Figuring Out A Whole-House Paint Palette

Paint can pretty much be chalked up to a learning experience around Casa Petersik. From painting all of our home’s trim with flat paint right after we moved in (baaad idea, use semi-gloss!) to picking a different color of the rainbow for each room (not the way to make a small house flow!) we’ve pretty much made every mistake in the book. And over the last almost-four years our walls have definitely “evolved” as we learned what we liked (and a whole lot of what we didn’t).

We decided to use a handy little floor plan (created thanks to Floorplanner) to demonstrate three “stages” of our home’s ever changing color scheme to show that homes don’t usually “magically come together” overnight. Sometimes it takes some experimentation and a bit of repainting (and repainting again) to get ‘er done. But with every little change that you make you’ll be inching towards the home of your dreams- and just like the right dress can theoretically make you look slimmer and bring out your eyes, the right wall color really can turn any house into a dream home (all for about $30 a room and an afternoon of your time).

Here’s what we meant when we mentioned that we picked nearly every color in the rainbow for our house’s original color scheme right after we moved in…

Color Scheme: THEN


From an orangy-yellow in the den to an easter-egg-ish pastel green for the living room, our choices really ran the gamut. And we even went with a bright robin’s egg blue for the third bedroom (which was formerly the dining room) and the half bath. Of course looking back those were odd choices for two of the smallest rooms in our house. In short: when this color scheme was in effect, it felt like you were entering a different house every time you stepped into a different room instead of feeling like there was an overall cohesion and flow to our modestly sized ranch home.

The funny thing is that the only color that we chose to use twice was the bold turquoise color in the 3rd bedroom and the 1/2 bath. Now we understand that in a small house you want continuity and rooms that feel like they flow- and not like they’re chopped up with different color schemes- so we routinely repeat colors or slide a shade or two darker or lighter to keep things feeling related throughout our entire home’s floor plan. Then we chose to repeat the soft blue-gray bedroom color in the kitchen while keeping the rest of the house subdued and neutral, and stood back and admired how the creams, sandy tans, and soft gray-blues worked together to create spaces that felt varied and interesting without evoking that chaotic and unrelated vibe.

Color Scheme: MIDPOINT

Only the master bedroom and the sunroom escaped the repainting massacre that took us from the “then” paint color breakdown to this “midpoint” diagram above. And while it may not look exciting on screen – it totally made the house feel bigger, more connected and a lot more grown up. What we had done was accomplish a more toned down and agreeable whole house palette, but we still ached for something a bit more interesting and textural (nothing too high contrast, but just a few unexpected paint color applications to keep things feeling fresh) so we did a few things to take our house from serene and soft to serene and soft… with a bit of a twist.

Color Scheme: NOW

It wasn’t anything too major, but we definitely made a few noteworthy and fun little tweaks none the less (and the few changes that we’re about to list earn us BY FAR the most paint color compliments, so it really does pay to go that extra mile):

1. We painted the ceiling of the blue-gray master bedroom a softer more subtle blue-green tone to create a dreamy ambiance that far surpasses the magic of a white ceiling. Read more about this project here.

2. We added playful tone on tone horizontal stripes to the half bathroom in a few hours one evening (for under five dollars). Best time and money we ever spent. Read more about this project here.

3. We took the full bathroom from the same color as the living room and guest bedroom to a soft khaki green color (since they were all in such close proximity this added a nice varied feeling to a layout that was feeling a bit tan on tan on tan before). And we even carried the same wall color right up onto the ceiling for a seamless effect. Read more about this project here.

4. We chose a cheerful pear color for the walls of the newly created nursery and added a splash of soft aqua on the ceiling (the blue ceiling tied into the master bedroom and the kitchen while the green walls related to the nearby khaki green bathroom and a slew of green accessories throughout the house). Read more about this project here (and see additional photos here and here).

And we’re not done yet. Homeownership is an ever evolving process, I tell ya. Next on the agenda: nixing our white ceilings. We know they’ll feel higher and a lot less stark and jarring when they’re better integrated into our home’s palette. In fact, we’re planning to paint almost every single one in either a lighter tone of the wall color (they’ll still feel lifted but not quite as stark), the same exact hue as the walls (if the walls are light enough this really blurs the bounds of the room and makes it feel a lot more expansive), or even a contrasting or complementary color (we’ve always wanted to paint our tan sunroom’s ceiling sky blue).

