Paint & color design guide

Get inspiration for how to spruce up your home with a fresh coat of paint and vibrant decorating palettes

4 common color mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Go bright or go white? Design expert Allison Arieff shows how to pick paint like a pro


Emily Nathan

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Common color mistakes (and how to avoid them)

1. Looking for colors that exactly match favorite objects

If you want your favorite accent piece to stand out in a room, choose colors that are similar but softer. Instead of choosing the exact green in your favorite pillow, for example, choose a green that is lighter and more subtle, so the rich green of the pillow pops.

2. Opting for white or cream just because it’s safe

Even neutrals like white, gray, and beige come in many shades and tones, so use the sample-size colors or oversize color chips that paint stores offer to help you make the perfect selection of the color you want. Choose no more than three or four colors that appeal to you. On each wall, tape up the oversize color samples or brush out a 2-foot square patch and observe your choices throughout the day as the light changes. You’ll thank yourself for making this extra effort.

3. Choosing colors that are too bright

Colors that are clear and bright are too strong for most interiors. A very large, sunny room can handle sunshine yellow or kelly green, but most of us need colors for our spaces that blend with our environments, complement what we love, and disguise the features that are lacking. If you’ve always wanted a red dining room, move away from crayon red to something more subdued, like a brick tone or raspberry tint.

4. Picking colors that are inappropriate for the space

Warm colors tend to make people feel good and look great. Earthy reds, dusty warm plums, and rusty golds work beautifully for dining rooms and powder rooms. Cool colors tend to make people feel calm and restful. Silver blues, natural greens, and cheerful lavenders work best in bedrooms and living rooms. Green walls can make people look sickly in a bathroom, and bright yellows can make people feel anxious in a bedroom. Think carefully about how you want to feel and what you want to accomplish in each space.

Next: two sisters, two decorating styles


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