Pick This, Not That

Two weeks ago when John shared this post about the times that we’ve made bad painting decision, we received a bunch of requests for a follow up post in the comments:

Q: I guess I just have a hard time picking colors because I have a hard time telling which swatches have grey or brown undertones. Maybe you can show some swatches (of say the teal from the built ins). One that has a grey or brown undertone and one that is more saturated? It might be helpful to see them side by side! – Aubrey

Q: Thank you for this! I actually think tip #3 (pick a muddier color) surprised me the most because I’d never heard that or thought of that. But it rings so true in my experience! Although colors don’t show up perfectly on monitors, I would *LOVE* to see a post with color samples and explanations like, “We love this peacock blue, but we think it would be too garish on a wall. Instead, we’d try this color, and probably get the effect we’re looking for.”  -Heyruthie

Sounded like a good time to us. Comparative swatches will probably demonstrate more than words ever could. So let’s just let the swatches do the talking. First we have the bold and fun color you might be going for on the left, so if you envision a deep teal tone, you might be tempted to use Classic Teal after seeing the swatch. But on the right, we put the swatch for Plumage, which is actually what we used in our guest room. See how grayed out the swatch looks?

Yet on the walls it’s every bit as bold as we hoped!

Colors in general – and especially dark ones – seem to amplify by a TON when they’re up on the walls, so we’ve had luck picking the ones that look a bit faded or grayed out, knowing that once they’re up on the walls they’ll look a lot more clear and bold. You can read more on the guest room here.

Next we have a swatch on the left that you might be tempted to pick if you want a bright and happy accent of pink – perhaps for the door of a kids room, like we used on Clara’s closet. But the swatch on the right is actually the one that we picked. A small square of it looks a lot more muted (sort of faded) compared to the bold and happy color on the left…

… but once it’s on a nice big area in the room (like the door), you can see how bright and clear that color reads. So even though the swatch on the left might be the pure and unfaded one you’re initially drawn to, in a nice large chunk it could almost read as neon. You can read more about Clara’s closet and those raindrops here.

Another coveted color seems to be a cheerful aqua tone, but in our re-painting-riddled experience it can be hard to get right. The color on the left is a peppy Tiffany Box blue… which is actually a color that seduced us when we moved into our first house… but once we had it on the walls of our dining room, well, it was a little overwhelming. Of course it depends on your room (someone with an amazing room full o’ light could make it look stunning) but in our experience, that color’s just not muddy enough not to get blindingly bright on the walls. So we’d be drawn to something like the swatch on the right, which should still clearly read as a pretty aqua tone in such a large quantity (here it is in a laundry room makeover).

So my general rule is that for painting smaller items (like a tray, side table, accent chair, or lamp base), those more clear/unfaded/unmuted colors can be great. But for larger expanses (doors, walls, ceilings), we tend to prefer muddier tones of the same color – like a softer aqua with more of a gray-green undertone – just so it doesn’t go from chic-tiffany-box blue to punch-you-in-the-face-when-you-walk-in blue.

The same thing seems to ring true for greens for us. Something bold and clear can work really well on a piece of furniture or a bathroom vanity (but not necessarily all of them, ha!). But when it comes to the walls, the color on the left would likely turn most rooms into Kermit Theee Frog (I love when he says his name that way). Meanwhile, the one on the right might look dull by comparison, but on the walls it could be really pretty. Sage is always gorgeous with wood trim or cabinetry, so that could be a nice choice for a kitchen with wood cabinets or a den with wood trim.

Here’s another way I thought I could attempt to illustrate the strange mystery of how a swatch with those muddy/muted undertones can almost look beige in your hand in some instances… but then when it’s on a bigger area, it’s very clearly a color. See how muted and almost wheat-toned the swatch on the left with the arrow next to it looks below? Yet when it’s in a bigger area (that’s the exact same color in a larger rectangle on the right) it definitely looks green and not tan or beige anymore.

Update: Someone asked if the muddy version of a color would typically be on the same swatch as the bright one (if you slide up or down) or if it’s on a different swatch. In our experience, it’s almost always on a different swatch, so there might be a whole range of clear tones on one swatch (from bright aqua to a light baby blue) but you’d want to go a few swatches over to the one that has a much grayer or muddier top color (like a deep blue-gray) and slide down to find those muddier counterparts. 

