So you’ve renovated your house like a skilled surgeon, fixing structural flaws and preserving each room’s distinct architectural character. But something’s still missing. More than likely, that something is color—the renovator’s secret weapon.

Did you know that crown molding can visually raise the ceiling or lower it, depending on how it contrasts with the walls? Or that deft use of color can turn one room into a lively gathering place and another into a relaxing space for curling up with a book?

In today’s open-plan homes, where kitchens, living rooms, and dining rooms are often one large space, color is used to help define interiors and create focal points in relatively featureless rooms. The trick, of course, is figuring out how to pick paint colors to use and where to put them.

How To Choose Interior Paint Colors

1. Create a Color Scheme That Matches Your Home’s Furniture

In a world where thousands of colors can be yours for just $25 a gallon, it pays to consider the advice of architectural color consultant Bonnie Krims.

“Always remember that while there are thousands of paint chips at the store, there are only seven colors in the paint spectrum,” says Krims, referring to red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (what Color Theory 101 students are often taught to remember by the mnemonic device, “Roy G. Biv”). “I always suggest eliminating a couple even before you go to the paint store.”

Here’s her sure-fire 4 step method for creating a color scheme:

  1. Start by selecting three colors from an existing object in your home. “Take a pillow from the family-room sofa, your favorite tie or scarf, or a painting—anything that conveys comfort or has an emotional connection for you—and take that object to the paint store,” says Krims. “Find three sample strips with those colors, and you instantly have 15 to 18 colors you can use, since each sample strip typically contains six paint colors.”
  2. The next step is to choose one of the three paint colors as your wall color and to save the other two to be used around the room in fabric or furnishings.
  3. To choose the colors for adjacent rooms, take the same original three color sample strips and select another color.
  4. Finally, choose a fourth color that can be used as an accent: “Splash a little of that color into every room of the house—by way of a pillow or plate or artwork. It makes a connection between the spaces,” Krims says.

2. Decide on the Finish to Create an Appealing Visual Effect

Once you have your colors in hand, consider the finish you’ll be using. Though today’s flat paints have increased stain resistance, conventional wisdom has long held that a satin (also called eggshell) finish is best for walls because it is scrubbable and doesn’t draw attention to imperfections. Semi-gloss and high-gloss finishes, it was thought, were best left to the trim, where they could accent the curves of a molding profile or the panels of a door.

Today, however, finishes are also being used to create visual effects on the entire wall. Paint one wall in a flat or satin finish and the adjacent wall in a semi-gloss, both in the same color, and “when the light hits the walls, it creates a corduroy or velvet effect,” says Doty Horn. Similarly, you can paint the walls flat and the ceiling semi-gloss to achieve a matte and sheen contrast. (The ceiling will feel higher the more light-reflective it is.) Keep in mind that the higher the gloss, the more sheen and the more attention you draw to the surface. Used strategically, color and gloss together can emphasize your interior’s best assets.

3. Match The Color To The Feeling You Want In The Room

The psychology of color is a minor ­obsession among paint professionals. Many say you should choose a color based at least in part on how a room is used and the mood you want to establish.

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, co-founder and editor of the blog apartmenttherapy.com suggests, painting social rooms (dining rooms, kitchens, family and living ­areas) warm colors like daffodil-yellow, coral, or cranberry, and give private rooms (home offices, powder rooms, bedrooms) cooler hues like sage-green, violet, or sky-blue.

Keep in mind, when it comes to emotional effect, of course, one person’s welcome-home orange will be another person’s signal to scram.

Debbie Zimmer, for one, declares that “red will increase your appetite—and your blood pressure; blues and greens are naturelike and calming; purple is loved by children but not necessarily by adults; yellow is inviting; and orange can be welcoming but also a little irritating, depending on the tint, tone, or shade.”

Research done by Behr indicates that yellow can stimulate the brain, so it might be worth considering for rooms where homework is done; but avoid yellow in bedrooms, where the goal is generally to chill out. Instead, explore these calming colors in the bedroom to help you sleep better.

4. Know Your Whites

Whites come in a staggering variety. Pure, “clean” whites are formulated without tinted undertones. These are favored by designers looking to showcase artwork or furnishings and are often used on ceilings to create a neutral field overhead.

Most other whites are either warm—with yellow, rust, pink, or brownish undertones—or cool, with green, blue, or gray undertones. Behr’s Mary Rice says: “Use warmer whites in rooms without a lot of natural light, or to make larger spaces seem cozier.”

Cool whites, by contrast, can help open up a space. Test several at once to see which one works best with the other colors at play in the room.

How To Use Interior Paint Colors

5. Create Flow in Open Plan Spaces

Continuity is important on the ground floor, but color can help “zone” a big open space, separating the dining area from the TV room, for instance. There’s no need to stick to a single color or even a single color palette that is either all warm (reds, oranges, yellows) or all cool (blues, greens, bright whites).

How­ever, “by using muted, dustier values, there’s a better chance the colors you choose will flow into one another,” says ­Tami Ridgeway, a color stylist for Valspar. She recommends leaning toward colors softened by a bit of gray; these are ­often found in historical palettes. Bright colors can be injected in small doses as accents—in furnishings, floor coverings, even flowers.

6. Make Small Spaces Feel Bigger or Cozier

What Colors Make A Room Look Bigger?

Generally, crisp whites can make a space feel bigger and more open, while warm colors create a sense of intimacy. At the most rudimentary level, large rooms generally can handle more color than small rooms. “Lighter hues can open up a small space, while darker colors give the perception that the surfaces are closer than they are,” says Debbie Zimmer.

What Colors Make A Room Cozier?

Of course, some small spaces don’t need to feel big: If you’re aiming to create a welcoming or cozy atmosphere in a foyer, study, or library, for example, hunter green or rust may serve you better than pale peach or celery.

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