11 Tips For Paint Color Selection From an Interior Designer

One of the most requested topics is our favorite paint color selections. Some elements are more important to understand than just the paint color. We’ll dive in for a deeper look at how to select paint colors for your home.

How to select paint colors for your home
Deciding a room's function
How to select paint colors

1. How will the room be used?

Decide how the room will be used, what time of day it gets used the most, and what you want the mood of the room to be. For example, you might want an energetic color for a home office, not a soothing, relaxing color as you would for a bedroom.

The 60-30-10 rule for color

2. The 60-30-10 rule

This means that 60 percent of the room will be a dominant color, 30 percent will be a secondary supporting color, and 10 percent will be an unexpected accent color so the room pops with life.

Color wheel

3. Understand a color’s energy

All color has an energy that it brings to the room.


Think of white, which can be sterile, pure, and cold, or a hospital room. To add warmth to that, we can bring in the warmth of wood or textures, such as rattan or chunky wool blankets.

Black walls and floor with warm wood tones


Think of black, which is overpowering, dark, and heavy. Bring in the luminosity of wood and we have a beautiful, rich, and warm color.

Gray in a home office
Green accents in a living room


Green is vibrant and associated with nature. Green is a great color choice for an office because it evokes new life and new ideas.

Blue in a kids' room with bunk beds
Blue in a bathroom
Blue in a living room


Blue is calming because we associate it with the sea and the sky.

Red in a library
Red in a dining room


Red is associated with restaurants because it speeds up the body and the brain.

Yellow sitting room


Yellow is energetic, but sometimes too much depending on the room’s function.

White with different undertones
Paint colors with different undertones

4. Undertones

There are undertones to colors. This is a very difficult concept to grasp.

The easiest way to see a color’s undertone is to compare a series of white paint colors against the whitest white in a paint color fan deck. Against pure white, you’ll see instantly whether a paint color is pure white, or if it’s been blended to make cream, ivory, or another white shade.

Using this same technique against a true primary color can help you determine what secrets (undertone) your paint color is hiding.

Warm paint colors will have a pink, beige, or yellow undertone. Cool colors evoke water and will have a blue, green, or purple undertone.

Abundant natural lighting

5. Natural lighting

The amount of natural light coming into a room also affects color. South-facing windows offer warm lighting and north-facing windows bring in cooler lighting. In addition, natural lighting varies depending on where you live in a country.

Green outside reflected inside
In addition, what’s directly outside of a window will affect the quality of light. If you have a lot of green outside your window, the light will reflect off of the greenery and that will come indoors.

Red brick wall reflected in a home
If you have a red brick wall outside, the light will reflect those reddish tones into your home.

How color looks at night vs in the day

Color looks different during the day when reflecting natural light and at night when the color reflects artificial light.

How to color reflects or absorbs light

6. How color reflects light

Lighter colors reflect more light versus saturated colors that absorb more light.

Paint samples

7. Test samples

The very best way to test colors is to put multiple 2-foot by 2-foot samples up on different walls in the same room. Put a large border of white paper behind the sample to block out the existing wall color.

Different types of paint finishes
Differences between different finishes
Different paint finishes

8. Finishes

The paint finish also affects how the color looks. A higher-shine paint color reads darker than flat paint. Higher-shine paints also reflect more light and will show more imperfections than flat paint. Don’t use high-shine paint on imperfect walls or it’ll show every bump and dimple.

White ceiling in a white room

9. Consider the ceiling

I rarely use white ceilings unless the walls are white.

Light blue paint on walls and ceiling
Green paint on walls and ceiling
Peach paint on walls, ceiling, and molding

A color on the ceiling pushes it up rather than creating a contrast that lowers the ceiling. I also like to use the same color on the trim, crown molding, and baseboards. This gives the space an expansive, luxurious look.

White paint reflecting light

My paint sheen formula

Use a high-quality washable flat on the walls and ceiling, a washable semi-gloss on the trim, and satin on wainscoting and crown moldings.

Warm paint color in a sitting room
Blue painted walls and ceiling

I sometimes use a high lacquer shine on a ceiling to create drama.

Red living room with black and white art and yellow accents
Room with golden yellows and creams
Colorful room

10. Fall in love with a color

Find a carpet, fabric, or artwork that you fall in love with to select the room’s color scheme. What if you fall in love with a piece of art that has a lot of red in it but don’t want a red room?

Take different shades of red so it’s not so overpowering. It’ll be soothing and relaxing since there’s no contrast.

Matching paint color to flooring

11. Bring flooring along

Always have a flooring sample on hand when choosing a color to make sure they work together. An opposing paint undertone will make the floor’s undertone stand out more (like the right side of the image).

An interior designer's favorite paint colors

My favorite paint colors

I use OC 22 Calm by Benjamin Moore most often. It’s a neutral, warm color that reads as white on the walls without being stark and cold. Some of my other favorite colors are anywhere from OC 17 (a yellow-based white), OC 18, and OC 23 to OC 31.

Paint color selection

I don’t want people to remember the color of a room or house. I want them to remember the feeling they had instead. Please let me know in the comments if you found today’s information valuable and helpful for your paint color selection.

Join the conversation
2 of 6 comments
  • Ronald Christensen Ronald Christensen on Feb 23, 2024
    Great information! I have been wanting to try something new in my living room. This article will take out so much of the guesswork and give me confidence to choose the best colors for what I want to project in my home. Thank you for sharing your expertise!
  • Hope Hope on Feb 23, 2024
    Hi...I couldn’t agree more with your suggestion to place samples on the wall to see how it looks by itself…with different types of lighting and (for me)…how it makes you feel. There are a few rooms that are pictured in this article that I think are pretty enough but, I would be very uncomfortable in just because I find THAT much bold color a bit overwhelming. (but that’s just me) Thank you for the article. You made several good points about things to consider before committing to a color. Have a great day!! :)