How to pick a cohesive whole-home palette
7 expert tips for selecting colors that work together.
Picking the perfect color for an accent wall in your home can be challenging. Deciding on complementing shades for every room, hallway, trim and ceiling can be downright daunting. Hues need to be cohesive but varied to create depth, interest and personality throughout your home.
Where do you begin? John Hayward, senior interior designer with Nativa Interiors, and Sue Wadden, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, both say navigating the process of choosing colors to go everywhere doesn’t need to be overwhelming. “It’s about taking inventory, not straying too far from your comfort zone and testing before committing,” John explains. Here, the pros share strategies to give you the courage to tackle all your walls with confidence.
1. Set your intentions.
Do you want your home to be calm and relaxing? Creative and energizing? It’s hard to begin color selection without an end goal. Decide the mood and atmosphere you want to create for yourself, your family and your guests and then use that as a guide when shopping swatches. “Color can help you create the environment you want,” Sue says. “We’re seeing an increased desire of people wanting to create a home that’s a place for wellness and self-care using colors that feel natural.”
2. Figure out what’s staying.
Fixed finishes include the things you’re already working with that won’t change—flooring, cabinetry, furnishings you’re keeping. “Walnut floors or slate countertops will definitely drive the palette,” John says. “You don’t want to make decisions that won’t complement what’s already there. Use those items as a starting point.”
3. Find inspiration.
You probably thought this would be the first tip, but experts say you should wait until you set the tone and assess what you have before you go in search of interior spaces that catch your eye. “Check Pinterest boards but also visit paint websites that offer inspiration and tools that allow you to upload pictures of your room to test paint with your existing sofa,” Sue explains.
4. Make a sketch.
Look at each room from several different angles. Besides adjoining rooms or adjacent spaces, note what else you might see from an area, like down a hall and into the kitchen, for instance. Mark that on a rudimentary sketch of your floor plan so you know how you want to approach each of those spaces. Maybe you want to go bolder in the office that’s just barely visible from the entry.
5. Pick the color for the biggest central room first.
“Choose something that’s not too overwhelming and is easy to live with,” Sue suggests. “I like bone whites or putty tones. There’s a shift away from grays. We’re moving into these warmer neutrals now.”
6. Build the palette.
From there, one of the simplest ways to select paint is to opt for shades of the same hue for the adjacent rooms and walls. “From the main living area, I might do a shade darker in the kitchen,” John explains. “If that’s too much, I might go just 50% darker in there and then do 75% lighter than the original shade on the ceiling.” It takes the guesswork out of giving a home depth.
Sue prefers to balance warm and cool tones instead and uses the 3-5-7 rule. “It’s the idea that you go with three, five or seven complementing colors,” she explains. “I like to start with three. The predominant color might be a soft white that I pair with a warmer terra cotta and a cooler gray.”
7. Sample the colors.
Start with the color chips that are easy to carry with you and see how they work alongside existing furnishings, flooring and other finishes. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, paint large poster boards with your selections. Tape them up, and see how the colors respond to different times of day, weather and natural versus artificial light. You should also try the samples on a couple of different walls in the room since certain undertones surface depending on their location in the room. Or better yet, paint a large sample directly on several walls in each room and give each a second coat before checking that the colors in visually linked spaces do, in fact, work together.