paint makeover bedroom with dark grey wall


(Picture source)

Nothing refreshes a room like a lick of paint on the walls, right?

YES! Except when you get it wrong.

Because there is nothing more depressing – after all the agony, the money you spent and the drama to get it done – to end up with a room that looks worse than it did before you started. Grrrr

Here’s Bess for instance:

“…we decided to paint the living room to give it a fresh look. I had an idea of what I wanted and chose a color that looked just right. Soon after the painting started, I realized it was a mistake – the color looked off, but we finished the room. Two days later and with a heavy heart we moved the furniture back, hoping it would improve things.

It looked even worse. It was just awful! The walls didn’t match anything in the room.

What was supposed to brighten up my room turned out to be a total disaster. I just want to sit in a heap and cry.

How did this happen – the color looked so nice on the chip?”

I know, Bess, it always does – on a small piece of paper, that is. But stretched out over the vast plain of your walls it is a total different story. Add to that the daunting complexities of light, reflection, shadows and how color interacts with other colors, it is enough to just black out.

paint makeover lving room grey walls and kitchen cupboards


I’m so sorry it didn’t work out the way you hoped, Bess, but don’t be too hard on yourself – it happens to hundreds of people all the time. Take a deep breath and let’s look at what went wrong.



Your walls are vast – from the floor to the ceiling and right around. That is a lot of color staring you smack in the face. It is extremely hard to judge a color from a tiny piece of printed paper you hold in your hand.

Color intensifies on the large surface of your wall. Generally it is a good idea to go one notch greyer and darker of the color you have in mind.

The surface of your wall is vertical – I know that’s obvious, so why do so many people hold their color samples at an arbitrary angle? Sure, perhaps you can see the sample better when it’s horizontal, but that is not how the paint goes on your wall. Because of shadows and the way that light reflects, a color will look different when you look at it in the vertical straight ahead of you to when you look down at it when it’s horizontal. Try it yourself and see how the color changes.

testing paint colors vertical horizontal

Here I’m holding the same color samples vertically and horizontally. Can you see how they look totally different?

Light’s a bitch – not always, but when it comes to selecting colors it is. Forget for a moment the difference between natural light and artificial light. Daylight on its own is like a fussy old aunt who constantly changes her mood depending on where the room is, how large the windows are, what direction the room is facing, how high the ceiling is, what time of the day it is, and a list of other predictable and unpredictable things. For instance, the light in a north facing room in the Northern Hemisphere has a bluish tinge and certain colors will look stale and dead. A west facing room will get a warm pink glow in the afternoon and it might be too intense with some colors. The same room can look pretty grey and gloomy in the morning.

Artificial light comes in many forms and every different lamp type – LED, incandescent, energy savers, halogen, fluorescent – has a different effect on color. Incandescent and halogen lamps give a warm glow that brings warmer colors to life, but has a deadening effect on cooler colors. The opposite goes for cool white fluorescent lamps on warmer color tones.

Then of course, the color of the lampshade adds another dimension that could give you a big surprise.

Test your colors also in the evening – but don’t pick them then.

Elements outside your window might reflect unexpected hues into your room – trees, a large body of water, close-by mountains, high buildings, the canopy over the window, the Smurf-blue color of your neighbors’ house. : )

Phew, did I mention that light is complicated? But don’t throw in the towel yet – you’re already much better prepared than you were before you started reading this.

You CAN get your colors right. Here’s how.

The first question you should ask yourself is not – What color should I paint my walls? But this:

What is already in the room?

paint makeover for kitchen taupe





1 .

Find the dictator in the room

Right here, before you even look at any paint samples, you will get a clear direction for your color plan.

Designer Laurel Bern puts it so well:

“Sometimes walls will tell you the color they need to be if you listen carefully.”

Take your time, go sit in the room and find the big fixtures – in the kitchen for instance, it will be the counter top or back splash, in the bathroom the wall tiles and vanity top, living area the carpet and/or sofa, or mantel, in the bedroom the carpet and bed linen – and decide which are the most dominant elements.

Something in your room, even when it’s empty, is going to say – HEY, LOOK AT ME! That is the dictator that will determine the undertone of the colors you choose.

First decide what the dominant fixtures and furnishings in the room are – because that will determine the colors you choose.



Match the undertones

There are undertones in everything. Some undertones mingle well, and some don’t. Sometimes when a color looks ‘off’ or out of place, it is because the undertones of different elements are fighting with one another.

You know that undertones are working in harmony when you actually don’t notice anything odd – things just feel right.

undertones simplified

This is my simplified list of undertones. You can read more about it here.

It can be very tricky to match the undertones in certain tiles, countertops and carpets with the undertones in neutrals and whites. The best way to find the undertone is to bring other colors real close and compare. For instance, when you hold a blue grey against a greyish tile, you might see that the tile has actually more violet or green undertones, or the pink beige undertones in your countertop will become obvious when you hold a yellow beige next to it.

When you listen carefully, the undertones will reveal themselves. : )

paint makeover dark walls living room



Use large sample boards. It is almost impossible to see the undertones of a paint color when you look at a stamp size chip. You need a decent size sample so you can properly see the thing when you step back.

Get a small amount of the paint you consider and paint it on a large poster board. This not only allows you to see the undertones and the effect of the light on the paint, but now you can move around and test it in different places.

I know, I know, I know, it’s a lot of extra trouble – you just want to get on with the job. But I can assure you it’s much less trouble to paint a sample board than to repaint an entire room. : )

Paint your sample on a large poster board so that you can properly compare the undertones AND move it around.


testing paint undertones with large sample

I’m holding large painted samples against the tile to see the undertones and effect of the light better.

Notice that I also have white paper behind the samples in the picture above. There’s a good reason for that…


Hold it on a white background, directly next to the item, and vertical.

Color responds to color. That is exactly why you test your colors directly against the items you need to match so that you can see if the undertones gel or not.

Color also influences one another. If you place your test sample directly on your existing wall (that’s not white), you’ll get a warped idea of the color you are testing. You are being deceived by the color in the background. Look at this.

background color influences color paint samples

You’ve seen similar brain teasers – the two small beige blocks are exactly the same shade, but because of the colors around them they appear to be different.

Source: Josef Albers via Saatchi Gallery

Always place a white board behind your color sample.

Light reflects differently vertically and horizontally. We’ve discussed this. So when you test a sample against a counter top (sofa, floor, tile, bed linen, the carpet) for instance, you hold the sample directly vertical against that item to see how the light reflects at that angle.


Test it different times of the day, and on different walls in the room. The intense light in the afternoon or reflections from large elements outside the windows might have a weird effect on the color you chose. Look at it in the morning light, and see how it changes in the afternoon. Test it in the evening when the lights are on and see if the type of lamp is killing your color or brings it to life.

paint makeover in bathroom with blue grey


With your bag full of tricks and all your enthusiasm I think you’re now ready to face your walls. There is a small warning, though – it’s not always possible to accurately predict what a color will do in particular circumstances, even for the most experienced expert.

But there’s also no need to end up in therapy over your colors. It is only paint after all. : )

Go forth and make beautiful.


interior design information

If you want to make the right choices from the start AND love your space, let’s chat about it – on-line or in person.

I would love to know

What is the worst color crises you’ve ever had?

How do you choose the colors for your walls?

You may also like

What everyone should know about choosing the perfect sofa

How to make your room look stylish by adding one simple thing

how to choose the perfect color for your walls

Posted in Color and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *