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Le Maquillage or How to Pick Paint

As a designer, I have specified paint for several decades. Most paint brands have way too many colors, most of which I would never recommend for walls, both interior or exterior. The only paint company I’m aware of that is different, is Farrow & Ball, because they only have a highly curated deck of 132 colors. Compare this to Sherwin Williams at 1,700 colors and Benjamin Moore at 3,500. I’ve specified colors from almost every company, but I’m the most comfortable with Sherwin Williams, so I’ll use them as an example. When choosing from Sherwin Williams, I only look at the “Neutral”, “Whites & Pastels”, “Timeless” and “Historic” sections of the fan deck. The “Color” section, while pretty, tends to vibrate and glow when painted on walls and it is uncomfortable to look at because it is too bright. Not to say these colors aren’t beautiful in the right dose (say, in a stunning painting), but for the walls of your home, they’re not livable.

Here is the BIGGEST advice I can give... you shouldn’t be selecting your paint color first and then decorating around it - there is no “perfect” paint color. You should select your furnishings (or your hard surfaces if you’re remodeling) and then pick your paint that has the same undertones as your furnishing or hard surfaces. Here are some examples...

On the left is an image of some fabrics used in a client's home. It has patterns, solids, textures, lights and darks. I don't aim to match one specific fabric, but rather to find the color story for the space. I start by grabbing the neutrals and fanning them out. As I look at each strip, I compare all of the colors next to my fabrics and narrow it down.

Once I've narrowed it down to the 2 closest, I then take the time to compare the two. A cheat that works exceptionally well, is to squint your eyes - the strip that blends the best with the fabrics is the best choice. The one that stands out isn't. In case you're trying to zoom in, the color I selected was SW 7036 Accessible Beige

Use the same concept if you want an accent color as shown in the picture on the left. You can also use the darker shades on the same neutral strip as what we looked at above.

There are so many sheens to choose from and everyone has an opinion (and you know what they say about opinions). Here are is what I typically specify. For walls and ceilings, I prefer a flat or eggshell finish. 15-20 years ago builders would tell you that you had to do semi-gloss in kitchens and bathrooms for scrubbability. Paint technology has come a very long way, allowing for more options so you can do eggshell and still be able to easily clean the surfaces. In traditional homes, the trim, doors and cabinetry are done in a high gloss or semi gloss finish. For more modern homes, I specify a satin finish for a more casual vibe. This doesn't take into account a beautiful lacquered finish, which requires a painstaking process, requiring multiple steps and a high level of craft, but that's a different topic for another time.

Unless you live in an art gallery, I don't ever recommend a stark white for the walls. Save it for the trim and ceilings. Using the sample above, I can go to the Sherwin Williams site here (or whichever paint company you prefer), enter the Accessible Beige in the search bar and it will show you the off white that coordinates with it - SW 7035 Aesthetic White.

Once you've selected your colors, get larger swatches to see how they look throughout the day in different light. If you want to paint them on your wall, first prime the wall behind it so you're comparing the new color to the white primer, vs in relationship to your existing wall color.

If you're feeling overwhelmed in selecting colors and would like help in making sure you've selected the correct paints for you project, feel free to reach out and schedule a consultation.


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