Photo courtesy Benjamin Moore

For months, I have been looking for the perfect yellow/wheat color for our bedroom wall. When I'm at a hardware store, I pick up more swatches and bring them home, certain I have just the right tint. I put the swatch up - under different light- and realize it's another mistake. I'm a failure at picking paint. (see swatches, right)

Time for professional help.

Color specialist Mark Masica from Hirshfields explains that the biggest problem with choosing paint color is people not understanding how colorants interact in the paint. He advises describing to a color expert what you're looking for  - and they can look at the formula to tell whether the ingredients will achieve the results. This will help to avoid mistakes.

Yellow is a color that advances, meaning it will intensify on walls, especially if the color is on all four walls. He advises picking a shade one or two steps lighter on the paint strip. Yellows that people end up liking the best have a little gold or orange in them.  Pink shades act the same as yellow. It also intensifies and too bright a color could make the room look like exploding bubblegum.

More tips:

  • Don't try and match wall colors from a magazine photo, when a paint brand/source is given. He says those photos have been doctored digitally and the lighting used in those photographs will change the actual color. Often, they will look totally different.
  • Be prepared to select a color from three shades only when you come to a store. Any more that that, and it can be overwhelming.
  • Get a sample and paint a 2 to 4-foot-square sample on a interior wall, 4-foot-square or greater on an exterior wall. Most important: Periscope your hand to look at the color without anything around the wall sample to distract the eye. He says you can use a cardboard tube from a paper-towel roll to do this. This isolation will help you see the true effect.
  • Always make your final decision based on when you spend the most time in a room. Time of day is crucial.

Paint philosophy:

In choosing paint for an entire house, Masica says to think of your home as a tree with branches. When you enter your main living space, that is where the neutral colors should be. Your other rooms are considered the 'branches' of the house and that's where you can use the non-neutral colors.

As a general rule of thumb, do the opposite of what Mother Nature is doing in a room. In a room that's filled with natural light, it's better to use a neutral or cool color. In a room that has lower levels of natural light, use warmer colors.

After all that, if you're still in a paint panic, Hirshfields has color specialists who can come to your home for a fee.