How I Choose Wall Colors

3/07/2015 02:57:00 AM

Many of you who answered the survey (again, thank you!!) requested for tips and advice in decorating, which I don't usually do since it's really a huge topic that's very hard to expound. Tips on what in particular? Advice on what topic? It is so general that I'm having a hard time to explain my thoughts and ideas. So I'll try to just do a topic or detail at a time.

As I was thinking on what to share today (or tonight, as I always write at night time), I thought about our navy blue wall and how we came to that decision. So I thought, how about giving some tips on choosing wall color? It's still a very vague topic and there are a lot of things to consider, so I'll just try to give you general ideas on how I do it. As I'm writing this, I still don't know how to properly explain my process so I'll just write whatever pops in my head. Hehe

(few seconds later......)

So... I think the best helpful thing I can do is use some of my projects as examples and give you reasons on what made me decide to choose that particular color.. Okay? Game.

(You may click on the project name to view the reveals of those projects)


yellow green room
This was my very first official project years ago. They had a lot of wooden furniture that they intend to keep and be part of the design. I wanted the space to feel fresh, but make all the wooden pieces be part of the space rather than be out of place. So I went with a shade of green. (Look in the color of nature for inspiration, they are gorgeous!) Obviously, wood and green looks great together (hello tree!), but I didn't want to have a bright or saturated green. Their furniture are all vintage and classic looking, plus we wanted airy and fresh, so I went with a subtle muted green. It's not bright, but fresh that looks great with their existing pieces.


yellow green chic studio unit with small kitchen
On all of my projects, I asked clients on what's the feel they like, do they have a preferred color(s), etc. But of course, I don't always use their preferred color on the wall. I can put in accent pieces, accessories, curtains, etc. But I wanted a starting point, and if their favorite hue would look great on the wall, then why not. With this client, she likes green. But I didn't immediately pick which green and painted. We first selected the accent wallpaper and pick the color from there.  If you'll have an accent wall like this, you should select the color that coordinates or complement that accent, or else, everything will look choppy. (See next example, I'll explain it further)


masculine studio unit, brown textures wall paper, small tiny studio kitchen
I chose this very textural wallpaper with lots of different brown tones in it. I still love this project to bits, everything just coordinates nicely without being boring. Anyway, unlike the example above where I chose almost the exact color as the wallpaper, in here we painted the wall and cabinetries in lighter shade of the paper. It means that they are still in the same family, they have the same undertones, so they don't clash but instead they just plays well with each other. What I do is hold different swatches beside the wallpaper and see which best coordinates with it, it's hard to explain, but you should see it especially if you have big swatches. And you should have big swatches, I'll get to that later.


parisian chic living room with zebra rug and purple sofa
Gray is all the rage these days. It's all about the gray, 'bout the gray, no color! Haha.. Seriously though, it's so in trend right now and for good reason.  It's a great neutral that goes well with almost anything. It could be french chic like the example above, or modern industrial like the example below. But gray is also very tricky as you can see the undertone very clearly. So you should make sure that those undertone goes well with your finishes and pieces. The gray above has a hint of blue in it which gives it a cooler feel. I chose that particular gray since the flooring they have has the same gray tone. If you can see on the left (beside the curtain), the floor has a tint of blue as well. Don't mind the right and bottom floor part, it's not the true color since we had a warm light turned on. So basically, the finishes should play well with your wall color as well.


modern contemporary interior living dining room with industrial touches
This particular gray has a yellow undertone. I'm not sure if you can see what I mean, but if you compare both photos, you'll see the difference in tint. The latter has a warmer cozier feel. I chose this shade, well, because I wanted to be have a warmer cozier feel. Haha.. I know, that's not helpful at all. All the wood tones plays nicely with the warm gray as well.


living and dining room of a colorful small apartment with beach theme, yellow sofa and teal door
Now, in here, instead of bluish gray like the House of Femme photo, this walls have a grayish blue. Yep, there's a difference. The client wanted an airy beachy feel, but they don't have much natural light, and they have a very dated marble floor. The flooring stayed since it's in a fairly good condition (albeit old looking), and it will be expensive to replace them. So we have to work with it. To have the beachy vibe, we wanted blue. But if we painted the walls a clear fresh light blue, the floors would look so out of place and well, old. So we grayed out the blue to make it "dirtier" to coordinate with the floors. Of course the yellow sofa, and light wood tones around helped in making the floors feel like part of the space rather than stand out. To be totally honest, we didn't get the right wall color right away, we have to tweak it to get to this point. So again, you should do big swatches to really see the color.


