The Dos and Don’ts of Picking Your Room’s Perfect Paint Color

How to choose the right color to complement your space.

How to choose the right shades to best complement your home’s indoor living spaces, according to a local interior designer.

Q: Can you recommend a great color for my bedroom? I painted it Coral Gables by Benjamin Moore and it looks like Pepto-Bismol! I have dark wood and white lacquer furniture with navy bedding and teal accents. I was going for more of a persimmon-type color. Thank you! — Amanda Michelson, Tarrytown

“First, congratulations for not being a color coward!” says interior designer Patricia O’Shaughnessy, who remarks that your choices remind her of Chinese interiors of the ’20s and ’30s, with a touch of ’60s-era David Hicks. “Contemporary Asian fusion — fun!” she declares. “But I could have predicted that Coral Gables would look like a candy color. There’s a lot of white in it, which makes it bright.” The paint chip is often deceptive, she notes. “In order to get the look of Coral Gables, using Benjamin Moore, you need to go a couple of shades darker than what you’re trying to achieve. I’d suggest Raspberry Blush or Claret Rose. The more intense the color, the less garish.”

The paint brand is also important. “Benjamin Moore is a good quality, B+ company, but highly pigmented colors are not their specialty, and there are better reds on the market,” O’Shaughnessy says. Pratt & Lambert is a better choice, and although a gallon will run you about $65 as opposed to $45 for Benjamin Moore, you’ll get better results. Farrow & Ball’s range isn’t as broad, but their paints, too, are highly pigmented.

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“When you’re doing something bold — which I definitely recommend — test, test, test before you paint the whole room!” O’Shaughnessy emphatically suggests. “Budget $40 or $50 for test cans. Paint the color in four-foot blocks on each wall so that you can see how various lighting affects it.” Always use the proper primer to block out the color underneath and support the color that’s going on. “A lot of painters have primer sitting in their truck and they’ll use what they have, but you should get the right one.”

When the economy is rough, people go for cheerful colors, O’Shaughnessy notes — and painting is one of the cheapest ways to change a room’s look.

A few tips:

• Bold colors work well in rooms like bedrooms and dining rooms that can have an expanse of neutral tones on the bed or table. “I painted my daughter’s nursery a deep cerise, almost fuchsia, with white trim — gorgeous,” says O’Shaughnessy, who used the same color in a large dining room to compensate for a client’s sparse furnishings.

• “In rooms with mirrors, especially where you might be naked, never paint the walls green or some muddy khaki. It makes you look like you have hepatitis. Choose a rosy color. The same is true in dining rooms. My absolute favorite color for a dining room is Sumac by Pratt & Lambert. It’s delicious, with a wonderful glow. On the chip it looks brown, but on the wall it’s pumpkin — which illustrates my point about choosing a more intense shade.

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• Beware of colors like lime green and cotton candy pink that have an “uncomfortable pitch” that can cause anxiety.

• Certain greens can be a much more interesting neutral than beige or tan, especially if you have a lot of wood-toned furniture.

• The hottest trend: “Deep, intense turquoise, toward teal. It’s very glamorous, and a wonderful backdrop for white or neutral furnishings.”

• Finally: “Don’t be tepid. If you want blue or green and go to the top of the paint card you’ll wind up with an attempt at the color. Be bold!”

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