How to pick the perfect paint colour

Here’s how to pick the best paint colour and colour scheme for every room in your home.

Home Design

Repainting is a great way to refresh your interiors, but with so many options, picking a new colour can be challenging. So how do you choose the best colour for you? We spoke to author, curator and interiors, design and architecture expert Karen McCartney about how to harness the power of paint to help your home look its best.


Pick a palette

Before you start slathering test patches on every surface, it’s important to look at any furniture or décor pieces you want to hold on to. “I would do a little sample board of the things you’ve got,” Karen says. “If you know you’ve got a brown leather sofa and oak chairs, you’ve already got an existing palette of furniture that you’re working with so you want your paint colour to complement those tones.” Bring this sample board along with you when you’re shopping for options or talking to in-store colour consultants. This way you’ll have a good basis to work from when it comes to making a shortlist. When making your choice, Karen believes neutral and natural tones are the best option, as they’ll age well and help your home avoid the fads. “They’re always a good base.” she says.

Invest in quality

If you were buying a washing machine, price wouldn’t be the only factor you considered, would it? Have the same standards when selecting paint. “Put a real effort into the quality of the paint you use,” says Karen. “Like everything, not all paints are created equal.” This is most obvious when you’re looking at neutrals such as various shades of white. But it’s not just colour where paint differs. “There’s something about the quality of the paint that actually adds depth and interest to the room. It’s an investment worth making. I would keep it simple but, at the same time, still invest in quality when possible.” It’s also a good idea to look at the attributes of the pigments and ingredients used in the paint. Higher quality paints tend to last longer and be free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), meaning they’ll look great while also helping to improve air quality inside your home.


Paint colour ideas

Try before you buy

A common mistake people make when repainting is not testing the paint colour properly. “What looks acceptable in a tiny paint pot just won’t be the same when you expand it over your walls,” says Karen. “Always test your paint on different walls that face in different directions because the colour shifts every time. You’ll think it’s a different colour when you put it on a south-facing wall or a ceiling because it will take the light in such a different way.” Paint one-metre squares of your chosen colour on ceilings and west, south, north and east-facing walls to see how it looks in different places and at different times of day. “I remember I was looking for a grey and my favourite shade came up really purplish so you really do need to experiment. The same colour between different brands can differ widely, too. French Grey isn’t the same for every brand – so make no assumptions and test things properly.”

Experiment & explore

Don’t assume that choosing a bright paint is the only way to add interest to your home. Instead, experiment with the different options available. “Find the colour you love and then play with the strengths and the textures of that colour in different ways,” says Karen. One option is to choose a main colour and use it in different strengths. “You might really like one colour for the living room,” Karen continues. “But need something a bit lighter for the powder room. Do that by using the same colour in a quarter strength so you’re getting nuances and shades moving throughout the whole home without opting for entirely different colours.” Texture is another way to achieve a beautiful effect. “If it’s a wall that doesn’t get a lot of contact you can keep the same colour but play with the texture. So instead of a feature wall in a different colour, you can paint a feature wall in a gloss finish against a matt, which will create a sense of shifting.”


Paint colour ideas

Consider the future

It’s also a good idea to think about why you’re repainting, as this will impact your decision. If you’re updating before selling your home, for instance, Karen says it’s not a time to express your personality. “To depersonalise a bit is always recommended and I think that’s also true with paint. You don’t want to come over all ochre and terracotta when actually what you’re trying to do is create a neutral palette for the people who are coming in.” If selling isn’t immediately on the cards, going neutral can still give you the opportunity to be colourful and creative – but match it with your décor so it’s easy to update if you change your mind or if fashion moves on. Decals that peel off can make kids’ rooms fun, while colourful rugs and quilt covers add a playful touch. “Keep the paint colours neutral and fresh but bring in accessories – like a fabric wall hanging or a decal – that are upbeat but not limiting.”