Learn to Love Color
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Learn to Love Color

LHJ.com online exclusive! Christopher's super-simple, unintimidating, fail-safe guide to choosing paint colors for your home.

The Basics of Room Color

America's number one decorating fear is choosing paint colors. Why? It's often not the color itself, but how we pick it, that goes wrong when choosing color for the rooms of your house.

We see in color, live in a world full of color, and wear color every day. But God forbid we put it on our walls. What we see is only through our own eyes and what we wear can be relegated to the back of a closet if we make a mistake. But once the wrong color is up on a living room wall for the entire family and neighborhood to critique, it gets real personal. That's why we fear room color as much as we do.

But think about it. By the time a room is crammed full of furniture, fabrics, accessories, lighting, plants, and who knows what else, how much of that wall color are you really going to see?

Choosing color for the home is actually the first layer of my Seven Layers of Design for the simple reason that it comes first. Yet, because of not wanting to make the choice, many overcompensate by spending thousands of dollars on everything else in the room. They then complain that the space is uninviting and has no warmth.

Well, guess what? Paint is the cheapest and easiest way to transform any environment. But you get to the paint store -- an already high-testosterone environment that can be intimating -- and you finally navigate back to the paint department, already distracted. Then you reach the "great wall." You know -- the one laden with twenty-five thousand paint swatches that do nothing more then to reinforce that you have no idea what you're looking for. And yet you tell yourself, "I'm not coming back. I'm going to walk out of here with a gallon of paint if it kills me."

What to Do When You Get to the Store

First mistake! Choosing paint color is a two-trip process, like it or not. You can't choose color outside of the room you're considering painting any more than you can determine how a dress will fit you by looking at it on someone else. The reason there are so many paint strips is that they expect you to take a lot of them home.

On your first visit, grab lots. If you're stuck for color combos, think about your wardrobe. Chances are if a color looks good on you, it'll look great around you. Once home, place your color strips on a surface in the room you're considering painting. The next morning you'll pass by and eliminate half the colors, wondering what on earth you were thinking. What looked great in a busy store, under pressure, will look completely different in the stress-free environment of your home. After one week, by the sheer process of elimination, you'll narrow it down to the three colors you can live with -- one for the walls, one for the trim and yes, one for the ceiling.

Here's why. What every designer knows is that once you've introduced rich color to your walls, leaving the ceiling stark white will look very unfinished -- like you spread a bed sheet over it. Painting your ceiling will not make it feel lower. In fact, leaving it white could.

From your wall color strip, pick the color that's three shades lighter if your ceilings are average height. If they're very high, go only one shade lighter than the walls. This will assure that light will fall evenly throughout the entire space giving it a warm, inviting, designer look.

On your second visit to the store, stick to your guns, knowing that you've given proper time to make a good decision. When they pop off the lid to confirm your paint mix, don't panic. The color will look darker than you expected. But once it's up on the walls, it will appear at least two shades lighter -- trust me! Once home, don't judge the color choice until all references of white are out of the room. Then go to bed. The next morning, with fresh eyes, you'll love it!

Originally published on LHJ.com, December 2006.

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