WallScapes by Jan Riley


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Welcome to How to choose colors without having a nervous breakdown!
by Jan Riley



How to choose colors without having a nervous breakdown! by Jan Riley

Perhaps your thoughts turn to sprucing up the old homestead. I get a lot of questions
about choosing the right paint color. In fact I have noticed that color matters to virtually everyone!

For many folks this is a stressful and disappointing process of elimination. You can easily end up with a basement full of quarts or walls that are not quite the right color. The scars of a color malfunction can follow you around for years!

Don't give up! Help is on the way.

Let me start by stating "There is NO perfect Paint color for every room" what works in your best friend's living room may not look great in your den.

Color is relative, which means it is affected by everything around it: light or lack of it and the colors surrounding it (fabrics, flooring, trim, furniture etc.) and perhaps most importantly - how you feel about it.

We also may want color to do different things for us. That's why if you want a color that feels like soothing warm butter but you end up with scary lemon drop, The problem may be not in the color-but how you respond to it in your space with your light.

What effect are you trying to create?
Answer theses 3 questions before you look at colors- trust me it will help. (The answers will sound like you are describing feelings)
What effect are you trying to achieve in this space?
How do you want this room to feel when you walk in?
What do you want the color to say to you?

Walk towards the light!
This is probably the hardest aspect in choosing the right shade or color. What type of light, how much and the time of day all play a large part in how we see the color.

Try this exercise:
Get a manila envelop and tape it to a wall that gets direct sunlight - notice how it appears golden and yellow. Now tape it up in a dark corner, walk around the room and view it from different angles, all of the sudden it looks tan, dirty and rather lifeless.
This is because shadows tend to absorb color -especially in a flat paint. In a low light room, choose a brighter version of the color you are initially drawn to. To add life to a neutral color, use an eggshell sheen - it reveals the color and reflects the light.

Always test your paint colors in all types of light - bright, corner, filtered, day & evening.
Give yourself a few days to live with the samples and see how you respond to them before you make the final decision.

Use these six easy steps to navigate the choppy waters of choosing colors. Try to take them in order and don't skip any steps. That is the main reason most people end up with a color to kill themselves over rather than a color to die for. Don't worry if you can't choose the perfect color the first time either - that is completely natural.

Give yourself a break and allow yourself the emotional freedom to experiment and evaluate what works for you in your space. That is how the professionals make it look so easy, they know the value of trying something different and seeing if they like it. All artistic people experiment - but we call it being creative. Take a lesson from this make a mistake or two - and call it decorating…

Create an environment that feels right to you, because after all you have to live with it. Nothing is more important than how you feel about the color when you see it in the room, so be sure and spend adequate time letting yourself get used to it and looking the color in different lights and times of day. It is perfectly fine to get feedback from friends and neighbors but if you find yourself polling the mailman or the UPS driver - pull back! It'll be ok - trust yourself - give it time. Do the 6 steps and never - under any circumstances - choose a paint color without first getting (and putting up) a sample!

1. Give your self time

Don't rush your decision! Seriously, if you have trouble choosing colors give yourself time to see how you feel about the colors you think you like. Allow time to get samples, many if necessary, and live with them a few days, so you have an idea of what they look like in differing lights, weather conditions and naturally with your stuff. Rushing this part of the process is where most folks get the worst results.
Remember: It only takes a minute to choose a bad paint color! (that you get to look at for years)

2. Have a plan -creating a flow with colors

Having a plan means thinking about your whole house as one unit. I get a lot of questions about creating a flow or a unified look without every room being painted the same color. There are several components to creating a unified look in your home.
Use the same trim color throughout the house.
Choose colors in the same family
Limit the number of different color groups.

I want to clarify what I mean when I say use the term COLOR FAMILY. I am not referring to using all the colors on a color chip - I am speaking more of using colors that "go" together. However a COLOR GROUP refers to shades of a particular color. Some examples would be:

Autumn tones (rusty red, muddy gold, browns, oranges, deep burgundy)
Easter tones or pastels (lilac, spring green, robin's egg blue, bright orange, raspberry)
Jewel tones, (sapphire blue, ruby red, emerald green, topaz gold)
Beach colors (deep blue, grey green, sandy tan, light aqua, silver blue)
Earth tones (sage green, dusty gold, chocolate, red clay, olive, sandstone)
Classic (black and white, burgundy, tan, forest green, ivory)

An example of a COLOR GROUP would be: In the Earth tone family - (sage green, deep olive, a very light sage green, a greenish tan)

Here is an example of an Earth toned COLOR FAMILY. Notice how the colors "go" together without nessesarily matching.


This is an example of a COLOR GROUP. Can you tell which color does NOT "go" in this group? Yes, it is the 5th color from the left. (Notice that the second color from the left is the same in both examples)



Here are two examples of what happens when you limit the number of COLOR GROUPS that you use in your COLOR FAMILY. Both examples use a sage green and a tan. The group on the left stays with autumn colors for a warm soothing effect while the group on the right adds some jewel tones to liven up the mix.

