Email Answer: Picking The Perfect Paint Color

Q: First of all I love your site. It inspires me to fix up my own home (you make it look so easy!). But if there was a class called Paint Picking 101 I would be getting a big fat F. So far every room I’ve painted in my new house is either too bright, too dark, too dirty looking and just plain ugly. I’m having the worst time finding a perfect tan tone and I’m even messing up colors like light blue and cream, which I never thought was even possible! Do you have any foolproof colors you can recommend? A favorite blue? Cream? Tan? White? Yellow? Gray? I know natural light and other factors can change the way paint looks substantially so it’s probably not 100% foolproof, but I’d love to know your favorite paint colors so at least I have a shot of living in a house that doesn’t make me feel like a total paint failure! Thanks so much for your help! – Meagan

A: Picking the right paint color can often be a doozie, so don’t get down on yourself! Take comfort in the fact that repainting, while annoying, is super inexpensive and it can instantly transform your room from wrong to oh-so-right in an afternoon. And thanks to the transformative power of paint, we’re the proud owners of an entire storage ottoman full of paint decks and swatches. Name any color or any brand- it’s all in our little paint chip library of sorts.


And although we have quite a slew of selections we still find ourselves reaching for some tried and true favorites again and again when it comes to doling out room recommendations. As you mentioned, paint colors can look very different under different lighting circumstances, but for the most part there are a bunch of practically error-proof tones that we find ourselves recommending again and again. Some of them are bright and fun (better suited for only one wall or even a punchy piece of furniture) while others are classic and serene- perfect for an entire room or even an entire home. Here’s the swatch suggestion scoop:

White- Benjamin Moore Decorators White, Glidden Dove White, Behr Cascade White, Sherwin-Williams Alabaster.

Cream- Glidden Antique White, Sherwin-Williams Creamy, Benjamin Moore Muskoka Trail, Benjamin Moore French White, Benjamin Moore Natural White.

Red- Benjamin Moore Million Dollar Red, Glidden Red Delicious, Behr Firelight, Valspar Fabulous Red (great for a front door- might be too bright for inside).

Pink/Coral: Sherwin-Williams Comical Coral (shown below), Benjamin Moore Wild Aster, Sherwin-Williams Animated Coral, Behr Be Mine, Behr Silk Sheets, Behr Coquette.

Brown- Benjamin Moore Branchport Brown, Benjamin Moore Woodacres, Benjamin Moore Stampede, Sherwin-Williams Cobble Brown, Sherwin-Williams Van Dyke Brown (shown below), Behr Traditional.

Yellow- Benjamin Moore Hawthorne Yellow (it is the be-all end-all of yellow paint, which is notoriously hard to get right).

Green- Glidden Fennel (no longer available for swatches, but still in the computer so they can whip it up for you), Glidden Celery Sticks, Benjamin Moore Mosaic Glass, Benjamin Moore Hibiscus (great for a cheerful kid’s room with white trim and brown furnishings), Benjamin Moore Soft Fern, Benjamin Moore Silken Pine, Benjamin Moore Sweet Pear, Benjamin Moore Dune Grass, Sherwin-Williams Lime Granita.

Purple- Glidden Silver Plum (no longer available for swatches, but still in the computer so they can whip it up for you), Glidden Delicious Plum (amazing eggplant color for a front door), Glidden Black Tulip (the deepest moodiest purple-black that’s dripping with drama) Benjamin Moore Nosegay, Benjamin Moore Violet Pearl, Benjamin Moore Iced Lavender.

Blue- Glidden Gentle Tide (no longer available for swatches, but still in the computer so they can whip it up for you), Benjamin Moore Quiet Moments, Benjamin Moore Saratoga Springs, Restoration Hardware Silver Sage (it has green undertones but looks blue-gray in most rooms), Behr Pensive Sky, Behr Flint Smoke, Behr Grand Rapids.

Navy- Benjamin Moore Spellbound, Benjamin Moore French Barret, Benjamin Moore Hudson Bay, Sherwin Williams Grays Harbor, Sherwin-Williams Naval.

