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Puzzled by paint choices? 5 tips from a pro


My painter was running late. Not hours late, weeks. The job before mine had gone long, and then he had a family member in the hospital. My painting job got pushed back a week, then two.

At first I was disappointed. Then I was grateful. It turned out I needed every last day to pick paint colors. Even as he painted, I was changing my mind.

Here I am, this so-called home design expert, and I still underestimate how much agonizing goes into picking wall color. It’s important. The wrong color can make you feel as if you’re living with a perpetual hangover.

I had spent a good part of the summer just walking through my new house THINKING about color, letting the house speak to me. Eerie as that sounds, walls will talk. If you listen, they will say, “Psst, I should be apricot,” or “It’s soft sage, you moron.”

I perked up my antennae and tried to intuit the best colors for the great room, the downstairs master suite, two upstairs bedrooms and two bathrooms. All were currently painted one of two shades: Timid or Blech.

So, as I asked the walls, I got that gut feeling that drives 90 percent of my life decisions. I decided to look outside.

I mused over the exterior colors of the happy Mediterranean-style house: yellow stucco walls, terracotta tile roof, used brick pavers in the courtyard around a trickling water feature.

I listened and heard the walls say, “Bring in some of that sunny yellow, but not a glib yellow, a sophisticated yellow with a touch of ochre. Offset it with a soft blue, not seafoam, not baby boy, but a dusty, overcast-day-at-the-ocean blue, to echo the water from the fountain. Add a dash of terracotta to pull in those old bricks and roof tiles.”

With that color compass, I went off in search of just the right shades. I consulted my fan decks, pulled color chips from the paint store, set them against fabric swatches, taped them to walls, and asked opinions of anyone who would listen, mainly Peapod, the dog.

I fretted and knitted my fingers.

When I’d narrowed my choices, I bought nine sample jars for $3.50 each. This was money well spent.

I painted the test colors on two-foot-long pieces of drywall, creating sample boards, which I tried out around the house. Several I weeded out easily – too simple, too wimpy, too shrill — then I stalled.

I bit my nails with ambivalence. Sent photos to my best friend. The painter called to say he would be delayed, again. Phew!

The blue I liked was too blue, the terracotta too orange. I got more samples.

Just as I finalized my choices, I got a press release from Sherwin-Williams announcing the paint company’s new ColorSnap system, which “in-store tests showed reduced the time it took to select paint colors by 60 percent.”

Seriously? Had I known, I’d still have fingernails!

I called Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, the nation’s largest specialty retailer of paint, and asked what was up with that.

“ColorSnap offers a redesigned in-store experience that makes picking paint, wherever you are in the process, easier,” she said.

“How?” I was dying to know.

The new displays (already in several stores, and in all 4,000 stores by the end of the year) organize colors by family, and have big Wheel-of-Fortune type walls featuring the main color groups. Visitors gravitate toward one general color – say yellow or blue — and flip large color panels over to find choices in that color family and zero in.”

“So it takes consumers by the hand,” I said.

“And offer pictures of how the color looks in a space,” she said.

“Which is all we want to know anyway.”

Then I told Jordan what I had just been through, and asked, “Could I have skipped all that?”

“Not entirely,” she said. “We can help you eliminate the first few steps, but you still have to paint your boards.”


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