The little boxes of color show that you could replace the Sage green with any of the shades in it's group (except the 5th color from the Left) and they would "go" together and still create the same effect.

These examples are NOT specific paint colors from any brand! (please do not write me and ask for the names of these colors - they don't exist)


Don't worry - you know more than you know!

Now before you tell me you wouldn't be reading this article if you knew which colors went together, I want you to think about how you dress.

Most everyone dresses themselves everyday and even though we all have access to the same clothing shops and style choices it is rare to see anyone else dressed exactly like we do. This is because we all have a very sophisticated selection process. Chances are you are already good at coordinating outfits and making sure that the colors don't clash. You look at patterns and hints of color and you know if this scarf works with that blouse. This is the same way you know the colors "go" together. I use the example of apple red and orange orange don't go well together but brick and terra cotta does. They are both red and orange but two are in the same family - the autumn or earth tones.

When you create a plan - you decide on the family you want to choose from, the reason it is important to do this first is because it influences all of you other choices! Please don't skip this part of the process; it will save you a lot of headaches. Many clients I have worked with choose one color before they choose their family and are then stuck trying to coordinate everything else to that one specific color.

Once you choose a family of colors (even if they are not the specific wall colors yet) you will know that every color choice you make will fit your style (the effect you want to create) I use pictures from magazines, color chips, fabric samples or paper scraps, just about anything to start building my family of colors. Keep them in a folder or staple them to a sheet of white paper. You will quickly notice that you gravitate towards a specific group of colors. Don't be surprised to find several colors popping up over and over in different shades as well as some interesting accent colors. (these will form you COLOR GROUPS)

I usually limit the number of color groups to three or four. A series of lighter and darker sage greens is one color group. A dark brown and warm tan may form another color group while a warm gold and lighter yellow gold may form yet another color group.

3. Go for effect not specific color

When I mention this to clients they often give me a puzzled look and ask me "but what color should I choose?" The reason this step is important is because color looks different in every space and with different light. Decorating depends more on creating an effect that choosing the perfect shade of blue. Creating the effect means looking a t the way you wan t a space to feel, how you want to use it and what you want it to say to you. Most likely you are responding to the effect of color within a space rather that the specific shade itself.

The color of your neighbor's dining room may not create the same effect in your den. The point is that there is a color that will create the effect you want and that is the goal! Don't get hung up on the color swatches! You may love one color but the next more muted color may create the effect you are really striving for. This is also where having a family to choose from solves a lot of problems. Lets say you are looking for a bright yellow for your kitchen (that has great morning sun, but filtered evening light) you love a bright lemony yellow but are afraid it will be too much for the space, plus it doesn't really go that well with your existing floor. Instead of just going with a lighter/whiter yellow, perhaps you might move to a more buttery color. It will still read yellow in the mornings, but have a softer look and feel when the light is low.

The opposite is true, if you have a low light room, you may have to pick a color that is more intense because it will wash out without the light. I have seen lemon yellow look almost tan in certain situations because the walls just sucked up the color.

Don't be afraid of using a deep color in a small space or low light room, remember it is not only how light the color is - it is how much you love it that makes it work! White will always look dirty and grey in a low light situation, so a rich raspberry or yummy sage can often create a more inviting look and feel, even in a small area. To increase light, use an eggshell or satin finish, besides being easy to clean they reflect the light and show the color more.

How you feel about the color when it is on your walls may be the most important aspect of all, because if you love it and it makes you feel great to see it then that is what it's all about. Now, how do you go about knowing what you feel about a color till you see it? Good question - the fact is most people (even trained professionals) cant! Do yourself, your friends, neighbors and spouses a favor and get samples! That way you can experiment without tearing up the whole room and paying to paint it again. More about that later!

4. Coordinate with fixed colors first

When choosing your color family you always want to coordinate with the elements in your home that are fixed. This often means looking at floor, furniture, countertops, cabinetry and tiles.

Most people look at their wood floors and say "oh yeah, they're brown" but what color brown? Oak and pine floors have a lot of orange in them. (Think of GA red clay and burnt orange leaves) Many neutral tan carpets have a tint of pink or green in them. You can pick out which shade by laying a sheet of white paper next to it and seeing if it looks more greenish, brown or pinkish. Unless you are going to change carpets or refinish the wood - your floors are a fixed color in your COLOR FAMILY. Also check for the colors in the wood of your furniture. For example;
Mission style furniture is usually oak and as it ages it gets dark brown or deep orange brown. (Looks great with blues & golds -NOT with pastels)
Cherry is popular in bedroom suites and has a burgundy tint (looks great with greens - NOT with salmon or peach)
Various blonde woods can have a yellow, gold or even light green tint. (Looks great with almost all colors except pinks and mauve)

One of the biggest challenges is when you have one wood floor color (example: oak) and another predominant wood furniture color (example cherry). This means you have two separate colors to add to your COLOR FAMILY before you even get to your wall colors. Keep this in mind while choosing your color family because this is one place where visual discord happens that is hard to put your finger on.