Black- Glidden Onyx Black, Benjamin Moore Graphite.

Tan- Glidden Sand White (no longer available for swatches, but still in the computer so they can whip it up for you), Glidden Water Chestnut, Glidden Cafe Latte, Benjamin Moore Baja Dunes, Benjamin Moore Davenport Tan, Behr Harvest Brown.

Orange- Benjamin Moore Beverly Hills, Benjamin Moore Lion Heart, Benjamin Moore Corn Husk, Sherwin-Williams Marquis Orange, Sherwin-Williams Mandarin (shown below).

Gray- Benjamin Moore North Hampton Putty, Benjamin Moore Light Pewter, Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray, Benjamin Moore Nantucket Fog, Glidden Silver Dust.

Beige- Benjamin Moore Clay Beige, Benjamin Moore Green Brier, Sherwin-Williams Ancient Marble.

Greige- Benjamin Moore Tapestry Beige, Behr Ocean Pearl.

Oh and a word of warning: you don’t want one of each of these colors in your house! Here’s how we learned that a tighter color scheme can make your home feel bigger, more open, and a lot more cohesive and welcoming. Of course it doesn’t have to feel expected or monochromatic since you can bring in different accent colors with art and accessories in each space to make them feel unique and interesting!

And a second word of warning: Paint colors look different in every room (due to lighting and other ever-changing factors) so we just suggest grabbing a bunch of the swatches above and bringing them home to see which ones look best on your wall. We can’t recommend a specific color for your specific situation with any great accuracy since we have no idea how it’ll “read” in your home (your eyes will be much better than ours since we’re not right there in your space). Just tape up a variety of swatches and pick the one that looks best to you!

What about you guys? Any words of warning or paint color advice? Do you have some favorite hues that have worked out wonderfully for your casa? Any that were terrible that you’d love to warn others about? Let’s all help Meagan out by dishing the paint picking dirt.


  1. Val says

    I can only vouch for one yellow that has done amazing things for my home. Glidden’s Bryant Park Gold looks stunning in my tiny, almost windowless 1930’s rancher. The rich color demanded four coats on my walls, but I get compliments on how gorgeous it is all the time.

    However, I am biased. My fiancee used to paint homes professionally, and now manages a Glidden/ICI/Dulux Paints store here in the RVA. My paint comes with a discount! And a free painter! :)

  2. Megan says

    I am totally with her on picking colors. We learned our lesson when we painted our dining room blue. The next day, it looked like we had stepped into a carnival. It was a bit too bright! It is hard to judge from a sample on the wall what it is going to look like when it is all over.

    I love the choices that you picked, and your rooms do flow together seamlessly.

  3. Kelly says

    BEST POST EVER! I’m not planning on painting any rooms right now (we’re renters) but I’m pretty much planning on bookmarking this post for a reference tool for the rest of my life. I’m terrible at picking the right paint colors! Thanks again J&S

  4. Wendy D. says

    I flip houses, so I needed a good neutral color. The color had to be one that could work in any house and helped to make the house feel large and comfortable. I ALWAYS use Benjamin Moore Bleeker Beige. I use it in every room in every house, even my own. It always looks clean and open whether in a room that has alot of light or one that doesn’t.

    One other suggestion is that if you like a certain color but don’t like that brand of paint (or have a coupon for another store), you can always ask one store to whip up another store’s colors. I often buy from Sherwin Williams because they give me good prices, but I use the Benjamin Moore paint color. They have all of the competitor’s colors in their computer so I just tell them the name and they get to it.

  5. Lee says

    My favorite favorite green is Silver Sage by Restoration Hardware.

    Years ago I had spent months trying to find the perfect green for my living room and always ended up with colors that were too minty or too grey. Then one day at the mall I spied this in the window and have been faithful ever since.

    My favorite yellow is Benjamin Moore’s Montgomery White. Not sure why it’s called ‘White’ when it’s really a lovely and creamy yellow.

