The right choice of colors can make or break a room. Paint colors can transform a space, regardless of its size, shape or appearance. It can create a mood ranging from calm serenity to warmth and joy, and make all the difference to the success of your interior design project.
While it always makes sense to choose paint colors that speak to you personally, there are factors that affect your view of a particular shade. Natural light, for example, varies depending on the orientation of your room and the time of day. Some areas of your room will become lighter, others darker, while your furniture, carpet, and other soft furnishings can also affect how you see the shadow.
If you’re having a hard time choosing a color because you can’t imagine what the color will look like in your space, use a test pot to create a pattern, preferably on a large sheet of lining paper, and move it through your room a few days to see if you like it.
Here, furnishing experts advise you on the choice of paint colors so that your paint ideas come to life the way you want them to.
How to choose paint colors
Whether you are looking for living room or bathroom color ideas, your dilemmas and solutions will be the same. Whether you’re painting a room entirely, just painting a wall, or just want to add interest with prank tricks, choosing the right shades is key. However, remember that different paint finishes will change the look of paint colors, so always experiment carefully first.
1. Choose the right white paint color
Always popular for a fresh, light feel, there’s a surprising number of shades that can create a subtly different effect, from room-filling cooler tones to warm whites that can be used to create a softer feel. “A combination of white creates a soft contrast in a room while keeping the design classic and timeless,” says Interior Designer Emma Sims-Hilditch, Founder and Creative Director of Sims Hilditch (opens in new tab)the white paint used by Farrow & Ball.
“We like to use a darker white like Farrow & Ball (opens in new tab) Shaded white on the walls or a chimney breast and a fresher, lighter shade on the mantel and woodwork. A good option here could be Farrow & Ball’s School House or All White.’
2. Choose bold shades of paint with confidence
“Bold tones can make a room feel warmer and cozier, but only if you use the right lighting,” advises interior designer Stephanie Barba Mendoza, who is particularly fond of using such colors in living rooms, hallways, and powder rooms to create the atmosphere they can create .
“I tend to use low and candle lighting on rich tones, which helps create an intimate ambience in the evenings. But bold tones also have a wonderful way of starting the day: if you have a good source of natural light, they’ll be energetic during the day and then blend into the evening when paired with clever lighting.”
3. Choose paint colors that match room temperature
Colors are classified according to their temperature, from warm to cool. Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow on one side of the color wheel, while cool colors run from green to blue to purple.
“Warmer colors work really well when you want to create a cozier feel and draw people into a space,” advises interior designer Annabel Grimshaw (opens in new tab). “Cooler colors can be more calming, so shades of blue and green, for example, work well in bedrooms. They also give more sense of space.”
4. Find cool colors that don’t feel cold
Known for their calming properties, cool colors tend to recede, making rooms appear more spacious—contributing to their calm vibe. Here Myland (opens in new tab)‘s Walpole, an off-white with soft teal tones, is combined with Long Acre woodwork, a deeper grey-blue to create a soft scheme.
Cool colors can be used in rooms with lots of natural light like this to add character without overwhelming the space. Warm red splashes of color in the armchair and carpet add a touch of warmth.
5. Choose the right bright paint colors as accents
Color accent ideas can be limited in the area they cover but limitless in their impact. Painting a wall a contrasting color can add impact and interest to a room concept, and draw attention to a focal point, explains interior designer Sarah Fox of Fox Interior Design (opens in new tab) explained.
“Here we used a vibrant color – Yellowcake by Farrow & Ball – to frame the interior window, drawing light and a ray of sunshine into the space,” she says. “It’s an unexpected, splashy hue that brightens the scheme and draws your gaze to the atrium beyond.”
6. Discover how to prepare a color palette
The color wheel can help you choose shades for your scheme. Contrasting or “complementary” colors (those that are opposite on the wheel) will stimulate each other, while harmonious ones (adjacent on the wheel) are aesthetically pleasing. Clay colors are lighter and darker variants of the same color.
Here, pale yellow Paint & Paper Library Parasol walls are combined with leaf green for natural harmony.
7. Create balance with stains
While cheerful colors can be uplifting and add a lot of personality to a room, too much can be overwhelming. One way to succeed is to balance the bold colors with soft tones, as interior designer Katie Ridder explains (opens in new tab) revealed in this elegant scheme.
“A neutral blanket and rug are important calming factors that draw our attention to bold colors elsewhere,” she says.
8. Liven up ceilings with toning colors
“If you paint the walls an off-white, we recommend painting the ceiling the same color as it makes the ceilings appear higher,” explains interior designer Taline Findlater of Olivine Design (opens in new tab).
“If you’ve chosen a bolder color for the walls, like Farrow & Ball Oval Room Blue or Green Smoke, then we recommend a warmer shade of white like White Tie, rather than a cool white, to soften the contrast between the walls and ceiling.”
In this pretty bedroom design, Olivine Design used Fired Earth’s Old Ocher to create eye-catching ceiling ideas that echo the pink of the striped wallpaper.
“Of all the pinks available, this is an absolute favorite as it has a warm undertone from a tiny dose of yellow rather than some with too much lilac.”
9. Choose paint colors to create contrast
“Red is a color of great joy and passion, the boldest of shades,” says Annie Sloan, color expert and founder of Annie Sloan. “It brings great warmth, dynamism and personality to a space, so it’s a great choice for active areas like hallways.”
Here are Primer Red walls with Cambrian Blue for a warm and cool contrast, with Pemberley Blue border and a checkerboard floor in Chalk Paint Primer Red and Original for added impact.
10. Work with modern neutrals
Neutral paint colors, ranging from whites to creams, grays and taupes, can be easily managed and softened backgrounds for bolder colors – or layered with other neutral colors for a sophisticated mix of texture and shade create.
If you’re finding it difficult to tell if a particular color has a cool or warm base for your neutral room ideas, comparing it to a chip of true (bright) white can help.
Here the walls are painted in a soft cream, Valspar (opens in new tab) Biscuit Crumbs, are paired with a warm white blanket and paneling, along with wooden furniture for added warmth. To avoid a boring result, a dark coffee table and sculpture add definition.
How do I find the right paint color?
Decide on the colors that appeal to you naturally for the impact you want to create, from cool, soothing tones to warm, dynamic hues. Consider how the color will complement the decor of the room and whether you want to create a simple background for bold paintings, for example, or use bold colors to make an impact. Create a mood board (a collage of images and patterns) to come up with a contrasting scheme if you like, or do you prefer something more harmonious with layers of texture? Then paint a pattern and test your scheme to see if you like the result.