Gray and white two-tone modern bright kitchen
This kitchen also has dated marble counter. It's so trendy back in the day that you'll see a lot of old houses with this finishes. They are renting so replacing the counter is out of the question. They wanted white cabinetry but white would just highlight the "dirtiness" of the counter. What we did is painted the upper cabinets an off-white shade, and the lower cabinet a dark warm gray, similar to the grains of the counter. The walls are painted a lighter warm gray, and we installed an off-white backsplash tile and flooring. So everything has a yellow undertone in it which makes the counter looks intentional. They had a white fridge so we can't do anything about that, but you see comparing the fridge color to the counter, that it clashes with it and makes the counter look old. 


simple clean hotel-inspired neutral bedroom
If you're not sold on gray and wanted a lot more warmth, you can go with taupe. In this bedroom, I chose a medium taupe on the upper wall, and a very light shade below. Why did I do a separate color you may ask? Well, I just wanted some sort of treatment on the wall rather than a plain color. It just add an extra oomph. Most of the furniture in this room are new so we have no problem coordinating with existing furniture. The floors are a yellowish wood which looks nice with taupe walls. 


desk study area of a boys room with blue and orange color accent
This is another grayish blue example. It's for a kid's room, but I didn't want to make it too young. This wall color would grow with them. To make it more fun, we painted the doors and crown molding a dark blue, and have pops of oranges for contrast. This room is for 2 young boys, but it could go with them up to their tween years. 


pink and yellow walls with concrete floors
I've shared mostly neutral space, so here's a little something with a little bit more color. This is an office for a women's org, so I wanted it to be feminine. I'm firm on having pink walls, but then I don't want it to be a young pink, not a fan of bubble gum pink. So I chose I shade of pink with grays in it to keep it muted and not too bright. As for the yellow divider, I got the color of that from the flower on the accent wallpaper. This color should work well with a girl's room without being too in your face childish.


bright living room of a loft condo unit with white washed bricks and green and orange accent
For this loft space, I went with a warm white since we'll have a lot of colors and I wanted them to be the star. White is the default color and I see lots of houses with white walls. It's safe, and neutral so most people who's afraid to commit goes with white. It's great for walls and it matches everything, but it does not look great in any room. If you have a dark room, meaning very minimal natural light, do not paint it white. Most people thought that painting a dark room white will make it brighter. What it'll do will make the room look more dreary and uninspired since you'll see every shadow, every dark corner with white walls. This loft has tons of natural sunlight so white works well here, it's bright and airy. White in dark rooms are still dark and dreary. 

Woooh. That came out longer than anticipated. But there are a lot to choosing colors and I haven't even scratched the surface. If you really want to go in depth in colors, read the blog of Maria Killam. She explains colors so well and in details, that's where I learn more about undertones, and many of my knowledge about color. Yes, I get my education from the interwebs. haha

Anyway, to summarize this very long post...

1) your paint colors should coordinate with your finishes --floors, wallpapers, cabinetries. It doesn't need to match, they just need to complement each other.

2) You should have big swatches to try on different times of the day to see if you really love the color and if it really does coordinate with all the other element in the room. I really don't do this (I'm brave like that, haha), but it will surely give you peace of mind and confidence to go with a certain color.

3) If you have dated finishes like the marble examples above, you should consider them in your decision or else they'll look more dated than ever. If they are yellowish or dirty looking, gray down your paint and have it in yellow undertone. Do not use fresh clean colors with your dated marble.

4) Do not paint a dark (no natural light) room, white. If you're bold, just embrace the darkness and paint it a dark color. It will be cozier. But if you're not into dark colors, paint it something else aside from white. The "More Than a Starter Home" living/dining area doesn't get much natural light, yet we still manage to make it bright looking without going with white. I honestly don't think white would look great in that living room, especially with those floors!

I guess that's it? I have no precise formula in choosing wall colors, it's just a collected knowledge and having the eye to see what will work, and what won't. I have looked upon hundreds of different interior images and read countless of design blogs and articles that I had some sort of initial inkling as to what colors would work. But don't worry, you can do it too. Just do your research, study your space and finishes,  go have big swatches of your preferred colors, and you'll get a wall color you'll love.


  1. Thank you for these tips! :) I was already thinking of just painting our darkly lit living room wall with white. :D

  2. Glad to help :) good luck with your painting.. hope you find the perfect color for your space!

  3. thank you for this tips!

  4. Wall colors are so important to giving your home the right vibe!


Thanks for dropping by. I'd love to hear what you think! :)

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