So that’s where we are at the present time when it comes to our home’s state of paint affairs. And since we know you guys love all the dirty details, here’s a quick rundown of our casa’s current colors:

  • Master Bedroom: Glidden’s Gentle Tide (walls) and Glidden’s Cool Cucumber (ceiling)
  • Second Bedroom: Glidden’s Sand White
  • Full Bathroom: Benjamin Moore’s Dune Grass (color matched to Olympic’s Premium No-VOC paint)
  • Nursery: Mythic’s Autumn Bloom (walls) and Mythic’s Adanna Aire (ceiling)
  • Living Room: Glidden’s Sand White
  • Kitchen: Glidden’s Gentle Tide
  • Den: Glidden’s Water Chestnut (fireplace accent wall) and Glidden’s Wishes (other three walls)
  • Laundry Nook: Glidden’s Wishes
  • Half Bathroom: Glidden’s Wishes (walls) and Valspar’s Honeymilk (stripes and ceiling)
  • Sunroom: Glidden’s Water Chestnut
  • All Trim & Interior Doors: Freshaire’s No-VOC stock white semi-gloss paint

Note: Some of the Glidden colors listed above are no longer available, but they can supposedly look up the formulas on the computer and whip them up for you. If not, Glidden’s Wishes is now called Eloquent Ivory (it’s the same exact formula), Benjamin Moore’s Quiet Moments is very similar to Glidden’s Gentle Tide and Benjamin Moore’s Ashen Tan is very close to Glidden’s Sand White.

And why stop now when there are more things we can add bullets to? Here are few of the major paint discoveries that we made along the way. Here’s hoping they help you sleuth out the perfect color palette for your casa:

  • Never select a color without checking it out in morning light, afternoon light and evening light- just to be sure it doesn’t mutate from serene to scary when the sun sets.
  • Paint colors look completely different in different spaces, so don’t blindly paint your room a color that you liked on the walls of Restoration Hardware since their lighting sitch is nothing like yours. Instead bring home the paint chip, tape it up on your wall and check it out in your lighting at all times of the day.
  • Always look at a paint swatch on the plane that it’ll be on (don’t put it on a table and look at it horizontally if it’ll be on the wall- actually tape it up on the wall and evaluate it there- the same goes for ceilings).

  • Taping up a few paint chips at a time can help you select the perfect shade (since you can compare them to one another, you can much more easily weed out anything that’s “too yellow” or “too peachy” thanks to the other swatches beside it).
  • We usually gravitate to the bottom two swatches of every paint chip (since our house is modestly sized we like how lighter tones and shades of each color make our house feel more airy and expansive).
  • Neutrals can be written off as boring, but with crisp white trim and a range of furnishings, accessories, and textiles layered into the space they can be anything but.

  • Repeating a color across the house isn’t weird- it’s smart. Making your master bedroom the same color as your entryway is a great way to take your house “full circle” so things feel like they’re part of a bigger picture. We use 80% of our home’s colors in at least two spaces (sometimes three) and the result is a nice layered and serene feeling.
  • When you don’t want to repeat the same exact color, sliding one tone lighter or darker on the paint swatch is a great way to guarantee that rooms will feel related and airy (ex: go a shade lighter in your master bathroom than you did in the master bedroom for varied interest that still feels cohesive).
  • There have to be colors that you always gravitate towards (in our case, green and blue) so using muddy and subtle variations of those tones along with a nice liberal dose of neutrals is a pretty foolproof formula.
  • Keeping the flooring (ex: mocha hardwoods) or the trim (ex: crisp white) consistent in as much of your home as possible will really help to unify any home’s color scheme.

  • Even smaller items- like a leafy green plant in each room- or similarly colored wall frames- ours are all white- can really tie disparate rooms together for a nice easy flow.
  • Don’t forget that tan and beige aren’t the only neutrals! Cream is a gorgeous alternative for a hallway (especially if you have a bunch of rooms branching off of that space and want something unifying and not too bold) and there are many light platinum gray tones that are luxe and chic without being too dark and brooding.
  • In general (although definitely not in all circumstances) we like accent walls that are subtle as opposed to jarring and high-contrast (since the later can break up a space and define the boundaries of it, thereby making it feel fractionalized and disturbing the easy flow).

