selecting fabrics & paint colors

by | Sep 7, 2017 | All Things Home, Decorating, decorating dilemmas, Tips and Tricks | 37 comments

Picking out paints and fabrics can be hard.  I’ve painted and repainted enough rooms and made and remade enough curtains and pillows to know.  And I think the difficulty may have even increased with the advent of Blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram.  We can fall in love with a color or fabric in an online photo, which may not even be an accurate representation of what it looks like in person.  Or in your house.  Or with all of your other stuff.

How many have bought a gallon of paint just because it looked amazing on Instagram?

I’m raising my hand, here.

And sometimes it works out and looks great and other times, it’s a fail.  It’s too bright, too pink, too green, it clashes with your sofa or curtains or it just doesn’t look great in the light in your north-facing room.

Now, you know I’m someone who likes to dive into things.  Slow and steady is not my natural pace.  But, I’ve wasted enough time and money (and even a few tears) getting it wrong, so I proceed with more caution and thought when it comes to making big decisions about color and fabric.

If you’re painting an accent piece of furniture or sewing some pillows, just go for it.  Go with your gut and know it can easily be changed as trends and your taste evolve.

But, if you’re committing to a color for walls, all of the interior doors in your house, a ceiling, etc and if you’re committing to curtains, slipcovers, and bedding, let’s chat about the best way to make that selection to avoid decorating missteps.

#1 – Sample Your Choices

If you suffer from decorating decision paralysis, this is a great way to get yourself moving and visualize choices in your space.  Buy a small sample of fabric or a test pot of paint and try it out in your space.  I am right in the thick of making decorating decisions, so I have swatches taped all over the place!

Put the swatch where it will actually be in the house.  If it’s going to be your sofa fabric, spread it out on your sofa.  If it’s curtains, tape (or pin) it up where it will hang.  If it’s paint, brush on a swatch in a few places in the room you intend to paint.

You can even just paint a piece of poster board (or a paint sample board) and tape it up to the wall (or door).

This is especially handy if you plan to use the paint in several rooms.  Move the swatch around, watch the light, put it next to anchor pieces in the room and see how it works with them.

#2 Test it Out

If you’re liking the sample (or you need to see more of the color or fabric to decide), test it out in small doses.  If it’s paint, try painting just one wall or one door.  If it’s fabric, make a pillow.

I’m considering painting my interior doors in Templeton Gray, so a swatch has been traveling all over my house and I painted one of the studio doors in the color, so I could live with it.  We’re planning on replacing that specific door down the road (hello, dutch door), so it’s not a big deal if it gets painted and repainted as I’m making up my mind.

I do like the color, but I’m not 100% sold on it, so I’m going to pick up another sample to try tomorrow that’s a softer blue/gray – Coventry Gray.  (Both colors are Benjamin Moore).

(Just to talk through my line of thinking, I like the Templeton Gray, because it has blue and green undertones, but it may be a little too strong for some rooms, if I’m planning on using it everywhere.  I do like that it makes a statement, though, and I don’t want to pick a color that’s too wimpy.)

# 3 Get a Second Opinion

Sometimes we really want something to work!  We’ve already fallen in love with it on our favorite blog and we’ve gone through the angst of selecting it, so we don’t want to acknowledge that it’s not right and start the process over again.  It’s odd how we get emotionally invested in decorating decisions, isn’t it?

Getting a second, objective, opinion will really help.  They will be able to either confirm your choice or tell you what you may have already noticed, but didn’t want to admit.  It doesn’t mean you always have to listen to that second opinion, but it might help you make up your mind.  I’ve had people say they didn’t like one of my options, but it made me even more confident that I loved it and it would look great.  On the flip side, it’s also prevented me from buying 20 yards of fabric that I would’ve surely regretted.  

If you find something you love, go for it.  Mistakes will still be made.  You are still free to change your mind.  That’s just a part of decorating…

Trial and error until you hit that sweet spot in a space that makes you happy every time you set foot in the room.

If you need some extra decorating help, you can go through my free video course – The Home Design Starting Line or purchase the Home Design Doodle Book (an inspirational decorating journal.)

Speaking of fabric, I found the most delicious blue & white fabric for my bedroom curtains…

It’s the Aviary Toile by French General and there was no need to tape up a sample of this one.  When you know, you know!


  1. Ashlea

    Great Tips! I agree about large projects like painting a room/house or sewing curtains. It is worth having patience and testing things out. I have a similar blue on my mud room door- Diplomat Blue by Behr- thought I would share in case- as it is similar but a bit different 😉 Happy Swatching!!

  2. Janet in Kansas City

    Love the color on your door, but I know that whatever you choose will be beautiful.
    One question, where is Sebastian? He should be in some of these photos. : )
    You are making this girl want to move SO BAD.

