This is How I Choose the Right Paint Color Every Time

Photo Courtesy of Portola Paints

One of the questions I’m asked again and again is: how do interior designers select the perfect paint color? And I get it. Even for design experts, choosing paint colors can be tricky.

Not only are there tens of thousands of options — which can quickly get overwhelming — but there are many factors that affect how a paint color from a swatch looks on an actual wall.

I recommend swatching up to three paint options on several walls to watch how the hues change in the light and shadows of a space.

So, my first rule of thumb for picking a paint color is: never select directly from a paper swatch.

I don’t think paint companies have really figured out how to translate their product accurately in sample form. Paint swatches are printed on these perfectly smooth, little pieces of cardstock.

That tiny rectangle is nowhere near big enough to get a good sense of how the color will look in any space.

But more importantly, real walls have texture to them. Even ‘smooth’ walls have little bumps and recesses that reflect light in a million different directions, so the color doesn’t translate the same.

And that’s just one obstacle to choosing a paint color. There are lots of considerations when selecting the right paint color.

One of my favorite shades of white by Portola – Dimly Lit. Photo Courtesy of Portola Paints

Factor in lighting

Not only is your home’s light different than the paint store, but it changes throughout the day. And day-to-day with cloud cover variations. I recommend painting large-scale (at least 2’ x 3’) swatches on the walls and watching them over the course of a week to see how each color looks as the days go by.

Don’t pick paint color room by room

Open concept floor plans can make paint selection really tricky. Oftentimes, rooms literally blend together, so you have to consider each adjacent space, its furnishings, and decor. 

Even if your entire main floor is the same paint color, I still recommend painting and testing a sample on each wall before you choose.

Portola’s Hyde Park in ultra-flat Acrylic. Photo Courtesy of Portola Paint

Consider the paint finish when choosing your hue

The sheen of the paint itself affects the final look more than you might think. Talk with the paint pros and get samples in the finish you actually plan to use. (If you’re painting on drywall — NEVER use a satin finish. Trust me. And, you’re welcome.)

Selecting the right paint color is really an art and a science.

And it can’t be done in an afternoon.*

Read the full text and learn my entire process for choosing wall colors here.

Until next time,


*Ok, so I do have a few perfect colors I swear by and can recommend in a pinch…find out what they are here.

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