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dear reader | to the one who doesn’t know what color to paint her walls


When I shared the plan for my mom’s bedroom makeover, I received this comment from Judy…

“Hi Marian, I love the color palette!  I know that using fabric is a good way to pick your paint colors.  But, what if you don’t have that kind of choice? My dining room is in the middle of my house, no windows, neutral floor color (carpet).  There isn’t any type of “jumping off point”, which always gets me stuck when trying to pick a paint color.  Any suggestions?  Thanks so much!”


Dear Judy (and to others who feel a little stuck when choosing a wall color),

Picking out a paint color can definitely be intimidating.  It’s not because of the lack of options, but because of the plethora of options.  You can literally paint your walls any color.  So, out of multiple fan decks with thousands of colors, not to mention all of the variations of the colors and custom colors that can be mixed, it is overwhelming.

How do you know what color is right for your room?

And how do you select a color if you don’t have an obvious starting point?

Good question.


I would suggest that there can always be a jumping off point and you don’t have to limit yourself to what is currently in your space.  You should only limit yourself to things you love.

Look at magazines, Instagram and Pinterest and see what inspires you.  What are you drawn to?  If you collect enough rooms you love, you’re likely to see a theme.


I realized that so many rooms I loved and pinned and kept in a notebook had white walls.  So, I resisted my anti-white-wall leaning I had for so long and painted most of the walls in my house in varying subtle shades of white, pale gray and pale blue, which allows my love of furniture to be on display.


Your jumping off point can also be a piece of art, an accessory, a pattern of dishes…anything that can inspire.  Look through your home, at antique stores and home decor stores for inspiration until you have that “ah-ha moment.”

That is what I love!  


You can also seek out the color of rooms that catch your eye.  Most bloggers and designers list their paint colors and that is a great go-to place to find colors that look beautiful in rooms.  It narrows the options down for you a bit.


Photo via Vibeke Design

Once you have settled on a board category of color, like blue, aqua, yellow, white, or even a specific color name from a designer/blogger/friend go to the paint store and grab some chips and even sample pots of colors, so you can brush them out on your walls (or poster board) and see how the color plays with the light in your room, with surrounding rooms, with your furniture, etc.

Keep in mind that you might love a color, but not in your house!

And lastly, remember that it is just paint.  You can always paint over it again if the color turns out the be a no-go.  I know it’s a lot of work and you want to get it right, but don’t let that paralyze you from making a decision.  You never know if you never try.

I hope that gets the creative juices flowing!

Happy Painting,


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  1. That is so interesting about you deciding after looking at all your magazine pages and pins that you loved white walls….because I went home, after meeting you that first year I went to Luckets (you were giving away the “move mountains” tags that Jaime from Freckled Laundry made) and pulled out my magazine pages and came to the same conclusion. My husband asked me if I was feeling ok when I told him I was painting our family room white, because I have such a love for vibrant color. But white, especially creamy white, is the perfect background for a rustic look! Great minds, right?
    Have a great day,
    The Other Marian

  2. One other tip I’d like to add – maybe paint a large swatch on each wall and live with them that way for several days, paying attention to what’s going on in the room. I painted my living room a sort of light mustard yellow years ago. Depending on what time of day, where the sun was, etc, often each wall looked a different color! It was kind of amazing. In the morning, one wall could be the exact mustard yellow, in the afternoon, a yellowish cream and at night a dark tan. I kind of liked it because it really did go with everything!!!

    • Becky says:

      A large poster board is good for this. You can move it around the room. Much better than the little paint sample. You still have to buy the paint but you can sometimes by samples.

  3. Excellent advice, Marian. It’s also worth noting that a dining room, like a powder room or other space where you don’t spend a lot of time day-to-day, is a great spot to try a dramatic hue you might be afraid to use in a living room or bedroom. It’s the perfect place to experiment with color.

  4. I need to paint my house again, it has been quite awhile and I don’t know what I want to do either. I tend to stick with very light neutrals because of very little natural light. I remember years ago thinking I had found the perfect color for my living room while visiting our pastor’s family. I absolutely loved the color of the living room. I went and bought a sample of the paint and it looked like I had smeared mud on the wall! I just went back to my basic off white shade after that!

  5. One other thing to consider if you are in need of a jumping off point…can you pick a color from an adjacent room to use as your starting off point so that all your rooms flow together? In other words, when you stand in your dining room, can you see a glimpse of another room, such as the kitchen or dining room? If so, maybe you can pull in a much loved color from the other room that appears in either the upholstery, curtains or rug. For example, our last house, which was built in 1927, had a separate dining room. When you were sitting at the dining room table, you could see through to the kitchen window and the cafe curtains. When sitting on the other side of the dining room table, you could see into the living room. To make the rooms feel really cohesive, I chose a soothing green to be in all the rooms in either small or large doses. It really worked well at making the old house seamlessly flow from room to room. Just another thought. Good luck!!

  6. Anne Pik says:

    So good of you to reply to your reader’s question as I also benefited from your post today. Discovered this morning that Lowe’s has their sample paint pots on sale for $1.00 :)

  7. Laura says:

    Would you like to share the names of your paint colors? ?
    I’d love it if you would.

