Have you ever spent hours poring over paint colours, finding the exact match you wanted and confidently painting it onto your walls, only to find out when the paint dries that it doesn’t look anything like you thought it was going to? A little while ago, I wrote a blog post about a disastrous experience I had with choosing a paint colour (and what I learned from it) and I have to confess that this wasn’t the only time that I have made a colour mistake. I cringe to think of the time and expense I have wasted on re-painting walls that I was sure were going to look fabulous yet turned out so differently to how I expected. And I won’t even get into the frustration and (if it’s not too dramatic) despair at getting it wrong yet again!
Through all of my frustrations, I have learned that there are a few main reasons that colour goes wrong, and- crucially- how to avoid them. In fact, this topic is so popular that I recorded a webinar all about paint colours, which has been viewed hundreds of times. Click the image below to get the recording, and then read on.
The main reasons that paint looks different in your home than you expected are:
· The direction your room faces
· Reflected light from other objects
· Different types of artificial light
· The undertones in the paint and
· You haven’t tested it properly
In this post, we’ll dive into looking at room direction and how the different directional light causes paint to appear differently.
Natural light can look different room by room, at different times of the day, and during different seasons. This will also be different depending on where you live in the world. For example, in the northern hemisphere, south facing rooms are filled with light, whereas in the southern hemisphere, this is the other way round. I live in the UK, so I’m writing from the perspective of a northern hemisphere dweller. So just reverse the information if you live south of the equator.
The first thing to do is to get your compass out and work out which way your rooms face. When I say ‘face’ I mean which way do the windows face? So in the room below, you can see that this is a south facing room because the windows are on the south wall.
If you don’t have a compass to hand, you can use a compass app on your phone. Or you can do it the old fashioned way by seeing where the sun rises (this is the East) and where it sets at the end of the day (this is West), and you can work out North and South from there.
If you have a dual aspect room (windows on more than one wall) work out where the most light comes in (this will usually be through your biggest windows). If your room falls slightly outside of North, South, East and West, observe your room throughout the day and see which description best fits the way that the light falls in your room.
Once you’ve worked out the direction of the light in each room, the next thing you need to be aware of is that some colours are known as ‘warm colours’ and some are known as cool colours. Blues and lilacs are cool, and the reds and oranges are warm.
The basic idea is that you choose warm colours for cool rooms and cool colours for warm rooms. So let’s take a look at the different ways you deal with each room.
If your room is north facing, it might be cold and dark, possibly even a bit on the gloomy side. It is an indirect, cool light. This makes north facing rooms quite challenging to decorate. If you get it wrong, you can end up with an icy, lifeless room. Our natural instinct when decorating a dark room is to use light colours. However, you don’t have to do this. decide what sort of mood you want to create in your house. Bold colours show up well in north facing rooms. You could either decide to lighten it as much as possible, and use warm and light colours or you could just embrace this (don’t fight it) and go with it and make it into a cosy cave or cocoon. Grey is difficult to pull off in a north-facing room as it is often cold, but you can get away with using it if you brighten it up with bold accessories, like in the room below:
South facing rooms are usually warm, and flooded with light. This means that you can use either cool or warm colours and they will look equally good. Embrace this by using light or bright colours. Dark colours look brighter and pale colours shine.
East and West facing rooms are a little trickier as the colour and warmth of the light changes throughout the day.
As the sun rises in the east and sets in the West (no matter where you are in the world!) east facing rooms receive most of their warm light in the morning, and cool light in the evening as the sun goes down. Think about when you will use this room the most, and then decorate it accordingly. Often, decorating it as you would a south facing room is best. The light in an east facing room starts warm in the morning, but it can appear a little blue, so don’t fight this- go with greens and blues, or greys and whites with blue undertones. Duck eggs and pastel colours look good in these rooms too.
These rooms are cold light in the morning (dull, cold light) and warm light in the evening. They get the best of the warm light in the evening. Decorate like you would a south facing room. White and greyer neutrals are good here.
So, before you go buying your paint colour based on something you’ve seen either in someone else’s home, or even a different room in your own home, be sure to check out the direction of your room and bear in mind these top tips for selecting paint colours.
If you’ve had some successes, or even disasters with paint colour because of the direction your room faces, let us know in the notes below, or come and share it in our Facebook group.
Until next time x
Main image source: Farrow & Ball
When we re-modelled our house a few years ago, we painted everything in either white or magnolia. I don’t mind admitting that I was scared. We had this beautiful new home, and I was petrified about messing it up. White is safe, right, and you can’t go wrong with that sort of neutral. Well, it was safe, but it was also quite boring. So a little while ago I decided to re-decorate my entrance hall, and there was NO WAY I was going to play it safe and paint it white again.