One last example would be Dune Grass, which we used in our first house’s bathroom. It looks almost completely cream/beige/tan in a small swatch (with just a tiny hint of green) – especially when it’s arranged with other green tones that are a lot less muted…

… but in our bathroom it clearly reads as a soft green color. Once again, when it’s up on the walls, there’s just a lot more of it, and it’s definitely amplified from the neutral-looking swatch. So if you’re looking for a light or subtly colored wall (be it green, blue, pink, yellow, orange, purple, etc) you might want to consider those lighter wheat or gray toned swatches that almost look like there’s just a drop of that color in them. The result can be a room that’s clearly that color, but a soft and subtle version of it. You can read more about that big bathroom reno here.

As Heyruthie mentioned, colors aren’t always great on monitors, but hopefully just seeing these comparisons might help. And when making a final choice, the best method we’ve found has just been to bring some swatches home, check them out in our lighting situation throughout the day, and then grab a test pot (or three) of paint if we’re still nervous. Those small sample pots are only a few bucks and they can save you a whole lot of re-painting trouble.

It’s also amazing how different the same paint color can look in a variety of rooms/lighting situations, so I’m sure there are folks who’ve used those bolder colors in the left columns above with great results – so it really does depend on your room, how much light it gets, and how you layer stuff in. Like this could-have-been-blinding bright blue paint color, which looks awesome in a lofted and light-filled studio – especially when it’s tempered with lots of tan texture in those pin boards and that over-sized mirror.

Oh and since we’re on the subject of buying paint, here are a few tips we’ve learned over the years about scoring a discount:

Do you guys have any other paint undertone tips to share? Or just some stories about going for the wrong swatch? Any other tips for getting paint at a discount?


Raindrops & Rose Paint

Yes, that’s a bad Sound of Music pun in the title. Please forgive me, Julie Andrews. But do you guys remember when Clara’s canopy wall looked like this?

Well now it looks like this.

Although the door color is actually more true to life in this Instragram sneak peek that we shared yesterday (iPhone for the win). And the pink drops are easier to see in real life (they seem to hide in these pics for some reason).

How did we get there? Well, a whole bunch of photoshop-brainstorming here resulted in over 900 truly amazing comments and ideas from you guys. And then we shared all of our original photoshopped versions of the canopy wall with Clara as well as some new ones that we whipped up based on suggestions from you to see which ones she liked best. We never would have thought of all the things you guys came up with, and one that rolled in over and over again was the idea of putting the raindrops outside of the canopy instead of under it like we had originally done in this rendering (which was inspired by this this charming project).

We loved the idea of the canopy appearing to shelter Clara from the colorful little raindrops, so this new take on the raindrops was one of the extra ones that we photoshopped for her to see (along with some other fun ones involving constellations, some bold paint on that full wall behind the bed, a few different colors of paint on the closet door to the right of her bed, etc).

And let me tell you, Clara’s a decisive girl. After about 2.5 seconds she looked at them all and said “I like the raindrops on the wall outside but I want them to be pink and red and blue, and I want the door to be pink – but not light pink. DARK PINK!” Which led me to making this photoshopped image for “final approval” from Clara.

And here’s how it went over…

It’s hilarious to me how we go full circle on the “I love the dark pink door… now make it dark pink!” – but I’m obsessed with the door color that we ended up with, so Clara was right. It wasn’t pink or dark enough in the photoshopped version above, but somehow we got it right with real paint.

In short, she’s a decorating genius (along with you genius readers and all of your genius suggestions). The cutest thing of all is that when she saw me painting the raindrops she said “Wowwww! Mom I really like it real! Even better than the computer!” And when it was all done (including the pink door, which she incessantly reminded me about until it was done) she walked in and said “It’s….. truly magnificent!” It’s is a quote from one of her favorite books (Room On The Broom) and it had John and I rolling on the floor. Seriously, it was the sweetest moment and I wish we had thought to record it.

The raindrops are actually just painted right onto the wall using a simple cardboard stencil that I made. To make the template for it, I used an old page from an activity book that Clara had ripped out and tossed aside (waste not, want not) and folded it in half vertically and just cut a half-teardrop-ish shape from it and unfolded it. I liked the scale and it was nice and symmetrical since I used the folded technique, so I traced that onto the back of a cracker box and cut it out to create a cardboard template.