    • marian says:


      Living & Dining rooms – Pearly White Sherwin Williams
      Home Office – Gray Owl Benjamin Moore
      Kitchen & Living rooms – Glass Slipper Benjamin Moore
      Guest room – Mascarpone Sherwin Williams
      Master bedroom & bath – Simply White Benjamin Moore
      Boy’s room – Hale Navy Benjamin Moore

      • Beth R. says:

        So you don’t paint the same color through out the home?
        I have always struggled with this. And am itching to re-paint ANY ROOM in my home. I have a hodge podge of color right now, since the rooms were painted years apart from each other with no concern for any of the other room colors. I am bored with all except the latest ( dove gray in a guest room, total LOVE) but unsure if the color should come from the walls or the furniture/accessories.

  8. One thing that is difficult in TX is we have these terrible “knock-down texture” walls. Paint does not look as good on these walls as it does on nice smooth plaster walls – especially very light colors. I don’t know why we have these tacky textured walls, but I’ve hated them ever since I moved to TX and am still missing the old plaster walls of the northeast. Sigh.

    • I’m with you, Erica. We have them in Arkansas too. Blah. I know textured walls supposedly show fewer imperfections, but smooth walls are just better all around. I look at those faux board & batten tutorials all the time, and think, sigh… that would just look ridiculous with my knock-down textured walls showing through! If we ever build our own house, I’m insisting on smooth walls even if I have to shop around to find a contractor who knows how to do it (I seriously think it’s a lost art in this area!). :)

    • Carla says:

      You have them because it is cheaper for the builder.

    • MaryS says:

      I have POP CORN ceilings! Same yucky stuff as your knock down walls….
      sure wish I’d taken the time to smooth them out before I moved in and added furniture.
      It’s a huge problem. Not sure I want to live with that mess!!

      • I too have the popcorn ceilings and hate hate them. But it so expensive and messy like you said to replace them. I think another cheap texture for ceilings.

      • gerri says:

        Have you seen Armstrong’s
        Country Classic white Wood Planks ??? It is a mineral fiber (very light) tongue and groove product that can be applied directly to the ceiling or be installed using a hidden grid system. It doesn’t look like much in the box or store display, but is a lovely ceiling! Home Depot carries this product for about $1 per square foot. It adapts well to many decors from modern to cottage! We have used this in several of our homes for the past 40 years. HINT: For best pricing visit the HD’s “pro desk”. They will usually sell it for lowest price. Easy enough for a do-it-yourself project for those with a some handyman/carpentry experience. For professionals it’s a breeze–our contractor and his assistant installed two rooms (about 600 s.f. ,and crown moulding), doing direct application, in less than two days. Price for installation roughly $600–in our younger days we did it ourselves, but older folks don’t belong on ladders! Note: when researching the name of this product I discovered a whole line of new Armstrong ceiling products you might also want to check out. Hope this might help with your popcorn ceiling dilemna!!

  9. Trine says:

    This is really great advice. I think another thing that overwhelms me is that I want it all to look great at the same time and so I do nothing at all with any of the rooms in my house.

  10. Carolyn Gibbon says:

    And don’t purchase any old cheap paint. It is worth your investment and your time to buy a good paint that will hold up to time. Benjamin Moore is a little harder to find, but I love their Regal line in the Pearl, which is a step above eggshell and only comes in that line. My favorite is Revere Pewter. Goes well with about any color.

  11. Another suggestion is to have a big sample on each wall (n, s, e, and w). The color may look completely different depending on where it is. Also check it several times a day with the type of lighting you will use. We painted our first nursery a soft peach, which was beautiful until the sun came through the west window in late afternoon and the walls turned bright orange. What a lesson. Your soft gray is stunning.

  12. NewColorPlease says:

    This is a prickly question. My husband likes to be the one that selects the wall color . We’ve had the SAME wall color for 18 l o n g years. He is perfectly content with it and I am over it. Gentle, respectful advice????? He doesn’t enjoy change and I did several of the “that’s not it” samples of paint before he chose the color we have. I would like to freshen up our home. HELP!!!! (Wink:)

  13. I have my walls painted all kinds of colors, and I love them all (even the navy blue living room)! However, I’m finding I love whites and creams and think that’s where my color pallet is going. It’s fun to imagine all the possibilities and paint color is my absolute favorite thing to choose.

  14. Another thing to consider is what time of day you will most often be in your house. Since paint color changes with light, if you’re away all day, designing for the evening hours could make sense. This doesn’t mean you have to live with unattractive colors during the day – you’ll just be enjoying them at their peak during the majority of the hours you actually spend in your home.

  15. Love the way you use texture in your rooms! White or neutral rooms benefit from varied textures.

  16. Wandalee says:

    Lots of great tips here. I would also like to add that a bold color can be a good choice when large windows, trim and bookshelves / cabinets limit the amount of wall surface.

  17. Carey says:

    Marian, where did you get the tan buffalo check fabric? I love it. Thank you!

  18. Great advice, Marian! I think homes should reflect who we truly are and what we really like. Even if color x might be trendy, it might not work at all in your home, with your stuff. For me personally, a great color scheme for a room starts with a favorite piece of fabric, carpet or decor item that I want incorporated and then expand from there.

  19. I did the same: looked through a ton of look books, and found that the theme for rooms I actually wanted to live in were almost all a “white”, with the warmth of a good amount unpainted wood, and significant pops of multiple colors. Study, study, study!:)

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