Let’s Solve Your Paint Color Dilemma

Let's Solve Your Paint Color Dilemma- Northern Lights Home Staging and Design

With concern about the coronavirus, you may be tempted to stick close to home and get some projects done. Maybe painting? New color has a way of making us feel great and our house look new and fresh. Of course, that can trigger the dreaded paint dilemma.

At some time or another, we all face it. Whether we are painting our whole house, a room, a wall or just a door, decisions need to be made. And what if we make the wrong one. OMG, the sky will fall. Or people will think we have horrible taste. Or it could cost us a lot of money and we hate the way it looks. But no worries, there is a solution!

Facing the dreaded paint color dilemma! No worries, there is a solution!

So how can we solve this dilemma? Well, if you are like most people, you will pick one or more of the following:

  1. Pick your favorite color and hope for the best.
  2. Ask all your friends and family for advice and decide by committee.
  3. Post your question on what paint color to pick on Houzz or one of the design forums and get a thousand different answers.
  4. Read a bunch of color blogs and get more confused about so called “undertones”.
  5. Paint 20 colors on your wall and try to pick one before your head explodes.
  6. Call a certified color strategist.

So, which is the best strategy? F of course. Why?

  1. Picking your favorite paint color will only work if it works with the fixed finishes of your home. For the exterior, this could be your roof material, brick, stone or other finishes that you are not changing. For the interior, this could include your countertops, flooring or window trim that can’t be painted. Those pesky fixed finishes are bossy, and can’t be ignored.
  2. Are your friends and family color experts? Their taste may be different than yours. You need to love the final results, not them! 
  3. Experts may be able to tell you online what their favorite go to colors are, but they are not standing in your house, looking at your fixed finishes and light conditions and they can not tell anything from a photo. Colors on a computer screen are not representative of color in real life!
  4. There is a lot of well meaning but misleading information out there on “undertones”. There is no such thing. The color is what the color is. It may be a very un-saturated version of a certain hue which makes it hard to distinguish what the hue is, or it may look different based on your light conditions. When people talk about “undertones”, they are trying to describe what they are seeing in a home with particular light conditions and surrounding colors. It is not something that can be repeated, measured or applied to your situation. It is just a subjective opinion. So, don’t worry about it.
  5. It is great to select some of your favorite colors and paint them on your walls (or better yet, put up removable color swatches) and see how you like them in person and in different light conditions. The problem arises when you paint them all on the wall right next to each other. How the color looks is being influenced by the color next to it and also by the wall color it is painted on. Colors should be evaluated alone, on a gray background (not white).
  6. YES! A certified color strategist is a color consultant like no other. They use both the art and science of color to help you. This means they use an eye of a designer to make it look great, and the science of color based on color data (Munsell color notations) to fine tune your color choices to work perfectly with your fixed finishes and light conditions.

What?? Every physical color can be measured. Here is an example of what I mean. Let’s pretend that Clementine (my color model who was not impressed with this example) is a fixed finish. By measuring her with a colorimeter, I can determine the hue angle (what you think of as color), the chroma (how colorful or neutral it looks) and the value (how light or dark it looks). With the data, I can determine the closest paint color to match. My little buddy would look great in a room painted with Sherwin Williams Caviar😊

So what is this magical device? A Color Muse! While this device can be used by anyone to find paint colors to match an existing color, the real power comes from understanding what the color data means and how to use it.

So, let’s use a real-life color dilemma to see how this works. I recently did a color consultation and this is how the home looked before. As with many homes that I get called to evaluate, there are colors painted all over the walls and door. Obviously, a color dilemma has occurred here!

My client says, “we want to find a color that is grayish, greenish, brown”.  “We want to leave the wood and metal trim unpainted and we want a color that is different than those colors and a bright front door”. The husband and wife can not find a color they both like.  This is very common.

Notice that the wood siding and the metal trim have now become the fixed finishes that everything must work with. The roof color really can’t be seen, so that is not a consideration. In addition, there is an almost black metal trim on the deck railings and near the front door that also must be considered as a fixed finish, since it will not be painted or changed. In addition, the white garage door stands out like a sore thumb as the most prominent feature since it is lighter than everything else.

So, using the “art” of color, I determine that making the garage door recede by painting it a dark color is the way to go. I measure the trim color on the railings, and determine that color would be the best to use for the window trim and garage so the color scheme will not be too busy with the other three colors we will already have for the walls, wood and metal vertical trim. Magically, the color is Sherwin Williams Caviar, just like Clementine😊 I measured the wood and metal vertical wall to determine the hues, chroma and values. My goal was to now find a wall color that would be harmonious with the hues, chroma or lightness of those fixed finishes. We had some choices on hue colors. The scheme could be analogous or close to each other on the color wheel, or complimentary (opposite on the color wheel) or a triad (in thirds on the color wheel) for example.

First, I looked at all their original selections and eliminated all but one (the third one below the house number). I offered the clients some other choices (complimentary and triads). They still preferred the remaining color they had picked but wished it was a little “greener”. No problem, I took that color, shifted the hue angle towards green and looked for a color with the correct chroma and lightness. We ended up with Benjamin Moore Amherst Gray.  Now we still needed to come up with a “bright, colorful door”. To help make the house harmonious with the landscaping, I suggested a color matching  the bright green bushes in the front. I measured a leaf with my colorimeter and determined Sherwin Williams Hep Green would be perfect.

And here it is after! Color Dilemma Solved!


Did they like the end result? Here is what they said.

Need Help with Your Color Dilemma?

Set up a color consultation today. I can work with you locally or online nationwide. To work together online, I will have you purchase a Color Muse and teach you how to use it to send me the data. Easy, collaborative and fun!

Learn More About the Art and Science of Color

I am proud to say I am a certified color strategist! And, the only one in Alaska! As a design professional, I was truly impressed with the color training I received from Lori Sawaya​ of Camp Chroma. Finally, a training program that uses the scientific method of explaining how color works based on an established color system that skips all the subjective talk about undertones that leaves everyone feeling confused. Color is complex and this training explained color data so we can make informed decisions based on the science, rather than on subjective opinion or color sense.Click on the picture to find out more about the best training class on color available, the Four Pillars of Color!


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Let's Solve Your Paint Color Dillema- Northern Lights Home Staging and Design
Let's Solve Your Paint Color Dillema- Northern Lights Home Staging and Design

By Mary Ann Benoit

President- Northern Lights Home Staging and Design Owner- Arctic Paradise Bed and Breakfast Artist- Stained Glass, Jewelry and Alcohol Ink Art Wildlife Biologist Director- Kaleido World Percussion and Dance Company Director- Tavus Dance Company of Alaska Lover of music, art, dance and animals.


  1. Congratulations on a beautiful exterior transformation, Mary Ann! And a fabulous testimonial from happy clients!

  2. That home looks so much better with your expert color selections. Well done!

  3. OMG. Nailed it. Loved your break down of how to choose paint colors, but you really sealed the deal with the exterior color transformation. Superb job!

  4. Mary Ann, what a great post explaining HOW we go about selecting colours.

    The colours you chose, including that fantastic front door, is such a wonderful change. I’m sure your clients must be thrilled!

    1. Thanks Sheri! I know color can be complicated and such a mystery on how to choose because most people don’t understand color science or even realize there is such a thing. I know it was an eye opener for me when I learned about it! The clients loved it which made me very happy:)

  5. Beautiful transformation Mary Ann! And that color pop from the front door too!!!! It all looks wonderful.

    1. Thanks Julie, not sure what the bush was in the front I measured but it was a beautiful shade of chartreuse green. Thanks for reading!

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