How to Pick Colors for Your Home Decorating

Home Decorators | Picking Color Schemes for DecoratingThe use of color can be one of the scariest and most difficult decisions for home decorators. It needn't be. There are a few simple steps that can be applied to choosing a color palette for your entire home, one room, or several interconnected rooms.

I am about to give you a "cheat sheet" for color selection that you can place permanently into your home decorator's toolbox. This cheat sheet WILL work for you without you knowing anything at all about color, the science of color, the color wheel or even why it works. Just follow these steps and one of the scariest pieces in any home decorator's plan will be finished. But first I want you to remember a couple of basics on design.

Be True to Yourself

First and foremost with any design, it is imperative that you be true to yourself. Your home should reflect who you are and what you enjoy. An example of this is a home decorator who knows nothing about art and painters and has never had any interest in this subject. If this person goes out and buys a huge collection of Rembrandt prints and has them framed and hangs them all over her house, her friends and others who know her when they see the house may think that their friend is pretending to be something she is not. Or worse, that the home decorator doesn't know themselves.

For more detailed plans for choosing accessories, you may wish to peruse the article, "Accessorizing: Avoiding interior design clichés, kitsch, trends, and grotesques".

This is true of color too. If purple is your favorite color, try to incorporate it into your home, in at least one room. If you hate the color red, do NOT paint one wall in your house red, no matter what anyone else tells you.

Home decorators who try to be something they are not, invariably sooner or later come around to being unhappy with the outcome, no matter how perfectly it may fit into the ideal of what a composition should be.

Color = Emotion

Home Decorator's Guide to ColorThe second principle with color, and I must drive this home, color is 100%, absolutely, positively subjective and emotional. NO OTHER component of a design is as personal and as emotional as color. No matter what anyone else tells you, there is no set of "rules" that apply to color. If you want to do your entire house in purple and orange, and this is something you feel strongly about, then go for it! There is no rule that says this is wrong.

But most home decorators don't really fear what others will think of them if they do with color what they wish; instead they are so afraid of color that they fear to even admit to themselves what they would like to do.

I think one thing that produces so much fear is how overwhelming color can be. Let's face it. There are MILLIONS of colors. That means MILLIONS of choices. So it can seem like an overwhelming problem. So let's add one essential tool to your home decorator's tool box. This is easy. Stick with me here.

What is "Color"? What Do I Mean by "Color"?

In regard to this subject here, I am going to define "color" as being a hue in the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet family. By "family" I mean that the names maroon, blush, crimson, scarlet, carmine, raspberry, candy-apple red, and too many others to name are all names for colors or hues in the "family" red, just as lavender, violet, eggplant, purple, plum, lilac, and amethyst are all members of the violet or purple "family".

Step 1: Simple Method to Pick a Starting Color

  • Pick an object in your home, anything at all that you like the color of, anything that speaks to you in any way
  • Pick an object in your home that you cannot afford to replace or reupholster, as long as you don't HATE the color
  • Look at your wardrobe, what is one thing that you are consistently complimented on, that others say is a color you look good in?
  • Pick an object in your home that you love, even if it isn't for the color
  • Take a walk, look at neighbor's homes, landscaping, the sky, cars that pass, anything at all, pick one color that speaks to you
  • Think back to your childhood, what color was your favorite?
  • What is your favorite color?

Now you probably have one color in mind. This is a fine color. There is nothing wrong with it. There is no right and wrong when it comes to color.

Step 2: Pick Up the Tool for Free

The next step is to turn the rose on your grandmother's china or the lilac bush in your neighbor's yard into a design tool. If you can take the object with the color on it with you, then do, if you cannot, then look at the color long and hard and try to memorize it.

Then go to a certain well known paint store that we have here in St. Louis. Do not go to a very large hardware store, there is a certain well-known paint store that puts their paint swatches on LONG pieces with seven colors on each. These are the most helpful to anyone who knows color well and certainly the most helpful for home decorators who don't feel comfortable with color.

Simply pick up any and all paint swatches that you even THINK may be close to the color you have in mind. Don't try to make any decisions at the store under their fluorescent lights, just pick up any and all paint swatches that come even close to the color on your favorite blouse in your hand or the color you've memorized in your brain. They do not mind home decorators taking the swatches; that is what they are there for.

Step 3: Drilling Down to Specifics:

Picking Colors with a Home DecoratorIf you are trying to match your sofa, or any other object in your home, it will be easier. But if you are trying to match the neighbor's lilac bush, then it will be a little more difficult, but the hardest part is past. But with this in mind, then what we need to do is pick ONE of the swatches, notice I didn't say one color on one of the swatches, just one of the pieces of paper (with seven colors on each) that has your color on it as the closest match. This will take patience, but remember how confused you were, and you already have one color!

