Color Advice: Q&A

White living room
Designers and editors answer commonly asked questions about choosing color for your home.

The Right Color

Q: How do I know a color is right for my room?

A: Let the idea go that there is one right color or you might fail to recognize some very beautiful possibilities for a space. Many colors you think are wrong simply create a different effect. -- Kelly Berg, interior designer

Inspiration: Found

Q: I've found my inspiration piece. Now what do I do?

A: Pinpoint which color in the inspiration piece grabs you first, then build from there. Don't worry about exact matches. Play around. For example, a burgundy color in an inspiration piece could translate into a dark brown. Don't get hung up on paint names, either. They're just labels. -- Patrice Beavens, interior designer

Using color in decorating can be tricky. Make choosing a color scheme easier by using the color wheel, a tool favored by designers and decorators.

Color Tools

Q: How do I use the color wheel?

A: The color wheel is a helpful tool because it maps out color relationships. Watch this video to see how.

Use & Repeat

Q: How do I use my color choices in a room?

A: Use each color at least twice. Repeat your wall color in the form of pillows or other accents to unify your theme. -- Dee Schlotter, color expert for Pittsburgh Paints

Sofa Problems Solved

Q: I own a dark brown sofa. How can I keep the piece from dominating the look of the room?

A: I love brown sofas. You can put any color of pillow on it. Keep the walls lighter, anchor the space with a light-color textural rug, and limit other dark browns to an accent chair or a picture frame. Bring in midtones such as hot pink, red, and teal. -- Nadia Geller, interior designer

Small Space & Color

Q. I love color, but have a small house. How can I best use color in my small spaces?

A: Patterns have more visual weight than solids and can make small rooms appear even smaller. Enlarge the perception of the space by placing simply patterned pillows on a plain sofa, and use textured solids to add interest without busyness.

Personalized Bedroom

Q: How do I make my bedroom feel a little more like "me"?

A: Use favorite patterns and motifs in your desired color scheme. Love pretty florals? Look for a floral comforter and draw your colors from that. If modern geometrics draw you in, start with solid bedding and add throw pillows with geometric shapes.

Being Bold

Q: I'm ready to be bold with color and pattern, but how do I make sure I don't go over the top?

 A: When both patterns and colors are bold, use less of each so as not to overpower a room.

-- Tobi Fairley, interior designer

House-Wide Color

Q: How do I unify all the rooms in my house?

A: Fashion a whole-house palette by keeping major furnishings and architectural finishes in neutral hues. Employ the same trim color in all rooms. For room-to-room transitions, use the same hues throughout your home, but vary proportions from space to space. Use one color on the walls in the living room and use the same color for accents in the dining room, for example.

Color Changing

Q: How should lighting play into my color choices?

A: Daylight is the best light in which to test colors, but even daylight isn't consistent. Northern light is cooler, southern light is warmer. Plus, different lightbulbs give off different light color. Test paint in large swatches on your walls and examine the options at different times of day with different light fixtures on. Drape fabric swatches over pieces of furniture for assessment, as well. Consider the time of day you'll be using the room most frequently. Pick a color that looks best during that time so that you'll be able to enjoy it.

Order of Business

Q: In what order should I select the colors for a room?

A: Pick your wall color last. "Case goods and fabric options can be more limited. Pull the room together with what's available to you and your budget first, then go to paint colors."

-- Gretchen Kubiak, interior designer

Fear No More

Q: How do I overcome my color commitment phobia?

A: Ask yourself these questions: What is your favorite color? What colors do you dislike? When you think of color, what memories or feelings come to mind? What colors do you find yourself wearing over and over again? -- Kelly Keiser, interior designer

Neutral vs. Color

Q: How do I decide between putting a neutral or a color on my walls?

A: A rule of thumb: Neutral walls make room for rich furniture and vibrant art, while colorful walls rest well behind neutral furnishings or accents of similar or complementary colors. -- Shannon Kaye, interior designer

Add Interest

Q: How can I make my color schemes a bit more interesting?

A: A little healthy tension is good. It's a snooze fest to have beige on beige in a room. Instead, I like to inject a bit of surprise in my color schemes. If you don't have an eye for it, find a fabric or art with an interesting mix of colors and use that as your guide.

-- Liz Levin, interior designer

White on White

Q. I want a white room, but how do I pick the right shade of white?

A: Stay away from super whites. Always look for something with a little gray or cream in it. You'd be surprised how much color you can add to pure white and still have it read as white on the wall.

-- Elaine Griffin, interior designer

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