Livable Color: Choosing Hues You'll Love to Live With

blue green master bedroom with rug dark wood accents and white bed sheets
Designer Cecily Mendell's bedroom painted with Caspian from Portola Paints. Photo: Erin Kunkel

What's the secret to choosing the right color? Sure, there are principles and guidelines, but the real secret is to choose colors you can live with and will love to come home to. Use these tips from designers and color experts to help you reach that goal.

01 of 24

Look for Livable Color

paint lids

Color can be tricky. But with some know-how and a little confidence, you can choose colors you won't regret. Start by following these tips for selecting colors from the pros.

02 of 24

Find Inspiration

southwestern decor bedroom

Find color inspiration in the places you frequent every day. This will ensure that you won't get tired of any one color. "Think of places and spaces you love for inspiration. For example, I love the cream-color stucco walls I see in Italian churches, and I try to match that feeling," says Lulu De Kwiatkowski, textile designer.

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Set the Mood

living room with brown couch and glass chandelier

Understand the power of the colors you're using. Different hues convey different feelings. "Warm colors like red, yellow, and orange have an energizing effect. Blue, green, and gray are calming," says David Bromstad, designer and HGTV star.

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Sample Color

cool gray upstairs bath with skylight window
Kimberly Gavin

Even the best paint colors can look off in the wrong light. To ensure you'll love your results, be sure to test a paint swatch first in multiple spots in the room. "Always sample paint colors. Paint a sample board so you can move it around a room," says Diana Hathaway Timmons, designer.

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Match It

feminine entryway with pink walls and artwork

Snag painting ideas from a favorite piece of art, pottery, or photograph. "You can take just about anything to the paint store and ask the associate to mix a paint that's a perfect match using the store's color reader," says Danny Seo, lifestyle expert. Basing a room's color scheme on one piece of statement artwork is a great way to ensure a cohesive look.

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Look Twice (or More)

guest bedroom blue wallpaper collected artwork
Erin Kunkel

Interior paint colors can vary by the time of day. As you're choosing the right color, consider how morning light will look with a paint color compared to the glow of your lampshade at night. "Look at paint colors in the morning and at night, and put them near your furniture," says Emily Henderson, celebrity stylist.

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Go Natural

living room
CMR#5984788

"What's more livable than the colors found right outside your back door? Look to earthy, natural colors—blues, greens, beige, and taupe—when choosing color for your rooms," says Sehra Han, designer. Her ideas are right on track with design that favors gray, white, and cream hues.

08 of 24

Go Gray

blue gray painted walls with large wall photo

Blending paint colors to get the perfect hue can be tricky. One designer has a smart tip for colors that are too saturated. "When choosing wall colors, find versions of your favorite colors that are muted with gray," says Erica Lugbill, designer.

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Invest in Quality Paint

purple room

Not even the best painting ideas will succeed if you resort to bottom-shelf paint brands—especially for bright paint colors. "Choose the best paint you can afford. Good paint has better pigments and a more livable finish," says Courtney Price, designer.

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Bring Color with You

living space with blue couch and various art work

House paint designs and colors can look so different in your mind than how they actually look in real life. "When you shop for paint, take along an existing pillow, a piece of drapery fabric, or a photo of your space. You'll make informed color decisions," says Alejandra Bernardez, designer.

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Be Intense with Color

clean white bathroom walls and charcoal tile floor
Beth Singer

Some house painting color combinations don't require much variety at all. Instead, they utilize one color with different tints and shades. "Play with intensity. I love monochromatic rooms that use a single hue in a variety of ways," says Sarah Richardson, designer.

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Try Layering

diy blue bathroom vanity with extra open shelving

Too many bright paint colors in a room can be overwhelming. Tone them down with layers of softer hues. "Layer bold colors with midtones and neutrals to balance color in a room," says Khristian A. Howell, textile designer and color expert.

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Find the Right Mix

coastal home living room and entryway

You don't need to know how to blend paint colors if you have a professional on hand. They have the tools and knowledge to do it for you. "If you find a color that you love, but you're afraid it might be too dark, ask the person mixing the paint to do a 50 percent tint of the color," says Gail Wright, designer.

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Use the Color Wheel

red orange bathroom paint color for cabinets white sink and walls
DAVID TSAY PHOTOGRAPHY

Don't discount what you learned about the color wheel in elementary school. "Colors close together on the color wheel are analogous and will make a calm room. Colors that are farther apart are complementary and add drama," says David Bromstad, designer and HGTV star.

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Follow the Light

master bedroom with décor and wall art

"Choose colors based on the use of a room. Morning rooms can be brighter; rooms used at night can go dark," says Beth Kushnick, set decorator. The best gray paint colors are good for rooms that are used at all times of the day or night, such as the living room.

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Design Beyond Walls

multitasking family home makeover dining room armchairs

Consider painting ideas that are outside the box. "Your home is made up of more than walls—ceilings, floors, stairs, and doors are also great places to have fun with paint," says Bob and Cortney Novogratz, designers. These are great places to play with fun color combinations.

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Take the Leap

white kitchen green tile backsplash open shelves wooden floors
Adam Albright

If you're considering using bright colors, through paint, decor, or finishes, go for it. "Give yourself permission to use a bold color. You don't have to love it everywhere—one throw or pillow might be just enough," says Nate Berkus, designer.

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Go Room to Room

white kitchen island with couch with teal stools
Puma

Open floor plans are a popular design style but should be treated differently than traditional rooms. "When rooms open to one another, avoid choosing radically different colors, or the space will look choppy and small," says Courtney Price, designer. Instead, find one neutral color you love and use it for the entire open space.

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Tone It Down

bedroom closet view with custom shelving
Engelhardt Master Bedroom and Closet - Napa Traditional Home Show House, October, 2015.

"Choose your favorite color, but watch that it's not too bright," says Maria Killam, color expert. Bright paint colors are great, but they can easily go from stylish to overwhelming. If you're unsure which color to pick, always air on the side of caution and choose the more muted shade.

20 of 24

Surprise with Color

multitasking family home makeover hallway ottomans bookcases

Neutral rooms don't have to be boring. You can add fun color with accessories and decor. "In the same way a bright shoe adds surprise and fun to a black outfit, an unexpected touch of trim along a curtain panel or in piping can add color in a way that's easy to live with," says Anna Lobell, designer.

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Use What You Love

decorative table yellow wall painting

When choosing colors, don't worry about keeping up with trends. "Start with a color you love. Even if it's not a trend at the moment, it will always be on trend in a space that resonates with you," says Khristian A. Howell, textile designer and color expert.

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Make It Flow

white living room with blue sofa and side chairs and wood chest-style coffee table
Dana Gallagher

Many people struggle with finding color schemes that can flow throughout an entire home. "For a cohesive look, flow two or three of the same colors in each room. An accent wall in the family room is reflected in the primary bedroom bedding, for example," says Diana Hathaway Timmons, designer.

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Make a Statement

bathroom with pink pineapple wallpaper and pink his and her sinks

You won't have doubts using bright paint colors on rooms that aren't as visible. "Save strong wall colors for statement rooms that are smaller and visited less—a library, guest room, or a powder room," says Lulu DeKwiatkowski, textile designer.

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Blend Color

entryway blue paint small table mirror and small basket

Blending paint colors is more important than you think. "Blend in strong colors. A bold color on the wall will feel jarring unless you consider the trim and ceiling color in your plans," says Patrice Cowan Bevans, designer.

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