  3. am

    Fun Post…would love to be a mouse and walk thru your home and glance at all the ‘to be’ projects you have on the go and in your mind….swatches everywhere! Enjoying the process I am sure!

  4. Kristine

    In the process of re-doing a bedroom into an office, I knew I needed fabric for curtains. But it was not at all a priority….not in the least. One day I was in World Market, not looking for curtains, but there I found the exactly perfect curtains for the office. I didn’t have a swatch of the wall color …. I JUST KNEW. And sure enough, everyone sees that room comments on the curtains. So yes, when you know, you KNOW!

  5. Robyn

    Hi Marian, please could you tell me what the fabric is that is hanging at the window (in the first picture)? Thanks so much!

  6. Deanna Rabe

    I love this whole post! Your fabrics look great and I think they’ll go nicely in your house.

    I’ve been planning on going from yellow in my open kitchen and livingroom and the hallway, and have been contemplating painting the interior doors that are in this space.

    Lots to think about!

  7. Barbara

    I absolutely love the fabric for your bedroom curtains!! Yes, when you know, YOU KNOW!!! I love all the changes you are making to your new home! Blessings!

  8. DeAnna

    Marian, I fell in love with the paint color Glass Slipper from your blog. Haha! I agree with you that you should test wall colors out first before committing. They always look different because of lighting and other elements in our homes. Nice post!

  9. Elaine

    I can’t imagine how you’ve made as many decisions as you have in such a short amount of time. And you haven’t made any mistakes, at least in my estimation. You are such a delightful inspiration to those of us who wrestle with color. P.S. Love the bag that hangs on your studio door knob.

    • Alicia from California

      I agree with Elaine about that bag hanging on your studio door knob. So much character.

  10. Liz

    I second the idea of painting a piece of cardboard to try out your colours! I have a colour on my craft room wall that I love and thought that I would use elsewhere in the house, fortunately I thought that I should do the “right thing” and have a sample up in the living room before painting. I am SO glad I did! The same colour looked quite different in the other room.

  11. Rebecca Neustel

    I love that fabric in your living room! Fabric is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I have quite a lot.

  12. Alicia from California

    Well I thought you nailed it with that door color but am curious about your second choice. Can’t wait (but I’ll have to) to see the second color choice.

  13. Donna

    I love the new fabric for the bedroom curtains, I have it in red to slipcover a chair….it’s a gorgeous print….and I have that fabric for your living room curtains also in red on a vintage French chair. Another great choice. I love how your house is becoming YOU!!!

  14. Caro

    That fabric for your bedroom curtains….. soooooo scrumptious.

  15. Kelly

    I agree that you should always test your colors. I fell in love with a color that was used in our pastor’s home several years ago. I bought a sample of the color, painted a swatch in my living room and it looked like mud had been smeared on my wall! Needless to say, that was NOT the color I used. It is time to repaint in there and I will be testing some new colors. Oh, and I love the fabric for your bedroom curtains. In my mind you can never go wrong with toile or buffalo checks!

  16. Susan

    Indecision and being stuck is a huge problem for me, so your post resonated. Everything looks beautiful! You’ve done more in your house in a few months than I’ve done in the past three years! I like the blue door. And that toile! So yummy. Here is one (unsolicited) second opinion: The chalkboard over the window feels like it interrupts the line of beautiful light. Feel free to ignore me though!! 😁

    • Cindy in Oklahoma

      I kind of thought the chalkboard was an attempt at a little privacy. We have a similar issue on our back porch. We don’t want to block our view completely but we feel exposed without something there!

  17. Robbyn

    Thank you for the affirmation – right now my family rooms looks like Neopolitan ice cream, the walls were a caramel brown, I decided to lighten up and chose a light peach (my husband says pink- NO!!) so then I chose a creamy yellow; my FIL actually said “did you mean to make your room look like ice cream??” When I was at Home Depot getting the next round of sample colors I found a product that includes 3 sheets of removable film. You paint the sheet and tack it up, easy to remove or to move – $4.00!!

  18. Tracy G

    Oh my – just ordered that French General fabric yesterday for my mom’s LR – she’s having a hard time letting go of her early nineties navy/burgundy/forest green decor – Lol –

  19. G.R.

    I invested in a Victorian “parlor set” upholstered in a PECULIAR color — not pink, not rose, not peach. I did not want to reupholster the pieces, so I just had to deal with it. I brought home multiple paint chips and scattered them on the floor around one of the chairs, looking at them at all times of day and in all lighting conditions. Then I chose one. I did a subtle faux finish in a shade lighter over the base shade, which softened the effect still further. For me, the answer lies in subtlety and in NEVER following color fads (which date so quickly). I liked this so much I repeated it in my “new” (90 years old) home when I moved multiple states away, and I’ve never been sorry I chose my not-pink-not-rose-not-peach walls.