  6. says

    LOVING this list – thanks for compiling and I am definitely bookmarking this! If I might chime in a few faves…

    – Gold: Benjamin Moore Dijon (warm, not too yellow, not too bronwn, juuuuust right)
    – Green: Benjamin Moore (Aura) Agave (kinda avocado-y but the perfect shade of green, promise)
    – Chocolate Brown: Ralph Lauren Manchester Brown (this color has “MAN ROOM” written all over it)
    – Tan/neutral: Benjamin Moore Monroe Bisque (warm creamy neutral color)

  7. Kim says

    After years of living in rental places with white walls we couldn’t paint, we went crazy with color when we bought our house. You could see the glow from the street. Not good. Now we like neutrals and pale yellows. We’ve tried Behr, Sherwin Williams (Jonquil was good for a big room), but actually, my favorite yellow is one we got at Ace Hardware, whatever their brand of paint is called, in Woven Basket.

  8. says

    I’m sure you will get a ton of responses from this posting. I absolutely hate painting! It gives me a headache, it makes me naueous having to try and pick out colors. I think we’ve painting every room in our house at least 2-3 times. The worst is when you find a color that you like and then it looks like crap when you paint it on the wall. I’ve learned to stick with the neutrals cause you can’t go wrong with them. Thanks for a great post!

  9. Carmil says

    I agree– its tough to get the right paint color, but when you find one, hold onto the swatch card! We have a tan beige/yellow, soft green thing going through out our house and there are now 8 people and counting who have used two of our colors! Check out Sherwin Williams card #18– Believable Buff (I love almost every color on this card, our MB is in Camelback) for a wonderful beige/tan. 6 of the afore mentioned 8 have used this successfully!!! Then go to card #24 for Svelte Sage– a perfect green in a variety of settings. I found it by matching one of the greens in my dining room oriental carpet — its below the chair rail in my DR with Believable Buff on the top. Crisp white trim sets the whole thing off.

    Although these colors are SW– the paint we have been using is called Graham, from a line of paint stores called Devoe. I know they are a little more obscure than the big box brands, but the quality is unbelievable. Very similar to the Pratt and Lambert $60/gallon paint that we couldn’t afford to put throughout our house when we moved in a year ago! If you ever see Graham paint, I HIGHLY recommend it!!!

  10. Rebekah says

    I also went to a different, cheaper store for BM paints… unfortunately they whipped up a slightly different shade than what I requested — I’m guessing they just typed it in wrong? Anyway, we went back for more paint (which was made correctly this time) and the two paints were just slightly off. Ugh! When we realized, we received free cans of the incorrect color to finish the walls.
    So, the color on my walls are not really what I wanted (just a slightly greyer yellow/gold), so I ultimately want to repaint!

    I’m sure it’s NORMALLY perfectly safe to buy BM paints from non-BM stores though.

  11. says

    I love Benjamin Moore (all colors are BM) Sulfur Yellow, Danville Tan is great (green undertones, though), Lenox Tan, Ashley Gray, Old Salem Gray (greige green), Acadia White, Fernwood Green, Shaker Beige, Caliente (a nice, deep red), and Montgomery White (yellowy cream) are all great colors I like to recommend in my business. It’s true how you can use those tested colors over and over, and some you just want to ask “why??” :)

    I’m definitely going to be ordering swatches of all of the BM and SW colors you recommended to file away. And not to plug my blog, but I just joined a Paint Color Blog Party last week through the 320 Sycamore blog and it is a great way to find some great colors! :)

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Lindsay C,

      A Paint Color Blog Party sounds like a good time! We’ll definitely click over and check it out (for those wondering, her blog is:


  12. says

    I’m with Wendy D. on this one – my hubby and I are doing our first flip right now and we’re sticking with an awesome, neutral tan throughout the entire house – Pittsburgh Paints (Toasted Almond). It’s fab, and we used it in several rooms in our own house – we love it!! Here’s a post from awhile back that talks about each paint used in our house, how we picked our colors, etc: (and YHL is mentioned in it!!)

  13. says

    Great selections! Some of my other favorites are BM’s Morrocan Red (great orange-red), BM’s Phillipsburg Blue (a saturated gray-blue), and BM’s feather gray (a lovely blue-gray).

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