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…


  1. Marilyn says

    I noticed that you use paints with gray under tones. Do you have any problem with them at night? In my house the paint with gray undertones don’t look good at night so I have to go to clear tones.

    • says

      Good question! Nope, that’s totally a lighting thing. In our house paint colors actually look warmer (even at night) but some people bring home swatches that we’ve used, like Sand White, and say that it almost looks grayish-purple in their home. Crazy, eh?


  2. Lindsay says

    One more tip, which I read somewhere and then promptly didn’t follow (whoops!): If you’re painting over a “weird” color (when we bought our house, it was full of paint colors with REALLY really strong pink undertones), consider getting a white piece of poster board/foam core/etc and painting some sample paint on the center part of that.

    When we did it, we painted the sample right on the wall for our master bedroom, and while our choice looked GREAT compared to (or maybe reflected against?) the weird existing color, it actually took painting the ENTIRE room before I realized the color looked much more blue and less gray than I was hoping for. Ah well, it’s just paint! ;)

  3. says

    Great post! It’s interesting to see how your house has evolved over time. In fact, I have to thank you for the first post you wrote on the subject. My husband and I were having a hard time deciding on paint choices for our first house and were working with a kitchen with blue tile floors that couldn’t be changed any time soon (and said kitchen floor could be seen in the living room and dining room). So, paint-buying day had arrived (after about a week pondering over color choices) and no decision was made. I had seen the post where you updated your home with more of a neautral color scheme and asked my husband to look at your living room and asked him if he like it, he said yes and off we went to Home Depot and bought a 5 gallon bucket of it. Risky, yes! Was it worth is? Yes! We have it in a portion of our kithcen, our living room and dining room, hallway and guest bedroom. We’ve received a ton of compliments on it and it works so well with that blue tile floor. So, thank you, thank you, thank you!

  4. says

    I love all the soft blue, green and yellows that you’ve used. May I ask, where did you get that patterned yellow rug for your living room? I’m a huge fan and would like one for my basement, please!!! =)

    • says

      It’s the Moorish Tile Rug from Pottery Barn but it has since sold out. Maybe you can find it on ebay? We happily scored it as a floor model when it was on clearance. Whew!


  5. says

    If I can’t pick between two colors after taking home swatches and staring at them against the wall for weeks… I buy the sample cans and paint a square on the walls next to each other to decide. I’ve painted square of our color choices in every room, which is how I found out I gave the paint mixers the wrong swatch choice before painting the entire kitchen! After putting it on the wall, in real paint, I saw it was much pinker than I wanted, went back to the chip and saw it was the wrong one! Whew! Glad I didn’t wait until it was time to paint to put a test square up!

  6. Melissa says

    I’m looking for a nice warmish gray paint shade. I’m really worried about it turning pinkish or greenish or looking really cold. I have a quilt in our master bedroom that is a very citrusy green with a tad of gray. Our walls are currently a beige shade and it’s not a good compliment. I have a recessed ceiling too, that I could paint a shade darker or lighter.

    • says

      Just click the link at the end of the post to go to a write-up about our favorite paint colors. Then grab a bunch of swatches in the “gray” category and hold them up in your house. We’re not sure what will look warm in your lighting sitch, so the best bet is to grab a bunch of options and compare them in your room on the wall. Hope it helps!


  7. says

    Love the colors. Not I may be stealing these for my own home. we are having the hardest time deciding… the light is not very good here and every color swatch I bring home looks so blah. i will try your colors next!

  8. Lisa in Seattle says

    I wish we had your lovely open floor plan! In our 1968 bi-level (a big box separated into smaller boxes), you can’t see any room from any other room (except living room + dining room). So we’re taking the opposite approach! Each room will have a very different feel (Craftsman/Arts & Crafts in the bedroom with soft, historic red/green/gold tones; nature-inspired blues and greens in the office; etc.). I know some people would find the effect jarring, but I love opening a door and being surprised and delighted by the differences within.

  9. Sami says

    I love the idea of painting the ceiling, but guess who doesn’t? Yup, my better half. He thinks using “ceiling paint” in white is the ONLY way to go (he said he saw it at Home Depot in one of the aisles), but I totally disagree and I want to paint the ceiling a lighter blue we have on the walls. I guess my question for you is how should I explain to my lovely better half that painting the ceiling is a GOOD idea instead of a “stupid” one and we don’t HAVE to use special “ceiling paint”, or do we? Ugh…men….lol

  10. says

    I laugh everytime you mention the flat white…we did the same thing and are still in the processing of getting all white trim from flat to gloss…We have also repainted rooms a few times now and are still in the process of repainting rooms. I think thats what makes homeownership fun! Always changing it up

  11. CatherineW says

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m a fairly new reader to your blog, and although I ALWAYS feel inspired by your posts, I also often feel jealous since everything always seems to go so smoothly for you. Like yesterday’s faux sheepskin rugs. In those posts you mentioned being worried that the rugs might unravel; all I could think was that if I were trying it, they would unravel, and I probably wouldn’t be expecting it. Every project I try seems to have major snafus or at least a couple hiccups. I’m relieved that you two sometimes make mistakes too. :)

    Bravo on working through them!

