Before I got trained as a color consultant, I used to stress over picking paint colors.
I’d come home from the paint store with ziplock bags full of paint chips and color strips. Too many choices?? No such thing! You need to make an informed decision, right? Somewhere among all those paint chips I was sure I’d find the “perfect” color, the one that would make my living room or kitchen look just like the magazines (no Instagram back then). But… so many of the colors looked like they “could” work! I’d rifle through them and tape promising ones up on the wall, but the problem was that once I got rid of the few obvious “wrong” choices, I liked ALL the other colors I’d brought home. And it was too hard to pick from those little 2″ squares, so I’d buy sample quarts of paint and then brush rectangles of color strategically on the wall to make the choice easier. Ha!
My training as a color consultant changed all that.
I attended a three-day workshop in Vancouver by nationally-known color consultant/trainer Maria Killam, and learned more useful information in those three days than in the entire two years of my interior design training in San Antonio. I learned how to evaluate color in context, how to see subtle differences, and especially what “undertones” were. It was like going from black-and-white to full color photographs – now I could see the full range of options. (I got a nasty shock when I got home from my Vancouver trip to see that my “neutral” sofa, walls and drapes actually had – gasp – yellow, purple, and pink undertones! I made some changes.)
As a result of that trip, I realized that offering professional guidance in picking color was the single best thing we could do for our clients.
So we sent team members from both our Austin and San Antonio branches to get the same color consulting training from Maria’s workshop. After all, the biggest factor in the success or failure of a painting project is not how smoothly the paint is rolled on the wall or sprayed on the cabinets, but what the paint color is. The right choice will make the space look like a harmonious, unified whole, like it was designed with good interior design principles in mind. It’ll make your home look lovely and inviting. The wrong choice will look . . . unsophisticated at best, downright jarring at worst. And you won’t feel good walking in the front door.[By the way, an excellent example of harmonious color choices is in the title photo. We painted this lovely interior for Haven Design and Construction in San Antonio, TX. Haven’s designers updated this entire home with fresh, sophisticated colors that all work together well.]
So how can a color consultant save your project?
1. She (or he) can evaluate color objectively, without your biases or blind spots.
Most of us have color favorites. Often they’re reflected in the clothes we wear. But just because you look good in pale blue doesn’t make it a good color for your kitchen, with its granite countertops and travertine floors. A color consultant will keep you from making that rookie mistake.
2. He or she can keep you from either slavishly following a trend, or stubbornly sticking to an outdated look.
Love gray? So do I. Every wall and ceiling in my home is painted in Sherwin Williams’ “Agreeable Gray”, which is soft and elegant and makes the white molding and woodwork in my house really stand out. (By the way, I almost hate to link to it here because the color and photo on the Sherwin Williams’ website look nothing like the soft, pretty, light pale grey in my home . . . but that’s why online photos can be misleading.) But the gray trend is fading fast. Not that you can’t use gray – I fully intend to keep the gray walls in my 1920’s classic home – but it has to fit your space and look timeless, not trendy.
Conversely, if you last painted your home during the 90’s “Tuscan brown” trend and think your only options are burgundy or tan, a good color consultant will help you select a more updated color that will show off your home well, without it being too much of a shock to your system.
3. She or he can keep you from making a very expensive gamble.
Unless you’ve made a carefully considered, educated choice, picking a paint color can feel like a giant gamble. You know you need a pale neutral, “beige-y” color so that your living room doesn’t feel too dark. (Or maybe white?? You don’t know. It just has to be something light.) You bring home a dozen paint chips, ask your spouse, kids, and even FaceTime your mother for advice. But in the end, if you haven’t taken into account the flooring, furnishings, hard surfaces like granite or tile, and quality of the light in your space, you may as well throw darts at your options to pick a final color. Plus you’re investing serious time (if you paint the walls yourself) or money (if you hire someone) and certainly energy and even relationship capital in your decision. (Sometimes we color consultants feel like we’re saving a marriage, not just a project.) If you’re not confident in your decision, get help!
If you’re a design aficionado and have an “eye”, you might be a good candidate for educating yourself. (But please be self-aware about this. Not everyone who thinks they’re “good with color” actually is. Read our post about that very issue here.) Start by browsing for good articles online. (Maria Killam’s blog archives kept me up many a late night reading.) We’ve even written a few posts of our own, with some of our best advice on how to pick the right white cabinet paint color, for example.
But if you have any hesitancy about picking the right paint color, and especially if you’re, er, not known for your design sense, a trained professional can save the day. If your painting company has trained, in-house color consultants like we do, then great. (And we mean real training. A few hours learning about the difference between warm and cool colors doesn’t count.) If not, find yourself a professional to help. (Try looking in the “Find a Pro” section of Houzz for a color consultant or, even better, an interior designer.)
For low-risk projects like a kid’s room you’re going to paint yourself, you can take a gamble and paint it that bright pink that your daughter wants. (Fair warning: the right pink is a tough color to select. We’ve painted over more “Pepto Bismol pink” rooms than we can count.)