How to Pick Paint Colors for your Home: 8 Tips to Avoid Disaster

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Every time we move, I get really excited about the idea of painting a house. While painting does take time and effort, it is relatively inexpensive compared to other house projects and paint can make a powerful transformation.

I’m also always surprised at just how tricky it can be to pick the right colors. There are so many possibilities in terms of colors. And even if you already have colors in mind, you need to take into account the undertones of the paint, the colors already in the room, the natural light in the room, and also how dark or light of a shade to go.

After painting the complete interiors of three houses, here is my advice and tips when it comes to how to pick paint colors for your home and my favorite choices for every room.

Pick only ONE white

If you plan on painting anything white and want it to look white, then you need to know what white is already being used in your home.

The reason is because most white paint has undertones. This means that once you put two shades of white next to each other, one will not look white anymore.

Take example Swiss Coffee, in this photo it looks white compared to our wall which is a cream.

How to Pick Paint Colors

Now let’s put that white next to another white swatch, Ultra Pure White. Now in this photo, Swiss Coffee does not look white at all.

How to Pick Paint Colors

To figure out what shade of white you have in your house, grab a few paint swatches at your local paint store. Bring them home and compare them to the white in your house (trim, ceilings, kitchen cabinets, etc.).

Once you get a good match, keep that paint swatch, that is your “white” paint. When looking at other colors, compare it to this swatch to see how it looks with the white in your house.

Using other whites

You can use other white colors in your house and they can look beautiful, just remember they will not look white.

For instance, you might paint your wall a different white than your ceiling and trim and it will show yellow or grey and that can be very pretty.

How to Pick Paint Colors

When picking out additional whites, be sure that they do not make your actual white look off. For instance, you paint a wall white and it brings out the yellow undertones in the white that is on your baseboard trim or kitchen cabinets. The result is that now your baseboard trim or kitchen cabinets look yellow (or cream) whereas before they looked white.

Therefore, my perference is use a white with almost no undertones (like Ultra Pure White by Behr or Highly Reflective White by Sherwmin Williams) as my “white”.

Look at the undertones

For every single paint color including white that you pick out, it is absolutely essential to know what undertones it contains.

Every color has a mass tone (main color) and undertones. The shade of blue or green that you see is really a blend of colors and depending on what those colors are will make the color have specific tints (or undertones).

These are so important because the room will pick up these undertones.

For example, when we picked a pink for my daughter’s room, it looks like pink on the swatch on her pillow.

How to Pick Paint Colors

However, once we got it on the walls it looked purple since she has so much blue and purple in her room so that is the undertone that is picked up. (We were working on multiple projects when we moved in so the house was total chaos and that is why her doorway is halfway primed white.)

How to Pick Paint Colors

Here is a comparison to how much “pinker” or pink with a stronger orange undertone we had to go to get her walls to look pink. The purple above the closet was the first “pink” we tried.

How to Pick Paint Colors

How to determine undertones

There are two ways to determine undertones. One way is you want to look at that shade super concentrated. This can be very easy at some paint stores because the paint swatches come in various levels of concentration like this picture below. If you are deciding between two very light pinks for example like the two left pink and the top middle pink, then chose the one that has the undertone you like better.

How to Pick Paint Colors

The other way is to compare it to other colors around it. Just like white, once you put two pink (or any color) swatches next to each other, then you will start to see the undertones. One might look more orange and one might look more purple.

Lastly, bring the swatch home (or sample size of color) home and see how it looks with the room colors. This will tell you the color it will be in your room.  

Go for balance in each room

The biggest difference between rooms that work and rooms that don’t is balance. When you see beautiful home decor photos, you might wonder what makes it work. The answer is always balance and when you don’t have it, you look for it. Your eye will always seek out balance.

Use color temperature

One easy way to create balance is color temperature, which basically means how warm or cool it is. Warm colors have orange, yellow and red undertones and cool colors have green blue and purple undertones. When you have only warm or cool undertones in the room, they overwhelm and intensify each other.

When you use too many cool tones, you get a sterile cold hospital feeling. Adding some warmth can make the space feel cozy and energetic.

So before picking a paint color, take a moment to assess the warmth of the room based on the colors there. Think about the furniture and floor and trim colors and aim for balance.

You might decide to have all cool tones in a room that has a floor with a warm undertone. The floor will anchor the room.

Use color intensity

Another way to balance a room is color intensity. Once you start looking for this, you will see it everywhere. Home decor designers balance color by how strong it is.

The stronger the color, the less you want to use it. The lighter the color, the more you can use it.

So, if someone has a room with lots of whites and light colors, they will use a dark (more concentrated) color to anchor the room. For instance, a bright teal blue as their pop color. It creates balance and is pleasing to the eye.

Pay attention to LRV (light reflectance value)

Light reflectance value (LRV) is a measurement that tells you essentially how light a color is with black being 0 and white 100. The higher the LRV, the more light the wall will reflect. So, if a color has an LRV of 95, then 95% of the light that hits that wall will be reflected off it.

In general, a high LRV will make a room feel brighter.

When deciding if you should aim for a higher LRV, you want to think about how much natural light a room gets. For instance, if the room has great natural light then you can opt for a lower LRV.

Additionally, larger rooms can have lower LRV. If you want a small room to feel bigger, then aim for a high LRV.

I would never paint a room with anything lower than a 50 LRV. Personally, I like to aim for 70 or higher on the main paint color that will be in hallways since the space is small.

