5 Mistakes You Make When Choosing Paint Colours (and what to do about it)

paint mistakes

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.

Source: A Splash of Colour

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:

Mistake #1: You are guided by the name of the paint

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.

Mistake #2: You are guided by the colour chip on the tin

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.

Mistake #3: You paint straight onto the wall

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. 

Mistake #4: You paint lots of patches side by side

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. 

Mistake #5: You don't pay attention to the direction of your room

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. All's well that ends well 🙂

  • Steph says:

    I learned the same hard way with Light Grey, I saw it on a staircase and loved the green grey of it, have always hated blue grey. So when I decided on elephants Breath with Skimming Stone I painted inside box and coated lining paper with 2 rollered coats. It was so different away from nearby colours bouncing off, and I now always do the large sheet and remove anything in the room that bounces colour around. I’ve spent a fortune in testers but worth the money. P.s F and B will always tell you what tints are in colour so for instance EBREATH has a carmine base, so it comes through with a pink tinge.