  20. Heather

    I am truly enjoying your posts and insta stories. I can barely wait to see what you do next!!! I was wondering what all you would do to your new house to make it “yours” and you surely are not disappointing. Keep up the good work!!

  21. Carolyn

    Funny this blog came when I was searching for fabric for my refinished theater seats. Looking for black & white and nothing in local area so I have resorted to online. Now you provided me another link to browse. Thanks

  22. JolieAnne

    If I sew anything for my house like pillow covers for my sofa, I am going to make sure I love the fabric. I am slower to pick paint for furniture but in the end it is just paint. I like neutral colors except in my bathrooms-those can take a brighter color-like some blues and I am thinking about a gray for my personal bath since it has a gray sink-but I love that sink. White tile all over the place for a nice contrast. I am getting up the nerve to make my own roman shade for that west facing bright afternoon sun. I always love your fabric picks and style for furniture. Really love that you are sharing all your choices for each part of your house. As I type this we are waiting for hurricane Irma to arrive on Saturday night and into Sunday. Praying for all of Florida now.

  23. Deb

    Love that toille for the bedroom!!

  24. MaryLisa Noyes

    Great tips! I have done very similar things before purchasing paint because I learned the hard way that it doesn’t always look as good as you invision it to look. I have a small 2 story cottage so sticking with only a few colors has made it flow much better.

  25. BIllie

    I love the bird fabric. I just love birds period. So pretty!

  26. Michelle

    What are your thoughts about painting all of the walls in your house the same color? I’ve always had accent walls. I recently met with an interior decorator who told me that all the walls should be uniform in color, along with the trim and cabinet door colors. She said that I should accessorize with color. Honestly, I’m confused!

    • Marian Parsons

      I think that is one way to go, but I don’t think that’s “right” and painting your walls different colors is “wrong”. It’s just an opinion. I like using different colors in different rooms, but picking colors that flow well together. I like pulling out a surprise here and there, though! 🙂

  27. Diane M Fairbanks

    That Aviary toile is lovely and can be used in so many rooms. In the ivory/brown color,I used this fabric to upholster my BFF’s dining room chairs and make a valance for her large window, and plan on using a little more–eventually–to trim the edges of a tablecloth,as she prefers that to placemats,my personal favorite! Wow,I wish I had seen the blue before I bought regular navy/white pastoral toile for my spring living room valances,as the aviary pattern is even springier!

  28. Heather Anne

    I have 4 yards of French General Aviary Toile Linen in taupe for my kitchen windows – it is lovely and it feels so nice to!

  29. KIM P

    Thanks for all your direction on decorating. I purchased your home doodle book at Lucketts Fair and read it 2 times thru. Light bulbs lit up in my head. Finally figured why I hadn’t been satisfied with rooms and where I had made the same mistake over n over. Instead of dreading the pick out the paint process I’m actually looking forward to it and feel confident I can succeed and actually get the look I want. Love watching your progress, and love love your ig stories! Hearing you explain how u choose is very helpful.

  30. Mary

    The Aviary Toile is INCREDIBLE!!!! Love it!!! And I’m not a huge blue fan.

  31. Pat Miller

    I garner lots of good ideas from you, Missie! The idea about painting poster board to take from room to room is fab! And then Michelle posted about the wall film thingies you can paint and take from room to room that adhere to the walls.
    I, too, got advice from an interior decorator who says to paint the whole house the same color. I have adhered to that, and enjoy using the furniture, rugs, pictures, curtains/shutters etc. as the accent pieces. The walls are serene looking, and that is what I like about my home. But, everyone is different, and our homes should be a reflection of ourselves!
    Thank you for the motivation, ideas, and most of all, your honesty!
    You make “moving in and decorating” fun! For the reader, anyway!

  32. Linda

    Where did you purchase the Aviary Toile fabric? It’s so pretty.

  33. Steven Finch

    As painters, we always advise our clients to test the paint colours before making any commitment towards a particular colour. Painting swatches is a must these days! Also, paint colours that look good in a friend’s/relative’s home may not look exactly the same in yours. Lighting, weather, ventilation and even the design of the home will affect the way colours actually appear to the naked eye. When you paint samples, be sure to check them in mornings, late afternoons and evenings, in natural and artifical light. This will help you in making the final choice. Also, for walls, even if you go a shade or two darker than your current choice, you won’t be disappointment with the results. Agree with your suggestions on painting a single wall/door for testing purposes! The gray door looks great whether or not you decide to replace it.

  34. Theresa

    I have paint color paralysis. Just can’t make a commitment. Except for that Aviary toile fabric. I picked that fabric for my living room curtains. It’s all mine I tell ya, all mine! LOL 😀


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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