So that does it for our yeah-we-make-mistakes-too-and-learn-as-we-go-and-repaint-rooms-a-few-times-to-get-things-right post. It definitely helps to remember that paint is the cheapest mistake you can make! So stop being paralyzed by indecision and just dive in. If you pick the right color you’ll be over the moon, and even if it’s wrong you’ll learn what you don’t like so you’re closer to scooping up the perfect shade… and you’ll only be out around $20-30 bucks. Happy painting to you and yours!

Psst- Wanna see some of our favorite go-to paint colors? Check out this post full of tried and true tones and shades. Of course they look different in every room (due to lighting and other ever-changing factors) so we just suggest grabbing a bunch of them and bringing them home to see which ones look best on your wall. Happy hunting…

Comments

  1. sara h says

    Ohhh my bad! You said the TRIM was a bad idea! Somehow I missed that. Glad we agree! I was definitely the one confused!!

  2. Jennifer says

    Love this post..it came just in time too. I have already painted my entire downstairs and am planning on going to the paint store this weekend to look for colors upstairs. My house is a good size (almost 3000 sq ft) and my downstairs kitchen and dining room are a burgendy red while my foyer and living rooms are a kahki tan. It looks amazing and warm but my upstairs doesn’t get nearly as good light as my downstairs and I was hoping to keep it a little bit lighter (my upstairs consists of a gaint second living room, master bed and bath, hallway and guestrooms). Any suggestions to coordinate with the red and kahki theme downstairs without it being too jarring? Maybe painting it the same tan color but use a nice blue-grey accents?? or blue-grey ir the dune grass green you have in your bathroom in the master bedroom and bath? Really could use your help!

    • says

      Just take home some swatches and see what looks best up there. Since every lighting situation is unique we encourage people to trust their own eye (since they’re actually standing in the space and we’re here on a computer in Richmond). Remember you can always slide lighter on the paint swatch that you used in another room for a cohesive and airy effect. Or you can go with creams and neutrals or even the Dune Grass or the Gentle Tide that we used for a bit of subtle color. There’s not one right answer so just look at everything on the walls of your home and go with your gut!

      xo,
      s

  3. jennifer says

    thanks! so you don’t think dune grass and or gentle tide would clash with a downstairs that’s more warm with reds? Maybe if I paint the downstairs office one of those colors it would seem to connect to the upstairs? I just don’t want it to look too spastic…like 2 different houses upstairs and downstairs.

    Also, do you have a benjamin moore color that’s close to gentle tide?

    • says

      Yup, BM’s Quiet Moments is very similar to Glidden’s Gentle Tide, but we actually think that Dune Grass (since it’s a khaki green tone) will tie in more with the hues that you have going on downstairs. Red looks great with neutrals and soft sagey-sand colored greens- especially if you keep things like the trim and the doors consistent and add some touches of green downstairs and some touches of red upstairs. Hope it helps!

      xo,
      s

  4. says

    It’s so nice to hear how your house has evolved over time…it makes me feel better about the paint blunders I’ve made in our house over the past year! I’m already planning on repainting the master bedroom and the 3rd bedroom…but at least I like the neutral I picked out that flows through most of the house- that would be a ton of work to repaint all of that. Great post!

  5. says

    My current painting question: Our Richmond 1960 ranch has a million things we want to update/change. My latest obsession stems from your most recent “house crashing,” and the chalkboard wall. Our kitchen has 2 walls with metallic wallpaper (that’s right). I want to turn one entire wall into a chalkboard. Do you ever recommend painting over wallpaper? Metallic wallpaper? Or should we just rip it off, prime it and paint w/chalkboard paint? I looked for any tips on this in your tutorials, etc. but didn’t find anything. If I’ve missed it, just point me in the right direction. I couldn’t really find answers in a general net search either. Any thoughts?

    • says

      We never recommend painting over wallpaper. In the long run it’s not a short cut at all and the paper will bubble and peel but be super hard to remove since it’s been painted over. Definitely do the work up front and remove it. So worth it. And just google around for a wallpaper removing tutorial- there are tons out there to peruse. Hope it helps!

      xo,
      s

  6. candace says

    Love this post – it hits ‘home’. :) The big joke amongst my friends is that I’ve painted my downstairs 5 times over the years (everyone rolls their eyes!) because I’ve been trying to figure out the right color. So, I’m relieved to know that even your house has evolved and continues to change.

  7. says

    Is there any other color from another brand comparable to glidden’s wishes?I ventured out to homedepot and did not find it. I was looking for the swatch to bring home but found nothing. Any suggestions?

