How to Choose the Right Paint Colors for Every Room

Choosing paint colors is a tricky process. Not only do you need to think about your furniture, fabrics and accessories, but you also have to consider the lighting in the space.

For example, south-facing rooms receive warm, yellow light and may wash out certain paint colors. Likewise, north-facing spaces tend to have cooler, blue light and may make some paint shades look colder.

Light Colors

Light colors reflect light and brighten up a space. But a clean, crisp white can also amplify other colors on your furniture, fixtures and even the surrounding landscape (think lush greenery or the orange building across the street). Whites with yellow undertones are better for low-light rooms.

Keep in mind that a room’s natural light can vary depending on the direction it faces and even what time of day you are painting (the sun casts a different hue during daylight versus evening). Even artificial lighting can change the way a color looks, so it’s important to test your swatches on multiple walls under various conditions.

If you have a large, open concept living room/dining room/kitchen, consider keeping the majority of your walls a lighter shade and add pops of color through accent wall art, furnishings and rugs. You could also try a darker neutral like charcoal or navy to draw the eye into the room and make it feel more intimate.

Dark Colors

If you’re looking to create a moody space, consider a darker paint color. A low light teal, for example, looks enveloping in this contemporary family living room designed by Kingston Lafferty Design. Muddled hues with a touch of black or gray can also work well in dark spaces, providing a more welcoming look than stark white.

Designers agree that it’s worth spending time examining a few different paint colors before committing to one. It takes days for a new shade to settle into the lighting of your home, and it can look completely different under sunny or cloudy conditions. It’s also wise to test swatches with your furniture and other elements in the space before making a final decision.

It can also help to use the color wheel as a guide when choosing paint colors. Using the direct opposites on the wheel, like blue and green, or colors adjacent to each other, like purple and yellow, can help create balance in a room, explains interior designer Laura Pankonien.

Neutral Colors

In a time of maximalism and saturated color palettes, it can feel easy to overlook the beauty of neutral paint colors. But these versatile shades, whether warm or cool, offer elegance and timeless appeal that can stand the test of time.

When choosing neutrals, consider the visual weight of your furniture, art and fabrics. You want a color that can hold its own, without overpowering your other decor elements.

Look for soft, light neutrals like Gray Owl by SW and its subtle undertones of blue and green for a fresh look. Another option is a warm gray like Pale Oak by Benjamin Moore, which can appear gray, taupe or off-white depending on the lighting and other colors in the room. When selecting a neutral, be sure to test swatches on your walls and in different lighting throughout the day. This will help you pick a color that looks right when it’s painted, not washed out or too bright.


One paint color can change the entire feel of a room. It can make a small space feel larger or a large space more intimate. It can avoid glare in a sunny room or warm up a chilly north-facing space.

It can even give a new personality to existing finishes like cabinets, tile and brick fireplaces. However, it’s important to determine what colors you already have in your home and keep them in mind when choosing paint.

To get a true idea of how a paint color will look in your room, try it on a large sheet of lining paper and move it around the space over the course of a few days to see how it changes with light and natural shadow. It’s also worth spending a couple dollars to have the paint store mix a few samples for you to try in your unique lighting. These tools will help you find the right paint color for every room in your home.

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