How to pick the perfect paint color for every room in your house, according to interior designers

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At the outset, painting a room in your house to give it a fresh look seems like a fun DIY project. However, with so many different colors and finishes to choose from, landing on the right shade can quickly become overwhelming. 

To help you out with the challenge, we consulted two interior designers who have experience navigating the vast world of paint: Nicole Gibbons, HGTV personality and founder of Clare, an online startup that sells a curated selection of paint; and James Farmer, the owner of a full-service interior design firm in Perry, Georgia.

They answered our questions about how to pick and pair colors, how to paint wall trim, and the best shades to fix a variety of design dilemmas. Read on to learn how to use paint to really make a room shine. 

Here’s how to choose the perfect paint color for your home, according to experts. 

How to pick a finish

Consider the type of surface you’re painting before picking a finish. Oil-based satin finishes are great for cabinets and handrails that are touched often. The oil allows them to be wiped down without removing the paint, unlike latex.

I love to use a sheen or lacquer or satin finish on ceilings — it reflects and refracts light in a lovely way. Rarely do I used a matte. Eggshell works great for surfaces like sheetrock walls. —James Farmer

How to pair colors

Opt for colors with like color temperatures. Colors can be bucketed into two groups: they’re either warm or cool. Pairing colors with like temperatures always results in harmonious color combinations. For example, pairing cool hues like blues and greens together works well. Or pairing a mix of warm neutrals such as a soft beige with a rich brown or a deep shade of orange will be equally pleasing to the eye. 

Go monochrome. Think tone on tone. It’s a very sophisticated look and is almost foolproof to pull off and make work. Think colors within the same hue but slightly different tones. I love a painted ceiling or matching door to really extend the look. 

Opt for complementary colors. Opposites attract and this certainly holds true when thinking about colors in terms of how they’re positioned on the color wheel. Colors opposite one another on the color wheel tend to be very complementary and look beautiful paired together. —Nicole Gibbons 

Tips and tricks to help you make a decision

Farmer says, “Try it, try it, try it. It’s just paint. Try it in the room and live with it for a time.” Here are a few more tips to consider, from Gibbons: 

Natural light is king. Clean, bright, natural light will show color in its truest form, but when it comes to whites and neutrals, things can get tricky. If you love white, that doesn’t mean you must stray away from it. Lighter colors help the room to feel more spacious and are great in rooms with low, natural light. 

Color perception can be tricky. What looks good in one space, might look completely different in another, depending on the lighting, and what other colors are in the room. Look to find colors that complement or balance out any contextual hues or objects that may be in your space.

Add a mirror. Mirrors are an example of a contextual object. They help reflect light around the room, making it feel brighter and creating the illusion of a larger space. This is also something you can find at a thrift store or at your local flea market and is a quick affordable solution. Look for a large mirror with a pretty wood frame that you can freshen up with a new coat of paint to tie it in with your décor. 

Move your paint swatches around. This will let you see which color resonates most and how each one will look in both the brightest and the dimmest parts of your rooms

Ultimately, go with your gut. Color is all about creating a mood and being thoughtful about how you want to feel when you come home each day. —Nicole Gibbons 

How to paint wall trim

Prepping your space for painting is actually the most important step when it comes to achieving high-quality results. Before you actually put paint roller to wall, you’ll want to do things like: 

  • Fill holes
  • Sand over rough patches
  • Wipe down your walls so they’re clean and dry
  • Mask all of your doors, trim, windows, and electrical outlets using painter’s tape

Choosing a high-quality paint will always save you time and money because it allows for an easier, more even application and offers better coverage, so you end up using less of it.

When using a paintbrush (most likely for cutting in and painting trim), you’ll have the most control if you nestle it between your fingers, like a pair of chopsticks, right where the bristles and the metal ferrule meet. 

Use an extension pole! It will give you greater leverage so don’t have to keep bending down to load your roller, which reduces strain on your arms and back. 

Painter’s tape helps you achieve super clean lines and most people assume it’s best to remove the tape after your paint has completely dried. It’s actually best to remove your tape when your paint is just dry to the touch, but not dry all the way through, usually about one or two hours after painting. —Nicole Gibbons

What’s the best paint color…?

For white trim:

  • If the trim is very architectural then serious consideration needs to be at hand. If the trim is simply a divider between wall and ceiling you can go with a basic soft white such as Linen White or Dune White by Benjamin Moore. —James Farmer
  • Whipped is our best-selling color for both trim and walls and there’s a reason it’s a fan favorite. This shade of white has a soft warmth that always feels inviting but doesn’t read too yellow.
  • Fresh Kicks is clean and bright with no undertones, and a true white like this one will look good paired with clean, bright colors. For a modern monochrome look, try painting both your walls and trim in this shade. —Nicole Gibbons

To add warmth to a rental with a bad lighting situation:

If you’re looking to warm up a space with cooler light, opt for a versatile neutral with warm undertones like Timeless. Timeless is a creamy and inviting off-white paint color that will envelop your space in warmth and reflect light beautifully. A great option for a rental with less-than-perfect lighting. —Nicole Gibbons

To make small rooms look bigger:

Paint your ceiling a faint blue. It lifts the ceiling in visual perspective. —James Farmer 

Current Mood is the polar opposite of the “safe neutrals” people tend to gravitate towards, but it’s a rich, sophisticated color perfect for bringing drama to a small space. A timeless neutral beige, like our Neutral Territory, is also the perfect color to help open up a small space like a powder room. —Nicole Gibbons

If you want a neutral color that’s not white: 

Penthouse is a subtle shade of greige that’s the perfect mix of warm and cool and is one of our best-selling neutrals. It’s a sophisticated hue that reflects light beautifully and has a bright, airy vibe. It’s an extremely versatile color that pairs beautifully with any colors or patterns and would look great in any space. —Nicole Gibbons

To create a calm and relaxing mood: 

Using color to change the mood of a room is a great place to begin your design process. Blue-green hues are perfect for creating a relaxing environment. Headspace is one of our best sellers — it’s a soft and airy blue-green hue that brings a sense of calm to any space and looks dreamy paired with soft neutrals and a mix of patterns. —Nicole Gibbons

For someone who’s trying out a bold color for the first time: 

A bold color is a commitment, so don’t do it halfheartedly. Paint the walls, trim, and ceiling! But maybe allow the ceiling to be a shade darker if there’s a lot of light in the room, or a shade lighter for the opposite. Greens are great for this application, especially muddy “un-colors” that aren’t too specific of a shade. I like Devonshire Green by Benjamin Moore. —James Farmer 

If you’re looking to try a totally new color scheme and want to go bold for the first time, start small. Use the bolder hue as a trim color or accent wall at first and see how you like living with it. If you want to try bold colors in a big way, stick with hues that are classic such as deep greens and blues. At Clare, we’re seeing a move towards bolder color choices like Goodnight Moon and Deep Dive—Nicole Gibbons

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