  12. Chloe says

    Hey YHL-ers, I was wondering if you (or any helpful readers) have seen textured ceilings painted? I LOVE the look in your house, but I’m wondering if this treatment looks funny when the ceiling isn’t flat. Our ceilings are more of an ultra bumpy knock-down texture (not popcorn) and I was hoping for some feedback before committing to a weekend of rolling!

    • says

      Hey Chloe,

      You can probably google around to see if you can find any photos of textured ceilings that have been painted, but our advice would be that as long as you keep the color subdued (ex: a lighter tone of the wall color, a soft cream, a gentle gray, etc) and don’t try to make the ceilings a focal point (like painting them sky blue with tan walls) then it should look great. Hope it helps!


  13. Beth says

    OK, I have a comment and a question.

    First, I noticed there was someone asking about painting over wallpaper and your suggestion was to remove it. While I am in total agreement that you should never paint over wallpaper, I used a different method for getting rid of it – I just textured right over it. I have heard so many horror stories about how hard it is to remove wallpaper. Home Depot (and probably other hardware stores) has buckets of texture that comes ready-to-slap-on (no mixing water or anything involved). I’ve done my kitchen and both bathrooms, so if there ever were rooms to have problems with this, it would be those, but there’s been no issues at all (and it’s been about 6 years for the bathrooms and just a few months now for the kitchen). So I can totally recommend this way for dealing with wallpaper.

    Now for my question. The walls in my living room are Behr’s Restful (it’s a green). When I painted my ceilings white a few months ago I thought about going with a slightly lighter shade of green, but decided against it because I have beams (which I painted the same shade of white as the ceiling). My beams are not like yours are, going straight across the ceiling. Mine run from each corner of the room up to another beam across the top (in other words, the ceiling is higher in the middle and slopes to the walls). So, color-wise, each white beam runs from the top of the white ceiling down to each corner of the green room, crossing white trim as it does so, which is not a big deal since the trim, ceiling, and beams are all white. But would it look really non-cohesive if I painted the ceilings lighter green? Because then I would have light green beams that cross over that white trim and end in the corners of walls that are darker than they are. Weird? Or workable? (Or did I not explain that well at all and you have no idea what I’m trying to describe?). :-)

    • says

      Hey Beth,

      There really is no right or wrong answer here. We definitely would suggest that you keep your beams the same color as your trim (white) but you could add some color by painting the ceiling and leaving those beams white so they really pop (we’ve seen this look in a variety of magazines). We also have beams in our den as you mention and we like the look of the white ceiling with the white beams in that case because it’s an 8 foot ceiling so we don’t want the contrast between the color of the beams and the color of the ceiling to make that plane of the room the focal point (we’d rather keep the attention on the fireplace in that case). It’s other rooms that we think the stark white ceiling really feels less warm and finished looking so we’ll probably always leave the den ceiling white along with our beams while adding soft and subtle colors to our other rooms with flat and less-integrated stark white ceilings. Hope it helps!


  14. says

    Such a timely post I commented a while back that your blog was such an inspiration to me as my husband and I were preparing to start the house hunt. Well fastforward a few months and we’re set to close on our first place on 03/26/2010. and we’ve been talking and thinking about paint colors in the last few days and I remembered your advice about a cohesive color scheme. We do have one question though our house is a bi-level and the stairs are the first thing you see on the left as you walk in the door we want a cohesive flow to the house but we’re not sure how to accomplish the transition between up and downstairs. Any thoughts?

    • says

      If it were us (and there’s definitely more than one way to skin a cat so this is just our personal opinion) we would keep the stairs and the hallway/foyer both upstairs and downstairs (as well as the walls going up the stairs) the same soft and neutral tone (like a nice cream). That way you enter to see a nice clean and unfractured visual without anything that breaks up the expansive feeling. It’s also a great option because the rooms off of this creamy neutral hued space (both the downstairs entryway, the stairs and the upstairs hallway) can be the ones with color and that area can “bridge the gap” between all those other rooms and tie everything together. Hope it helps!


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