One thing home decorators need to be aware of is every color, meaning grandma's china, the neighbor's lilac bush and the swatches themselves all look different in different light. Meaning morning light is different than evening light, and overcast outdoor light is different than both; sunlight is different than fluorescent light; and incandescent light (many household light bulbs) is different yet again.

So now I want you to quickly go through the swatches and decide on two that you think are the most similar to the color you have chosen. Then taking care not to get them soiled with the oils from your skin, place the object displaying your chosen color on a neutral background such as a dining table with a white tablecloth over it and one of the two swatches on each side. If you are comparing the swatches to let's say, your sofa, then you can place both swatches directly on the sofa with upholstery between them.

Step 4: Patience Will Reward You!

Now comes what may be the most critical step and is the step that most home decorators quit on because it requires the most patience. I want you to look at this setup each morning, and each evening and in different indoor lighting, meaning with the lamps in the room off, and with them on, for several weeks.

The idea is to see the TRUE color of the object and the swatches in all different lighting. Then over time, eliminate the one swatch that does NOT contain the correct color, and then go through every swatch that you picked from the store that may have the correct color and try it next to the object in question over time and in different lighting.

This may seem like overkill, but color is entirely dependent on light and if you are trying to match another object, after you paint the room is not the time to realize you've made the wrong choice.

Don't Look Now, but You've Picked a Starting Color!

Actually seven! Once you've decided on one swatch, keep in mind that this gives you SEVEN colors, now technically they are different tints or shades of the same color, but nonetheless seven choices to dial up or down in brightness, or quietness!

Now Pick a Neutral

St. Louis Home Decorator & DesignerA neutral is a color within the brown/beige, or gray/black family that technically goes with anything. Most rooms need a neutral palette in play at least a little.

To pick your neutral, my suggestion is to simply go with your gut, so to speak. Some people like grays, some home decorators prefer browns and beiges but keep in mind that if all the doors in your home are permanently colored what looks like white, then the decision has been made for you. Follow the steps above to find one swatch with seven tints on which one matches your doors.

For home decorators who are lucky enough to be able to choose your own neutral then go grab a swatch with seven tints or shades on it reflecting your choice.

Next Pick a Metallic

A metallic is going to be your simplest choice, AND you don't need to go to the store to get a swatch unless you want one. This is simple. Do you want silver, gold, copper, or bronze? That's pretty much it as far as a metallic but keep in mind that if you have chrome fixtures in your bathroom, unless you have deep pockets, you may want to rethink any choice other than silver.

And, yes, you CAN mix metallics. These steps are just the basics. Home decorators can mix this up any way they feel comfortable with.

Now You Have 15 Colors!!!

Seven colors, seven neutrals and one metallic! Place your swatches next to one another and imagine your room in these colors. You can pick any three of these, any four, any two, any ten. My suggestion is to use colors that are NOT next to each other on the swatches but instead "skip" one or two colors on each swatch for more definition, but this is a personal choice.

If this seems too limiting or boring a palette, simply start at the top of these directions and follow them through until you have picked another color, not a neutral, but a color. Continue picking colors until you feel you have picked the right number of colors for your personality.

How Many Colors Should I Choose?

Generally speaking the fewer swatches (seven tints each) you choose for your "palette" the easier it will be to design a space that has "unity". The more swatches you choose, the more likely your space will have "variety".

Tips for Home Decorators in St. LouisAgain, generally speaking, unity has a calming effect but too much unity can appear "boring", especially for the person living in the space who sees it every day.

And, conversely, generally speaking, the more variety the more dramatic or exciting a space can seem. However, too much variety and the space can seem disconnected and make people nervous.

A general rule of thumb for color selection that works for most home decorators is three colors, (three swatches with seven colors each), one neutral swatch and one metallic.

This may seem like a lot of colors, but most are very closely related and so are merely three hues, one neutral and one metallic. This is now your color "palette", it is the farthest reaches you will go with color. You don't have to use all of these, but they are there if you stumble and are not sure if something is right.

Some Final Hints:

If you have no furniture or artwork or accessories and are starting from scratch, keep in mind that you can buy paint to match anything but a sofa or bedclothes will have to be chosen from what is on the market, even with custom upholstery, so home decorators should choose things on which the colors cannot be changed before choosing paint.

You are well on your way to designing your own beautiful, confident home, with warmth, character and individuality.

For step-by-step directions on how to use those colors to create your perfect home, see my article entitled "Paint by numbers for the home decorator".

But if you are sure that this is a "coat of too many colors" for you, I am here to help. E-mail me to set up a consultation at [email protected]