Of all the design elements interior designers work with, paint color is one of the easiest ways to set the tone (pun intended) of a room. However, as you have probably experienced, picking the right paint color can also be one of the frustrating endeavors. There are so many factors that influence the final selection - impact of outside environment, adjoining room colors, existing furniture in the room, preference, light level - this list goes on and on.
So, how does one approach paint color selection like a professional. Here are some tricks of the trade (at least how I do it):
Everything else first, paint color last. I can't tell you the number of times a client says to me "We started by painting the room [a color] and now can't figure out what to do about everything else." This approach is a little bit putting the cart before the horse. Whether remodeling a room or picking new decor, the color decision should be near the end of the design process. I think of it this way. There are millions of colors available to select from and far fewer choices in furniture, fabrics, art, etc. This doesn't mean you'll ignore paint early on, but select the items that will really define the style of the room and then use color to tie it all together.
Do your research. Researching your personal preferences is crucial to this process. I recommend all my clients look at design magazines or design-related websites for rooms of which you like the wall color. Keep in mind when looking at colors online, you are most likely not seeing them accurately. Use descriptive terms when taking notes like "buttery yellow" or "grayish blue" or "deep red." This means way more than a color name.
Decide on the story you want to tell. With all the design elements selected, now is the time to figure out what story you want your walls to tell. Look at the fabrics, tile, flooring, furniture you've selected. No, really look at these elements of the room. Look closely at the colors that make up the fabrics, the smallest details in the artwork, the patterns in the fabric. Are there any colors in these items that speak to you? Think about the feeling you want in the room - bright, cheery, comfortable, formal, casual, etc.
In the JBi-designed sunroom below, my client was attracted to a bright green detail in the chair fabric on the right side of the frame. We decided this room needed to reflect the bright colors in nature right outside and be a cheerful family-oriented room.
In a very different room, I worked with clients to completely revamp their master bedroom and bathroom. Again, we worked through the entire design process selecting all the tile, fabrics, artwork and then tackled the paint colors in both rooms. My recommendation was to use a deep neutral tone on the walls as a backdrop to their amazing artwork. The historic Benjamin Moore colors added to the age-appropriate details we brought to this 1930's Tudor home.
Samples, samples, samples. Now that we're at least at the point of getting some colors on the walls, it's time to really get serious about the final selection. You've probably narrowed down the choices to three or four options, it's time to get some test quarts and paint samples on the walls. Put up blocks of paint at 24" by 24" in multiple area of the room and look at them throughout the day to really get a feel for how different light influence des the colors. Some colors feel completely different in the shade or sunlight. Others are greatly influenced by the outside environment (specifically green trees adding a "green-ness" to the paint color).
Take the plunge! Now comes the scary part. But if you've been deliberate in your research, then this last step should just be a formality. And remember, it's just paint.
I will give you two final pieces of advice. 1) Do not skimp on paint quality. If you're painting a medium sized room, you might only use. Two gallons of paint. Spring for the more expensive paint that is a higher quality. You're only talking about an additional expense of $10 to $30. Not much for a much better product. 2) Don't substitute one brand for another because it's what the painter uses. If you've selected a Sherwin-Williams paint (based on the paint hips and samples you used in your decision process),then require the same brand is used on your walls. Each manufacture has different chemistry behind their paint formulations. While "color matching" is likely going to result in an acceptable look, it's not guaranteed.
Now, go put some color on your walls!