Test the color first

I always want to skip this step. Once I find a color I like, I just want to buy it and not have to come back for it. However, testing is probably the most important step in picking the right paint color.

There are a few ways you can test a color. You can grab a sample size at the paint store, which will cost a a few bucks and paint a swatch on your wall. Be sure to let it dry completely since the color will change as it dries.

You can also grab Sure Swatch from Home Depot. You just paint the film instead that you can stick and peel to various walls in the house. I recommend doing this so you can see how the color changes on each wall of the room. You can also lay it on the floor to better see what undertones the floor color brings out.

Additionally, you can also order a painted film from Samplize for a few bucks if you don’t want to do it yourself.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Always Buy From the Same Store

If you have the name of the color, Home Depot can usually make any paint color (even if it is a Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore color). However, it will be a different base (like Behr etc).

The same goes with other paint stores. Any paint store can make any color but the starting base will be different so once you buy the paint. You always need to buy that specific color with that specific base or it will be slightly different.

Think about the psychology of colors

Color psychology is well used in marketing because they can set the mood and change how you feel. For instance, red is known to increase energy or make you feel hungrier. While red might be a great pop color for a living room or front entryway, it might not work so well in a bedroom. Orange can give you a confidence boost. Blue is very calming.

How to Find Paint Colors

It can be very overwhelming to just walk into a paint store and stare at the wall of colors.

Instead, get a sense of what you like by using search engines like google images and Pinterest. You can search

  • by room (living room paint colors)
  • by paint color (Sherwin Williams Sea Salt)
  • by things like paint colors that go with oak trim (or white cabinets)
  • by your favorite paint colors.

Just remember that pictures aren’t always true reflections of what the color actually looks like in person. Start here, grab some paint color names and then go to the paint store to grab swatches. Grab both the color names you liked and some other ones in that family of colors.

Favorite Interior House Paint Colors

Since there are endless choices of paint colors, I have decided to compile my favorite paint colors for each room of the house. These are colors that I have used in the houses that I have lived in or that were runner ups. Also, a note for this post and also just in general, remember that it is very hard to get a picture that is 100% accurate to how a paint color looks in a room or how it will look in your room.

So use these as inspiration and once you find colors you like then go to a paint store to check them out in person.

My Favorite Main House Colors

This is the color that I used in hallways, kitchen and living room. It is the color that is used the most. I like to pick a color that has a high LRV, so hallways won’t feel small and dark.

Pale Oak OC-20 Benjamin Moore (70)

This is the color we picked for our current house. At first, I was nervous to use it because I had read that it has a pink undertone. We started with a sample and I absolutely love it. Pale Oak has a LRV of 70 so it made spaces feel brighter right away.

If I put something red or pink near it, then I can see the pink undertone. However, we don’t really have any home decor that is red or pink, so it works amazingly in our house.

Here is the color in our mudroom.

How to Pick Paint Colors

In our previous house, we painted the main rooms and hallways with Revere Pewter HC-172 Benjamin Moore, which has an LRV of 55. While I loved it in the living room, it was just too dark of a color for the hallways. The living room had great big windows, while our upstairs hallway had almost no natural light.

How to Pick Paint Colors

When light is shining on the color, it is really beautiful.

How to Pick Paint Colors


My favorite Master Bedroom Paint Color

We have used Revere Pewter HC-172 Benjamin Moore (LRV 55) twice now for a master bedroom. I like this color a lot for a master bedroom. It goes well with our cream white furniture and grey comforter. The space feels bright but calming.

How to Pick Paint Colors

My favorite Kid Bedroom Paint Color

My all-time favorite kid bedroom paint color is Rainwashed SW6211 Sherwin-Williams. It has a LRV of 60 and is a blue green color. It is perfect for a boy or girl bedroom. I love it because it is such a happy color.

We have gone through many different kid bedroom themes and no matter what other colors are in the room this versatile color goes with it. If you want to paint the walls once and never again, then this color is 100% for you.

How to Pick Paint Colors

My oldest daughter really wanted a pink room so I agreed to the project not knowing just how tricky pink can be.

If you are looking a girl bedroom color, then I recommend trying out Ballerina PPG1183-1 Glidden. I don’t usually use Glidden but it was so hard to find a good pink. I spent so much time trying to find one I liked. After going to three different paint stores and trying out more paint samples than I ever wanted to spend money on, this color was the winner. It has a LRV of 76.

How to Pick Paint Colors

My Favorite Bathroom Paint Color

A very hot color right now is Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams. It has a LRV 64. If you are going with a farmhouse or coastal theme, this color is great for any room.  It is a perfect light coastal blue. I particularly love it in bathrooms and since discovering it, have used it in all our bathrooms.

How to Pick Paint Colors

Benjamin Moore also has a Sea Salt paint color but it is a light grey so be careful not to mix the two up!

Picking Paint Colors for Your Home

Picking the right paint color can take some time and work but will absolutely transform the room. Spend some time at your local paint store just looking at paint swatches and comparing them. This is the easiest way to better understand undertones, color temperature and LRV.

Next, take some swatches home with you and determine what color white you have already in your house. Use swatches to also see how colors change depending on the light and existing colors in the room.

Aim for color balance. Darker and more intense colors should be used less, while light and brighter colors can take up more of the space.

After that, test it out. Don’t be discouraged if you have to try multiple samples. It is always better to take the time now instead of living with a color you hate.

I hope this guide gave you some food for thought on how to pick a paint color. Happy Painting!

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How to Pick Paint Colors

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