Feel overwhelmed by the plethora of possibilities in the paint store? Mark Masica understands. "When I started in the business there were 30 or 40 colors to choose from and now I think we have 8,000," said Masica, a color consultant for Hirschfield's, the Minneapolis-based paint and decorating chain. He offered these suggestions for narrowing those 8,000 down to the few you'll most love in your home.
1. Don't paint yourself into a corner. When designing a room, select the biggest-ticket items first — counters, cabinets, floor covering, furniture — and work your way down to paint. "The least expensive thing in the project is the paint going onto the walls," Masica said. "You'll spend more money on a couple of accent pillows." So choose the paint color last, and let it tie other elements together.
2. Set the mood. Colors close together on the color wheel (blues and greens, for example), feel tranquil and relaxing. Contrasting colors (blues and oranges, for example) are higher energy. Most people prefer the former to create "an area where they can decompress," Masica said. But some rooms — kitchen, office, exercise room — may benefit from a more energetic feel.
3. Get back to nature. Natural colors — sky blues and grays as well as earth tones — are trending, Masica said, perhaps because they feel soothing in stressful times. Green is practically a neutral, and different greens look good together. "When I look outside, I don't go, 'Gosh, that lawn doesn't go well with the shrubbery'," he said. "And if Mother Nature can't get it wrong, who are we to say we're smarter than she?"
4. Consider one of the (way more than) 50 shades of you-know-what. Grays are "back in, with a passion," Masica said. In Minnesota, where nature sports a gray-heavy palette for about half the year, he advised either picking grays with "a warm undertone — a little bit of gold in them or a little bit of brown in them," or using punches of bright color to warm up cooler grays.
5. Find the room's focal point. If creating an accent wall, choose the wall with the most significant element, such as the headboard in the bedroom or the fireplace in the living room. "You don't want to go into a room and say, 'Look, they painted one wall a different color,'" Masica said.
6. Punch up kitchens and bathrooms. Because much of the wall space in those two rooms is occupied by other things — cupboards, windows, doorways, mirrors, bathtubs — you can go with stronger wall color. "If you wuss out on the color and go with a real light color on the walls [of the kitchen], it's going to look like you painted it off-white," he said.
7. Consider other elements in the room. When deciding how light or dark to paint the walls, think about how the floor covering, furniture, art and other elements may set it off. Though Masica typically prefers using "colors in the mid-tone range," the walls in his own home are "really, really dark," he said. "But I've got hardwood floors, white area rugs, large art that's matted white" to lighten the overall effect.
8. Balance the room's natural light. Rooms flooded with sunlight benefit from cooler colors, and vice versa, Masica said. "You wouldn't paint a sunroom on the south side of your house in warmer colors. Conversely, you wouldn't want to paint a Caribbean blue turquoise color on a room that had a north facing, east facing window."
9. Tie the 'public' rooms together with color. Either paint all the walls the same color, or connect them with coordinating colors, matching accents and other decorative details. "As you walk from one room to another, there should always be something from room A that's carried over to room B that's carried over into hallway C, so that as you're looking at those rooms you've got some thread of commonality," Masica said.
10. Take a test drive. Once you've narrowed your choices, buy pint-size paint samples and apply it to big patches of the wall, or to a separate panel that you can move around the room. Be sure to use two coats of paint. Colors look different at different times of day, Masica said, so study your choices during the hours you'll spend the most time in the room.