    • says

      Hey Maria,

      Glidden has since discontinued it but they can look up the formula on the computer for you and whip up a batch. As for something similar, Benjamin Moore’s Muskoka Trail 974 is super similar. Hope it helps!

      xo,
      s

  8. says

    and if you just don’t like it after a while, change it! Its fairly easy to repaint. I made a mistake on the paint color in our kitchen (too dark), but I actually left it there for a while to “make sure.” STILL didn’t like it, even after getting used to it. Repainted it a whole new color and now it’s great!

  9. Amanda says

    I so wish we could paint our ceilings. Alas, they are that nasty spray/stippled paint stuff. Having to touch up any white spots (like when we ripped out kitchen cabinets) is hard enough.
    I love love love that Lowe’s and Home Depot have $3 take-home samples of any color paint. I have splotches of 6 colors on our master bedroom and bathroom walls to gaze at in different light before we decide.

    I literally had to prove to my husband via labeled paint chip that one color is actually the same one in both rooms – they look like two different colors in the natural light in our bedroom vs. the artificial light in the bathroom! (PS – we’re the ones doing the same bathroom vanity as you. Nightstand came off of backorder and we’re doing demo this weekend!)

    I love how your house is migrating from neutral to a blue/green – but still cohesive, and not glaringly BLUE and GREEN. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  10. Amy says

    Anyone have thoughts on super-low ceilings? Our house is a story-and-half so our bedroom is basically in the attic. Not sure on the exact height, but I can easily put my palm flat on the ceiling and I am only 5’6″. The room only has one window, so it always seems dark to me. The ceiling is flat white and I’m dying to change it, but I’m not sure what to do! So many options and me indecisive. Grrr….

    • says

      We would pick a light color for the walls and bring it up onto the ceiling so it’s less of an obviously low plane (and it blends in with the rest of the boundaries of the room to look more expansive). Hope it helps!

      xo,
      s

  11. Meredith says

    Thank you for posting this. I can’t tell you how much better this makes me feel. Just yesterday I had resorted to facebook to recruit friends to come over and help us pick out colors! I do have one question… We have an over 120 year old house. It still has the original door frames, window ledges etc. We don’t want to paint them because we feel they give the house character. Yet we can never find any images (in magazines or on-line) which show rooms with wood. Has anyone seen any (that aren’t country themed)??

  12. says

    I love all the neutrals you’ve used! People give me a hard time for not wanting bold and bright colors on the wall, but I just really like neutrals. That’s not so bad, right? :)
    But this is a good post with really good advice that I know we didn’t realize when we first started painting our first home. Our house currently has a slightly yellow toned taupe in the kitchen, dining room, and one bedroom. Another bedroom has a creamy yellow that matches that paint in the bathroom. So the main level is pretty good, but then we went and did a really dark chocolate brown in the bedroom upstairs. I love the color but it doesn’t seem to match the rest of the house at all. Bummer!

  13. says

    This post is so timely for us as we are currently re-painting every single room in our house, including the trim! It is a lot of hard work, but you are right – it is so worth it! My go to color for trim in BM Decorator’s White – so crisp yet creamy and not too stark white. Your previous posts on choosing paint definitely inspired me and our palate is blue-grey, soft creams and warm tans. I don’t care if people call us boring – I love neutrals! I def agree with you about different lighting – our house has tons of natural light and it brings out colors in paint swatches I never thought it would. Thanks so much for these amazing paint posts – they are my favorite so far!

  14. says

    My husband & I love your home & get quite pumped with your creative ideas and the way you convey such enthusiasm & passion for home renovation & decorating! Hats off to you both. The pics of you guys from your last post yesterday are darling!… you’ve totally got the beautiful prego glow goin’! (Due in May, right?) We are due in May with our 3rd & house projects have certainly taken longer once kiddos came along – but we will likely always love a good DIY project & can’t get enough. We’re on our 3rd renovation house & this one is the one we see ourselves in for the long haul. It’s nice to be taking our time, and getting a feel for the house before we dive in & go with what’s simply familiar & “safe.” ;) Loved your take on painting and creating cohesion throughout a home. Couldn’t agree more. We’ve used some of your same colors in our house too, and are gearin’ up for a basement bathroom makeover with your striped half-bath as the inspiration. Thanks much & I’ll keep checkin’ your blog. (It’s my fave!) :)