Painting is the easiest, least expensive and single most transformative tool in all of interior design. Paint can change the mood of a room and your perception of its size. It can spotlight overlooked details in your home’s architecture, and it can make blah furnishings spring to life.
That said, painting can also be an overwhelming process. You have to gather the tools, do the prep work and, most challenging of all, choose a color. People get paralyzed because what looks good on a little paint chip can look very different when you’ve dipped a whole room in it.
My No. 1 trick to picking paint is to look to your closet for color inspiration. If your favorite sweater is red, then chances are you’ll like the way you look in a similarly hued room. Also, when choosing colors, make sure you take into account the natural light (or lack thereof) in your room. Light is the biggest factor in how you perceive color. Too much of it, and paint loses its saturation and looks like a photo that’s blurred by a flashbulb. Not enough light, and color falls lifelessly flat.
There probably are some rooms in your home that are blasted with daylight and others that rely solely on artificial light. Common knowledge would have it that dark rooms should be painted in light or bright colors to counteract their natural dimness. But I suggest you consider the opposite. Pale colors tend to feel dingy and flat in low light, so instead I like to use the shadowy corners to my advantage and use moody hues such as chocolate brown (I love Benjamin Moore’s Wood Grain Brown) or a dark blue (Benjamin Moore’s Gentleman’s Gray is one of my faves). Rooms that are used solely in the evening respond especially well to this treatment; rich colors provide complexity and warmth. You won’t believe that you once thought low light was a detriment.
Here are a few more paint tricks you can use to accomplish your decorating goals:
Visually declutter a room. Paint walls the same hue as your sofa or largest piece of furniture and watch the furniture recede into the space.
Spotlight art or photographs. Paint a dark or bright color on a wall featuring framed pictures, objects or books. They’ll pop from the contrast.
Raise your ceilings. Paint ceilings a tone or two lighter than the walls — but not necessarily white. It will appear higher.
Highlight shapely furniture. A chair with a spectacular openwork back or a curvy sofa can be amplified by painting the walls a contrast color. Lavender, powder pink and robin’s egg blue help dark wood look its best, while more saturated colors will let crisp white pieces shine.
Ensure a good night’s sleep. The bedroom is the only room where you fully look at the ceiling. Dipping your whole bedroom in one hue guarantees a cozy, enveloping, cocoonlike sensation each night. If you’re wedded to keeping ceilings white, pick a shade that borders on powder blue to give the illusion of a cloudless sky.
Paint technology and paint accessories have come a long way. Here are two items that will ease the paint process:
FrogTape: If you’ve ever painted a room, you know the importance of blue painter’s tape. It’s the tape that’s used to protect moldings, window casements and door frames when you are applying wall paint. It’s also the tool used for creating stripes and other decorative paint patterns. But there’s a new tape in town: FrogTape. FrogTape feels just like other painter’s tapes, but when it comes into contact with the water in latex paint, it creates a gel that seals the edges of the tape. The result is incredibly crisp, clean paint lines and no bleeding.
Paint 2 It antigravity tray: You have to see this in action to believe it, but inventors Victor Delbosque and Ben Mayberry created Paint 2 It, a shallow antigravity tray that can hold up to 12 ounces of wet paint at a time. The paint does not drip or spill, even when you turn the tray upside down. This means that you can carry the tray up a 12-foot ladder with ease and not worry about spills. The tray is lined with a disposable fabric liner that absorbs the paint but does not allow it to dry or drip.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”
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