Our Best Tips for Choosing and Using Color

Want to liven up a dull room with color but not sure where to start? Use these helpful tips from BHG editors, interior designers, and color pros to learn how to choose and use color to add interest to any room.

Get Inspired: Set the Mood

Decide what mood you want the room to embody. Different colors, tones, and saturations will naturally lend themselves to a certain persona. For example, if green is your hue of choice, a soft sage will project serenity and calm, while a seafoam shade will give the room a relaxed, cottage feel. A dark olive green will imbue a classic, reserved look; conversely, a zingy apple green will project trendy vibrancy.

What's the trick to color you'll love to come home to? Better Homes and Gardens' Eddie Ross tells you how to get livable color in your home. These decorating tips will help you use color confidently and effectively for a look that wows.

Get Inspired: Livable Color

The best colors are the colors you'll love to come home to. Watch this video to learn how to spot those oh-so-livable hues.

Get Inspired: Curate & Develop

Take the time to curate your color palette. Collect magazine pages, brochures, postcards -- anything with a color combination that intrigues you. Gather decorating items that catch your eye, such as fabric and wallpaper swatches, flooring samples, and paint chips, or even elements such as natural finds. Take snapshots of things that inspire you. Edit and add to your inspiration board as you work through the decorating process.

Get Inspired: Look Beyond Chips

"Pick colors using objects as your guide -- an old celadon teapot, the burnt sienna in a paisley fabric, a blade of grass. It's so much more lively than paint chips. I always, always, always start with a thing."

-- Sasha Emerson, Los Angeles designer

Get Inspired: Fashion Sense

"Many people look to their closets for inspiration, but here's a better idea: Raid your accessories. Your handbags, belts, and jewelry are bound to contain more colors that excite you."

-- Grant K. Gibson, San Francisco designer


Does standing in front of a store's paint chip display make you want to run for the door? We'€™ll explain the tricks to using paint swatches to help you choose the right paint color with confidence.

Choosing Paint Colors: How to Use Swatches

Watch and learn the tricks to using paint swatches.

Choosing Paint Colors: Use Samples

"Three words for people who tend to rush in choosing paint colors: samples, samples, samples! Even the most skilled designers often need several tries to find the perfect shade. Give yourself permission to use lots of samples and make a mess of your walls until you find the perfect color."

-- Kelly Keiser, kellykeiserdesign.com

Go to the next slide to see exactly how to use paint swatches.

Choosing Paint Colors: Space Out Samples

"Put paint samples at least 3 feet away from each other when you're testing them on a wall. The farther apart, the better so your eyes don't blend the colors together."

-- Jessica Brende, brendehome.com

Choosing Paint Colors: Chip Hints

When evaluating paint chips, look at the bottom color on the card. It’s the most saturated and helps determine the color family and the undertone.

Choosing Paint Colors: Bold versus Subtle

"Think of paint as a complementary background instead of what knocks you down upon entering a room. I want fabrics and furniture to be the stars and the wall color to quietly tie it all together. Save those bold colors for a small accent like the back of a built-in or for reviving an old accent chair."

-- Liz Levin, lizlevininteriors.com

Choosing Paint Colors: Formulas

When you have a store custom-match a paint color, get the formula (usually a label stuck to the can). No two custom matches will be the same without it. Better yet, ask for an extra printout in case the original gets covered with paint drips.

Choosing Paint Colors: Test Hues

"Always remember to test paint colors before diving in. Paint large sample swatches by the window, next to trim, in the darkest corner, in the lightest corner. Let the samples dry, and give them a second coat so you can accurately assess the color."

-- Grant K. Gibson, San Francisco designer

Choosing Paint Color: Testing Tips

"Be sure to test your paint in the lightest and the darkest areas in each room to get the best understanding of how the room will look. Paint colors will look darker on the walls than they do in the can."

-- Kelly Keiser, kellykeiserdesign.com

Choosing Paint Colors: Experiment

"With a few chips you love in hand, make your way to less-saturated colors. You'll likely find that a muted version -- one that looks almost too muted on a chip -- will work best on your walls."

-- Kelly Berg, San Francisco-area color consultant

Choosing Paint Colors: Compare and Contrast

To tell if a color has a pinkish, grayish, or greenish cast, look at similar color swatches side by side. It's all about comparison.

Choosing Paint Colors: Lighten Up

To translate a feel-good color into one that looks good on the wall, ask at the paint store about the color's light reflectance value (LRV). "The higher the LRV, the more light will bounce around the room. The lower the LRV, the more the color will absorb light, which will make the room seem moody,” says Kelly Berg, San Francisco-area color consultant.

Choosing a color scheme is easy when you use a fabric for inspiration. It's a trick designers employ all the time and you can too with these tips.

Putting It Together: Fabrics

What's one of the easiest ways to pull together a color scheme? Use a fabric as inspiration. See how fabrics inspired these three color schemes and learn how you can do the same in this video.


Putting It Together: Room Flow

Think about the big picture to give a home flow. Weave the same colors throughout main spaces, but make the dominant color in one room an accent in another. You'll be surprised at how different the rooms will look, yet how easily they flow.