So off I went, looking for inspiration, and I found the most beautiful wallpaper in my local DIY store. It was eye-wateringly expensive (well, for a DIY store) but I instantly fell in love it with. It had a silvery-grey background with beautiful cream roses, which happen to be my favourite flower. At the time, feature walls were all the rage, and I could see myself putting this wallpaper directly opposite my front door, so that visitors would be greeted with this floral vision as soon as they entered my home.
Feeling very smug, I then toddled off to find a co-ordinating paint colour for the adjacent walls. I carefully held the wallpaper sample up against the paint pot chips and I picked out a soft, chalky grey that I thought would go well with the paper. It was a Farrow & Ball paint, called ‘Light Grey’.
Source: Farrow & Ball
If you look at the colour chip on the tin above, it’s just grey, right. Well, once home, I decided to paint the room first, and apply the wallpaper afterwards. As I applied the paint to the walls, it didn’t look like it did on the tin, but I knew that paint looks different when wet, and I re-assured myself that it would dry differently. (Yes, I can feel you nodding along here- you’ve done this too, right?)
Well, I think you can guess the ending here. When the paint dried, it looked nothing like it did on the tin. I was horrified. The grey I thought I had purchased was actually a muted milky green! I mean, I’d held the paint chip up against the wallpaper in the shop and it matched perfectly. It was even called ‘Light Grey’ for goodness’ sake- how could it be green? I have to say that it was a very nice green, but when I held the wallpaper up against the paint, the grey in the wallpaper looked brown-grey; almost bronze instead of silver. What on earth was going on?
Source: Mylands Paints
Well, I have since learned that paint is a complex beast. The colour that paint appears is affected by many different things, including the direction your room faces as well as the undertones in the paint and the reflections in your room. I’ll get into all of those in other posts, but for now, here are the mistakes I made when buying my paint, and some ideas about how you can avoid making them yourself:
The manufacturers come up with all sorts of exotic names for paint colours. From Nancy’s Blushes to Elephant’s Breath and Labrador Sands, the name gives you an indication of the colour, but it does not tell the full story. Even something simple, like in my case, ‘Light Grey’ can lead you down the wrong path. Don’t be fooled by the name of the paint.
The paint chip on the front of a paint tin can be very misleading, as I found out. It’s obvious when you think about it, but a tiny inch-by-inch square can’t really give you a true picture of how the paint will look across a whole wall. Tester pots cost so little and are really worth the investment. Bring it home and try it out in your room, for real.
When you bring a tester pot home, most people try out a patch by painting it straight onto a wall. This is a mistake because (unless your wall is pure white) the existing paint colour underneath will affect the colour of the tester pot. When you paint a room for real, you often need several coats to get true coverage. Even if your room is a neutral colour, it will still have undertones of different colours which will affect the look of the tester pot you try out. Instead, paint a big piece of lining paper and tack it to your wall.
If you have bought several sample pots, it’s really easy to get carried away and paint lots of swatches all at once. This is a mistake because each colour will reflect onto the other colours, and the paler colours will take on some of the reflection from the brighter colours. Having too many colours at once also means that you are not looking at them in isolation, The paint colour that you liked next to one colour will look different when you remove the other colours. If you want to sample different colours, choose one colour at a time, try it out for a few days and then replace it with a different colour.
Depending on which way your room faces, the light coming into the room affects the way that the colour appears; a colour in a North facing room will look very different than in a South facing room. But natural light can also affect how the paint colour looks, even on different walls within the same room. If you look at any of your rooms, the paint in the corners usually appears darker than the paint by the windows. One way around this mistake is to move your painted lining paper onto different walls to see how it looks with light and shadow coming from different directions. You should also do this at different times of the day as the light changes from morning to evening. Another tip I was given (but I’ve never tried) is to paint the inside of a shoe box. I guess I can see the sense of this: it shows you how the paint colour bounces around a rectangular ‘room’, replicating what it will do on the walls of your room, but I’m not sure it gives the whole picture as the lighting would be different in each room too. Perhaps you could try it out and let me know? If you want to find out about how room position affects the colour in your room, stay tuned for next week’s blog post.
I really hope that you can learn from my mistakes, and that this will help you to have a happier time of choosing your paint colours.
Oh, and how did my story end? I actually decided that I liked the green-grey paint, and I couldn’t face painting the room again, so I kept the wallpaper and used it in my bedroom instead!