8 Key Tips to Choosing Paint Colors for a Polished Look

southwestern living room

Choosing paint colors for a room can be a daunting process, but it doesn't have to be. With a little research and knowledge, you can paint your room in a color that you'll love for a long time to come.

The Color Wheel

When it comes to choosing paint colors for a room, the color wheel should become your new best friend. The color wheel is a tool used by designers as a guide to what colors work well together and which color combinations should be avoided. You can tell the relationships between two colors by seeing where they are in relation to each other on the color wheel. This is what you need to know when using a color wheel:

modern living room
  • Analogous colors - These colors are next to each other on the color wheel. These colors can be used together to create very subtle contrast in your room.
  • Complementary colors - Colors that are across from each other on the color wheel are complementary colors. Though they may look quite different, they blend nicely when you want to create a stark contrast and give your room a dramatic look.
  • Triad colors - These colors form a triangle on the color wheel. Use triad colors when you need a third color to balance out your look.
  • Shades - Professional color wheels often have swatches for the same color in a variety of different shades. If you stay within the same color, you can move beyond the directly analogous colors and use many different shades of the color in your décor. The subtlety of this look will depend on the variations of shades you choose - the lightest shade and darkest shade paired together will create high contrast, while using only the three or four lightest shades will create an understated look.

If you stay within these color relationships when you are picking your paint, then your color harmony will always hit the right notes. That is not to say that you can't choose different combinations, of course, but the effect may be more of personal taste than traditional color appeal.

Choosing Paint Colors

The color wheel is a great guide when you are trying to make the perfect color pairings, but there are other factors involved in getting just the right color for your room.


green nursery

Yes, colors have moods all their own, and the mood of the color can influence your mood. Colors like blue and green are considered to be calming and can work great in a bedroom or den, rooms in which you want to relax. On the other hand, yellow and red can be stimulating colors, so they are good for your office and kitchen, but not so good for your bedroom. Neutral colors are mood neutral and can work just about anywhere.


What style is the décor in the room you are painting? Your traditional and formal style living room is probably not calling out for bright pink walls, while your funky teenager's bedroom doesn't need a coat of eggshell white. As well as matching the mood of the color to the purpose of the room, you should consider the style of your room when you are choosing the perfect paint color for the walls.

Special Use Paint

Not every kind of paint works in every room. Your kitchen, where the temperature is high and the cooking sauces may be flying, requires a special kind of paint, as does your damp bathroom. Likewise, if you live in an especially humid or dry environment, you may also need to consider special kinds of paints. These factors may restrict your color choice because of the availability of colors in the kind of paint you need. Make sure to check out what is on offer before you get your heart set on that perfect shade of chartreuse.

Color Basics

yellow living room

In addition to these other factors, here are some commonly accepted color facts to help guide you in choosing your paint colors:

  • Light and pastel colors generally make a room seem larger and more open.
  • Dark and vibrant colors give a room an intimate and cozy feel, but also make a room seem smaller.
  • Cool colors - blues, greens and soft purples - give a room a relaxed and calm ambience.
  • Warm colors - yellows, reds and oranges - give a room a sunny and cheerful appearance.
  • Regional differences affect paint color choices, particularly exterior paint colors. For instance, New England homes favor blues, grays and greens, whereas Southwestern homes are best painted a sienna or beige color.

Your Color Story

When the rooms of a house are painted to flow from one area to the next, they are said to tell a color story of the style, design and function of the home. Keep these tips in mind as you begin to select colors for the rooms of your home and find your own color story.

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8 Key Tips to Choosing Paint Colors for a Polished Look