based on reader feedback from a recent column, choosing paint colors is even more torturous for homeowners than even I imagined. (My heart goes out to the reader who wrote me about the “ghastly” external house color she is enduring daily. Poor thing! Maybe around year three she’ll stop cringing every time she comes home.)

Let’s start with reiterating that choosing paint colors is a hard thing to do, even for visually oriented people. (Very few people are good at everything. And let’s face it, if they are we usually can’t stand them.) Being good at choosing paint colors takes a natural predisposition, experience and a certain amount of trial and error.

That being said, here are some things I’ve figured out over the years by making plenty of blunders:

Paint color strips
One would think these show lighter to darker versions of the same color, which the strips look like. Thus, if you try one color and it’s too light, you would go one color down on the strip and use that. No. This is not the case even though it seems logical. All the colors on the strip are unique due to how paint colors are formulated. Unfortunately, you can’t just make a color slightly lighter or darker. It’s frustrating, I know, but just how it is.

Paint sheens
One would also think that paint would look the same in any sheen (matt, eggshell, etcetera). But once again, no. Sheens all have different base formulas that subtly change any color, along with looking different due to light reflection. I learned this the hard way when our master bath and bedroom – supposedly the same color in different sheens – looked like completely different colors. After much kvetching and many heavy sighs I’ve accepted this, kind of, maybe.

Trim/wall color combinations
Here’s a rule of thumb I’ve generally found to be true: If you have a cool wall color (blue), your trim should have a hint of warmth (warmer white). If you have a warm wall color (gold), your trim should be a cooler color (bright white). If you don’t do this, a warm wall color with warm trim will look muddy and bland (generally meh). If you have a cool wall color with cool trim, it will look cold and sterile (operating room). Think opposites are attractive.

Floor colors
When you’re choosing paint, you have to take the color of your flooring into consideration as well. This seems pretty obvious, but lots of people think of flooring as neutral – maybe because it’s on another plane. This is far from true. We recently got new carpeting which is a cooler color than our previous and it changed the overall feeling of the rooms. I balanced this out by adding warmer accents that I stole from other parts of the house. Now those rooms look off. Always something.
Dealing with an “ugly” color

Back to our reader with the heinous external color: I have learned you can better tolerate what you find an unattractive color if you add accents in complementary colors. For instance, if the outside of your home is a bland pea soup green, it would probably look better with a wreath or outdoor furniture cushions/pillows in reds or purples. In general, muddy colors like pea soup look better with bright-toned complementary colors (magenta). Conversely, very bright paint colors (lime green) can be tempered with accents of muddy-toned complementary colors (earthy mustard).

Hopefully these hints help some homeowners avoid making paint choices they regret. No one should cringe every time they come home.

By Mary Lynn Bruny. Mary Lynn writes on local real estate and home topics. Contact her by e-mail at [email protected]. To read previous The Lighter Side articles, visit