Another area to consider is existing tiled areas. Natural stones and tile are often in earth tones like brown, tan and grey. Use the same white paper test to determine if that "tan" has a tint to it. Choosing tans that match are tricky for this reason; the tan tile you remember may not be the same shade as the tan paint color you choose. This is where keeping a folder is invaluable! If you don't have tile or carpet samples to add to your folder, get color chips that match - use several to get the right combination of shades. Staple them to your folder and label them "the range of colors in tile" etc .For furniture colors use sample sheets of stain colors.

5. Examine the light source - check it day and night, artificial and sunlight

Light is what creates color, so it affects how you see it in the most extraordinary ways. Yet many people completely ignore the effect of light in their homes and try to fix light problems with paint colors. If you have artificial lights try changing bulbs or updating fixtures, look for natural light bulbs and use them wherever you can. Changing your light bulbs is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to improve the quality of light in your home.

If you want more outside light, cut back on heavy draperies and open up the shades! Use light filtering pleated shades that can be letdown for privacy and light. There are top down features that allow you to have shades only on the bottom half of the window which leaves the top half open for more light. Also cut back large bushes and trees that might be shading form the outside. If you have shudders then open the louvers or the entire shutters and only close them at night.

If you still need more light put mirrors or glass covered artwork on any walls opposite of the windows in that room, you can even do a cluster of mirrors or place them above cabinets or in odd spaces to bounce around the light. Bringing in more light is one of the most common problems I hear about, here in Atlanta, because we are blessed with so many old trees. Even so, you will still need to examine the light sources in your room to understand how the color will show up.

  • Does you light source come form the outside or is it overhead?
  • Do you have table lamps or sconces?
  • When do you spend the most time in this room - what is the light like then?

    6. Get samples - get samples - get samples!

    Ok, so you already have a dozen quarts in the basement and you just don't want to go through that again and spend a fortune - I hear ya! Still there is NO substitute for looking at a larger swatch of your color in the room they will be painted in! If you could see a tiny color chip in the florescent lighting of a paint store and know exactly what effect it would create in your home you would not be reading this article!

    Face it, samples are cheap - sanity is NOT: especially now that Benjamin Moore and Ralph Lauren are giving you the option of 2oz testers. Even if these aren't available to you, craft paints are. They are the small 1oz and 2oz plastic bottles of acrylic paint available at craft stores and art supply shops. They have a ton of colors and many different manufacturers. If you can't narrow down your choices to 2-3 paint colors then go get 5-6 of the craft paints and a bottle of white and one of black.

    Paint samples on poster board (at least 12" x12") and hang them around the room. Always place one in the lowest light area and the highest light area. By using the craft paints and a sponge brush you can create your own colors, if the color is too bright, add a dot of black, if it is too deep add a dot of white. This way you can experiment with a lot of colors without investing in a million quarts. Then when you get it down to 2-3 colors take them to the paint store and match them to a chip or get it color matched.

    Your personal style or What effect are you trying to achieve?
    Most people know what they like but when you ask them what decorating style they favor they draw a blank. One of the ways you can determine what your style is, is to define the effect you are trying to achieve in a particular room. Creating an effect is much easier than it sounds, in fact you are probably already doing it in many ways. Your choice of furniture, accessories, fabrics and even the style of your house all reflect a type of look. What kind of mood do you want to set?

    Example: If you want your space to feel calm and serene then ask yourself when you look at your wall color samples - does this color feel calm and serene to me? The more specific you are about how you want the room to feel the easier it will be to evaluate weather or not the colors you are choosing accomplish that effect - in that space. That is the key - does the color accomplish the goal you have for the room? If your goal is to have a spectacular, amazing eye-popping experience when you walk in - then make sure the color lives up to it.

    Just in case you weren't overwhelmed enough with the assortment of colors available to you these days, I want to add - Don't rule out Ugly colors. I know no color is inherently ugly, but I am referring to the earthy muted yellowy greeny brownish - pea soup, baby puke kinds of colors. Believe it or not, sometimes it is these dirty earth colors that will make your furnishings and accessories look the best. This is an example of going "greyer or muddying up the color"

    Remember to have fun - it's only paint!

    Jan Riley ... Artist - Faux Finisher - Muralist - Color Coach

    404 294 5549


You are welcome to print out this article and share it as long as no text is removed and all contact information is included - thanks for reading and good luck! Jan Riley

Murals - Designer sample baords - Faux Finishes - Specialty Finishes - Cabinets - ColorCoachingAbout WallScapes- Client Comments - Home - Contact me

Learn how to choose colors for your home in six easy steps

WallScapes by Jan Riley
1155 Jolly Ave, Clarkston, GA 30021