Then I brought my laptop into her room so I could reference my photoshopped placement of the drops (although I didn’t mimic it exactly) and just traced the cardboard shape directly onto the wall with a pencil, randomly staggering them around that wall. There was zero measuring involved since I didn’t want them to be perfectly placed (rain seems to fall more randomly than that anyway) so I just stood back and checked out the wall and sort of eyed everything as I went.

I assumed we’d have to run to the store for some $2.99 test pots of paint in pink, blue, and red as Clara requested – but I looked in the garage at what we had, and was thrilled to find an old dusty quart of blue paint leftover from a few years ago (the color is called Tranquil) and remembered that we had some pink leftover from Clara’s ceiling (Pink Cadillac) and there was also about half of a quart of a bold poppy-red color called Milano Red from a few years back (don’t even remember what we used that for!). But if you don’t have a paint hoarding problem like me, three test pots would do the job for under $9 – so either way this is a simple and low-budget update, especially since you can make your own stencil for it!

After digging those out, I shook them up, and popped the lids off all three of them, and just laid them out on the white dresser top in her room to see how the colors worked in there (it helped to see them on a white surface since the wall is white so it gave me a good idea of how they’d work together – although paint dries darker so I knew the light pink would show up more on the wall). One happy accident about finding all of these colors in the garage was that they all had varying intensities (see how the red is the boldest one and the blue is sort of the mid-tone and the pink is light and soft?) which I realize now in hindsight might have helped the whole project come out slightly less busy than if all three colors were super bold and sort of compete-y with each other.

I was sold, so I called John and Clara up to see them and they both gave me the thumbs up and left before I could put them to work (smart people), so I dove into filling all of my pencil-traced raindrops on the wall using a very small craft brush.  I worked with one color at a time, doing all of the blue ones first (I consulted my photoshopped image but went rogue a few times if I thought a different color order would look better in some spots) and then moved onto the light pink ones and finished with the bold red ones.

Each color ended up needing two coats, so by the time I finished the red ones I went back in and did the second coat on the blue ones and then did the second coat on the pink and then the red. Total time spent tracing them onto the wall and painting = less than two hours. Oh and my favorites are the ones that drip into something (like the door frame or the canopy) just because their cut-off shape is so playful. It really does feel raindrop-esque in there now, and I’m so glad that Clara loves it as much as we do (she did admit that the red raindrops are her favorite, but she “likes them all mixed up like that because it’s like a rainbow”).

Then it was time to paint the door, so after holding up a bunch of swatches to try to find one that was slightly pinker and darker than the photoshopped image that Clara had otherwise signed off on, we headed to the store to grab a quart of the winning color: Cinco De Mayo. The hilarious thing about that color name is that I thought “since I have so much leftover paint that I can’t even remember in the garage, I should go through it to see if I have some of that color by some paint miracle” and I found one can that said Mardi Gras on it and totally did the happy dance and then my brain said “Cinco De Mayo and Mardi Gras are not the same paint color” (oddly enough they were kind of close except Mardi Gras was a little more neon).

So we ran to the store and bought a quart of Cinco De Mayo and it just took two coats (and a third pass of just touch ups) to get it done with a small foam roller and a small angled brush to get into the frames of the door (you can read more on door-painting here). We did both sides of the door just so that whether it’s open or closed there’s that pop of color over there.

Oh and to everyone who recommended painting that door, you were totally right! Initially I worried about the wall feeling unbalanced if we painted it, but the polka dot wall of curtains (there are four of them) to the left of the canopy seems to visually balance the bright door so it’s not an issue at all. I also worried it would look weird to have one colorful door in her room (that’s her closet door) while the door to her room (from the hallway) remains white, but it’s not a big deal in real life. I just had to get over my matchy-matchy thing (all of the doors in all of our houses have always been white)… but once I saw this one on Pinterest I was all over it. I’ve always wanted to make that closet feel like a little playhouse within the room for Clara, and the bold door is the first step to that.

Of course we still have a big blank spot over her bed (we think maybe hanging a white paper pendant might be fun, sort of like the lamp in the photoshopped version) and her room is still full of white walls everywhere else (can’t wait to hang some art, do some projects with Clara, and eventually get her crib outta there so we can have some fun with the wall where that lives). But it’s a whole lot happier with those raindrops and that colorful door in full effect.

What did you guys do this weekend? Any stencil making? Or door painting? How about cry-laughing when your three year old says “magnificent” – that might have been my favorite part.