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How to Choose a Paint Color

How to Choose a Paint Color

Choosing a paint color is about more than following your heart and a swatch

choosing a paint color for your house | learning to use paint swatches

The time has come! You’re ready to spruce up your bedroom with some rich color and infuse new life into your home. What an inspired and bold move. You break out of your shell, girl! Respect. You have your Terracotta Pinterest board and, ready to make the change, you head to Sherwin-Williams to peruse their mighty wall of color, the light of all the glorious possibilities reflected in your eyes. You’re thinking something close to terracotta because, by God, you are a modern woman with refined, but edgy taste and you’re not afraid to show it.

Choosing a paint color for your house: the novel

paint swatches



choosing a paint color for your house

You bring your mother along – she’s an interior designer and you want her to see what great taste you have; this is sure to make her proud.

After about ten minutes of mom bringing paint swatches over, which you brush off as “not quite what I’m looking for”, your eyes finally land on the perfect warm, rich tone. Ahh yes. Just what a chic, Joshua-Tree-loving artist would have in her modern-yet-homey living space.

A chorus of angels breaks into song and with a triumphant swoop of your hand, you grasp the swatch and smugly sidle up to your mom. “Got it.”. You are at peace, the perfect choice has been made. Your heart just knows.

“Hmm…I’m not sure that’s going to turn out the way you thi-“, mom slowly begins. “Nope!” You happily interrupt, “It’s the one. This is exactly what I want.” Rude? Uhmm kinda sorta yep. But at the time, this felt like an efficient act of decisiveness. This is no time for distractions. We are on a mission!


Part II of “Choosing a Paint Color For Your Home” (the musical)

You both head to the checkout counter. “Okay, well let’s get a sample quart, so you can paint a patch and test out the color for a couple of days.”, mom suggests helpfully (spoiler alert: this is exactly what you should have done).

Your heart sinks momentarily as you only briefly consider this. I mean, sure, to do a test patch is the most responsible thing to do, but… “I just want to get it done, let’s just buy a gallon and I’m sure I’ll love it however it turns out.”. You’re only humoring her with this reassuring tone as you secretly know it’ll turn out exactly like the swatch. How else could it possibly turn out, ya silly billy? Besides, there isn’t another swatch that even comes close to this one, they’re all either too dark or light or brown or pink, no. This is the one.

paint swatches

Betrayed by a paint swatch (did you see this coming?)

choosing a paint color for your house | learning to use paint swatches

You wake up the morning after painting, with the exciting expectation of a beautiful, Instagram-worthy room. Your heart is full of gratitude! To yourself for choosing the perfect color, and to your mom for helping you paint. Woweewow. This is it! In your mind, there’s only one way this turns out. You open your eyes annnnd:

Rose. That’s rose.


Mama knows best

My mom was right; honestly, as usual. Applause for moms! I should have done a test. Oh yeah, if you didn’t figure it out by now, this story is about me. Over the course of the following weeks, I figured out exactly what colors I did NOT want on my walls because those colors showed up on my wall at all hours of the day.

A dusty coral, an ashy rose, a chalky burnt orange, heck sometimes it looked straight up tan! One day, I miraculously woke up with the sun and the wall looked exactly as I’d originally planned! Perfectly terracotta. But that color vanished within an hour and turned into a cheerful salmon that I began to loathe.



Heed my words: use a sample paint to test color before painting

choosing a paint color for your house | learning to use paint swatches

The colors pictured above are not an exaggeration of the variation of colors got out of my “terracotta” paint, so here’s my hard-learned truth, freely gifted to you. Do not rely on swatches! Get a sample quart of the paints you’re interested in and test them on a couple of different areas of the room you’re painting and observe what happens at different hours of the day, in different lighting. You’re much more likely to find what you’re looking for by moving through this process before deciding on a final color.

Picking out a paint color, just going by swatches, is like going into a hairdresser and trying to get them to understand the nuances of what you love about Lisa Rinna’s infamous haircut – they’re just not going to get it and you’re not going to see your vision come to life.


Swatches and fan decks are not a reliable source for understanding color. Paint looks very different on a wall than ink does on paper; it translates in a completely different way. A swatch is a good starting point, but if if you go just on that, you’ll find they’ll fail you & won’t meet your expectations.

Steven Montgomery, CEO and Founder of That 1 Painter

Why you shouldn’t ever trust paint swatches

choosing a paint color for your house | learning to use paint swatches

Paint swatches are only there to give you an idea of the neighborhood you’re in, but they can’t tell you what tones will be brought from that color in your specific room, with your specific overhead lighting, how the sun shines against that wall at different times of day, or the way other colors in your room will contrast and subtly reflect a variety of hues there.


The best way to go about choosing a paint color for your house

The only way to know how a color will perform in your home is to paint a test patch and take a few days to observe what you do and do not like about it. And maybe you, like me, are stubborn and will paint without testing then live out an entire year, begrudgingly sharing a living space with a color(s) you do not enjoy before you simply move out. Or you’ll go back to that hairdresser who promised you Lisa Rinna’s hair and you’ll say “Actually, I need this a little shorter, a little brighter, and take out this orange tone, like Lisa.”. But in this case, you’re going back to Sherwin Williams to choosing a few similar paint colors, buying sample sizes, taking it home to test, finding the one you love, and then re-painting – we’ll get it right this time.

~ Sam Mill

Ready to make some color changes in your home?