Putting It Together: Wood Tones

Failing to think of wood as a color can ruin an otherwise thought-out scheme. Oaks and rusty oranges can look too similar, and mahogany can make a dark room even darker.

Putting It Together: Contrasting Colors

"A little healthy tension is good. It’s a snoozefest 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, lizlevininteriors.com

Putting It Together: Instincts

Trust your gut and the work you put into picking a palette. That blue wall or patterned chair will jump out at you when it’s the only thing in a room, but it will calm down after all the furniture and accessories are arranged. A room needs to be finished for it to make sense.

Rooms connected by color will create a cohesive, designer-level look. But you don't need to replicate the same color scheme in every room. These tricks for carrying a color scheme will show you how to create different looks from room to room, all unified by color.

Putting It Together: Whole-House Color Scheme

In addition to thinking about how color will flow from room to room, think about how you use color throughout your home. A consistent color palette can convey designer polish. Watch and learn how to pull it off in your home.

Putting It Together: Spread Color

When you're spreading color around a room, think about proportion. If you're using three colors, try a 70/20/10 distribution: Use the lightest color for 70 percent of the room's decor, the second lightest for 20 percent, and the boldest for 10 percent. For two colors, go with 70/30.

Putting It Together: Rule of Three

Follow the rule of three: When you pick a color, use it at least three times in a room. Here, yellow appears in the pillows, on the blanket on the bed, and as an accent color on the nightstand, as well as on the walls.

Putting It Together: Window Dressings

Don’t let curtains be an afterthought. Use them for effect. If you want your furniture or the view out the window to stand out, blend curtains with walls. If the view isn’t great, use contrasting color or a pattern so the curtains become the focus.

Putting It Together: Subtle Changes

Don't sweat slight color variations between fabrics and walls. "The best rooms are slightly off -- stronger, lighter, softer, just not a spot-on match to a swatch," says Sasha Emerson, a Los Angeles designer.

Putting It Together: Accessorize with Color

"Everyone thinks of walls when they think of color. But using color in accessories -- rugs, pillows, art -- makes an amazing impression without going crazy on the walls."

-- David Bromstad, HGTV designer, Color Splash and First-Time Design

Neutrals: Mix It Up

"Neutrals get more exciting when you mix textures and materials. Contrast adds spice to a potentially boring color palette."

-- Rebekah Zaveloff, Chicago-area kitchen designer

Neutrals: Important Role

Neutral colors act as peacemakers -- they help bold colors and patterns get along. The neutral creamy tones of the rug used in this room balance the Kelly green walls, striped drapes, and paisley chair.

Neutrals: Warm Up White

White brightens whatever it's with, but it can also be harsh. Try off-white instead. "When you put a warm white next to a color, it will still look bright and crisp."

-- Barry Dixon, Washington, D.C., designer

Tips & Tricks: The Experts

"When in doubt, call in an expert! It’s a misconception that a designer is just too expensive; most will do hourly color consultations. Better to get it done right the first time than have to redo mistakes."

-- Kelly Keiser, kellykeiserdesign.com

Tips & Tricks: Myth Busting

"People are nervous to put dark colors in small rooms. But they don't make the room seem smaller, they just make them darker. Use mercury glass and mirrored lamps to make the room less cavelike."

-- Kishani Perera, Los Angeles designer

Tips & Tricks: Keep Hallways Neutral

"Think of hallways as palate cleansers -- the sorbet that's served before diving in to the next course. Keeping them neutral allows you to branch into any color in rooms that flow off them."

-- Barry Dixon, Washington, D.C., designer

Tips & Tricks: Furniture Variations

"Break up a room of matchy-matchy wood furniture with one painted piece. It doesn't have to be a bold color. I like to combine natural wood tones with black."

-- Melissa Birdsong, Lowe's vice president of trend, design, and brand

Tips & Tricks: Mix Textures

Use various shades of a single color to pull a room together. Add different textures such as suede and silk to prevent monotony.

Tips & Tricks: Small Rooms

"In a small room, keep walls the same color as the primary upholstered furniture. The room will seem twice the size."

-- Jeffrey Bilhuber, New York City designer

Tips & Tricks: Ceilings

"The era of the bright-white ceiling is over," says Elaine Griffin, an interior designer in New York City. Paint the ceiling a shade lighter than the walls to visually raise it and avoid a jarring stop-start effect. Go a shade darker to bring it down and add coziness.

Tips & Tricks: Highlight Accents

Wallpaper or paint the inside of a bookcase to set off what's displayed inside. To make the display more attractive, cover books so they match or coordinate with the new color.

Tips & Tricks: Paint a Disguise

Camouflage a hodgepodge of surfaces -- an awkward dormer door, wimpy crown molding, or an ugly chair rail -- by painting them the same color as the wall. They'll fade away. Here, the columns are painted the same color as the wall so they blend.

Tips & Tricks: Picture This

Get out the digital camera. It's amazing how a photo can point out problem spots. Add colorful accessories, take a photo, and assess the scene.

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