Pulling Together Your Palette

 It only took about 40 kabillion swatches to get down to these.

It only took about 40 kabillion swatches to get down to these.

One of the first things I like to do when starting a design project is think about an overall color palette.

This isn't to say it's all about painting walls, no siree.  But it can be helpful to take a bit of a strategic approach to how you'll pull colors & finishes together so that things don't start to look disjointed or out of control.  Or, um, circus-like.  That is NOT the "eclectic" look we're going for, folks.

The paint swatches you see here are the end result of looking at a shit-ton (that's the technical term) of paint swatches - found both online and in person - and visualized in rooms to see what might work.  This yet-to-be-announced project is one that requires a bit of restraint in the paint department, but also has opportunities for some pops of color in the right places. Which is to say, it's been a heck of a lot of fun to plot!  

Here's how I do it.

I start with a Pinterest board where I pin rooms that reflect the vibe and feeling I'm going for.  I pin for days, honestly,  taking time to kinda think about things and let my ideas percolate.  Once I have a good number of pins together, I can take a peek and see those common threads - what's making these rooms speak to me right now?

Then I start seeking out actual paint colors.  This is usually a bit by feel and a bit by research, but it's also where I start to think about the architecture, age, and characteristics of the house that this room lives in.  I don't want something to feel out of place in the end, so I try to honor the historical bits as well.

I've got the giant fan-deck at home, but nothing stands in for a visit to my local Sher-Will to pull those slightly-larger individual swatches and start to look them in context.  I'm not going to lie, I grab a TON of swatches for this part of the process - usually 2 per color.  I try to sort of bracket my choices with a few colors to each "side" of my original target - meaning, I grab things in tints/tones/shades, maybe warmer and cooler, and then also a wild card if I see one in a special collection or featured grouping.  You just never know.  I leave heavily laden, I'm not going to lie.

Sorry, not sorry, Sherwin-Williams.

Then I take them home and start identifying what I like/dislike about each, but I don't get too carried away here.  You want to have these swatches IN THE ROOM where they're going to be painted, so depending on the project, I may need to visualize first and then narrow it down to the best 3-4 versions of each color to test them in the room.

I also take these final contenders and use my favorite visual search engine - Pinterest again, baha - to go looking for the color I want in the room I'm trying to paint.  I just type in "canvas tan sherwin bathroom" and usually get plenty of eye candy.  Now, this is no replacement for sampling in the room, but it can help with the visualization and maybe some reaffirmation that I'm heading down the right path.

A word about sampling paint.

Unless you absolutely know how a color performs under all circumstances (and, c'mon, who are you, if you do?!) the only real way to know what's going to work is by getting a sample pot and checking it out live and in person.  I usually go to Home Depot or Lowe's for their little sample pots (Lowe's has a great 3-pack kit you can customize) and have them mixed to S-W or whatever color I'm using.  Cheap, easy.

Side note: designers seem to be either primarily Sherwin-Williams or primarily Benjamin Moore people.  So, regardless whose team you play for, just know that you can get your colors matched anywhere.  Don't let that stop you from buying the very best paint that you can afford when you're ready to roll those walls, though.  There's a reason professional painters work with these top brands; they're a dream to use.  And to live with later on.

Samples in house?  Good.  Then, get to slapping that color up on the wall and assessing the situation.  Folks have all kinds of opinions about painting directly on the wall vs. using poster board or other adhesive varieties of test substrate, but I say just go for it right on the wall.  If you use a fairly dry brush to feather the edges of your sample, you'll never see them under your final coat.  Don't glop, but also don't skimp on coverage - you want to know what the paint is going to look like with 2 coats.

Where to paint those samples?  All 4 walls and directly against any trim, wood or otherwise.  And you're looking for good sized 2x2' squares of color here, minimum.  No skimping.  You want to see how the light changes the colors throughout the day, and what other influences come into play OUTSIDE of your house.  One client had a big ol' deep grey house situated VERY close to the windows of her bright white kitchen, and let me tell you, we ended up with a MUCH warmer white than we'd anticipated to get the look we wanted.  Crazy grey house!

I won't say that this is a guaranteed recipe for success, but I've found it has helped me eliminate any really awful mistakes.

My last piece of advice?

If you aren't sure, just wait...but not too long.  Live in the space for awhile and get to know it, and understand how the light plays.  But don't forget that you wanted/needed to update that paint in the first place.  You'd be surprised how many people never get around to painting their space until they go to sell.  Wrong. Approach.  

Create the home you want well before you're ready to leave it.



Tracy Leigh Morgan