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If you’ve ever spent more time agonising over the difference between “Sunshine Yellow” and “Daylight Yellow” than you have with your family in a given week, we feel your pain. Choosing a colour isn’t a decision to take lightly, as it sets a room’s mood and impacts how your furniture looks. Don’t do these, say the pros:
Mistake #1: Painting a ceiling flat white
The biggest wall in a room is the one most of us don’t even think about. “I never paint a ceiling dead white because all white paint has a bit of gray in it, and it takes the room down,” designer Athalie Derse says. Her suggestion: Choose a cream shade instead. (And we suggest hiring a pro for this job.)
Mistake #2: Going too matchy-matchy
It’s tempting to keep things easy and just bring a fabric swatch to the paint counter. Not so fast. “You never want to match your walls to a colour in one of your fabrics,” designer Sallie Giordano says. “It will be too strong. Find a greyed-out version of the color.”
Mistake #3: Leaving out ‘palette-cleansing’ elements
Once you fall in love with a colour, it’s easy to go overboard. “The biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to be colourful and exciting is to forget that you need to balance it with neutrals,” says designer Todd Klein. Architectural elements in white or simply a few grey throws can give your eye a place to rest.
Mistake #4: Playing it too safe
Conversely, if you go with a palette of neutrals, don’t forget to add a few stronger colors. “One of the biggest mistakes people make with neutrals is not using enough contrast,” designer Betsy Brown says. “You have to interject elements that add intense personality. Make it gutsy, or else it’s boring.”
Mistake #5: Using wildly different colour schemes
You know it when you see it: The neutral living room says “relaxed, coastal chic,” then the vivid bathroom goes “1920’s decadence.” “Even when I don’t use the same colours everywhere, I still like the rooms to feel connected,” designer Mona Ross Berman says. “The bedroom should never feel like it’s in a completely different house from the living room – the whole house has to make sense as one.”
Mistake #6: Using the same colour palette everywhere
Faithfully sticking to your favorite hues in every room can create an “uptight” vibe. “You need to know when to pull back,” says designer Tom Scheerer. “A two-colour scheme can be great, but there has to be some relief, or it comes across as too pat and makes everything seem stiff.”
Mistake #7: Forgetting the impact finish makes
For instance, an eggshell finish can take the intensity out of a rich hue — for better or worse. “Darker colours in general can read very flat, so use a high-lustre finish,” designer Meg Braff says. If you decide to go down this route, do your homework first. “Good prep is key to any high-lustre paint finish, so skim-coating the walls really helps. You can get a deep, rich gloss without going to the expense of lacquering.”
Mistake #8: Selecting a one-dimensional hue
This is another pitfall that often comes up with more dramatic choices. “Colours that have no depth are oddly fluorescent,” top designer Suzanne Kasler says. “They will leap out at you, rather than pull you in. It’s a subtle difference, but failure to recognise it is what sometimes makes people afraid of using colour.” So that might be why “Creamsicle” ended up looking “Construction Cone Orange” on the wall.
Mistake #9: Pressuring yourself to find a forever colour
With all the hassle of painting, it’s understandable to keep falling back to the same look you’ve always had in your homes. But like personal style, our rooms can change over time. “You have to trust yourself, but you don’t have to commit to colour all at once — you can play with it as the rooms evolve,” says designer Ashley Whittaker.
Words and image editing by Melissa Penfold: