How to choose a paint color (especially if it’s white)

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio – My first house looked like a box of crayons.

I love color and apart from my childhood bedroom, it was my first time choosing paint for walls. So I went to Home Depot and stared, mesmerized, at the brightly lit wall of paint strips. I collected my favorites and took them home to study.

It wasn’t just the colors that drew me, either. They were those names! Who wouldn’t want a living room at Liberty? Or a bedroom at Sage Sweater?

I chose what I liked, and family, friends and I spent weeks painting: the living room in deep blue, the kitchen in yellow, the master bedroom in green, the nursery in a Creamsicle orange.

“Whoever buys this house is going to paint everything gray,” I said. Which is exactly what happened, I saw, once my first house came on the market.

We lived there for nine years, and while I never got tired of the colors, I decided to be a little more deliberate in our final home, which when we moved in was painted six colors of gray. (An upgrade from the former owner, who was a fan of moss green.)

Gray is so ubiquitous now that Architectural Digest recently asked if gray was taking over the world.

I settled on a matching palette throughout the house: navy, aqua, red, and, yes, gray. And this time, I dedicated myself to the hometown of Sherwin Williams.

I simplified the gray, painting over some of the darker gray with a lighter shade. But I painted the office a navy blue, the dining room a drenched teal, and our bedroom a light aquamarine called Watery. (Again with these evocative names!) Red was relegated to accents like pillows, and a closet I painted maroon.

The kids chose their own colors: a light lavender in my daughter’s sunlit room and a darker green for my son, complete with a navy blue hockey player wall decal.

And when we remodeled our bathroom, we swapped out the pink and black tiles for a pristine white and dark denim called Indigo Batik. I love Indigo Batik so much that I painted our porch with it and will continue it in our new second floor laundry room.

So even with a gray base, there’s plenty of color in our 109-year-old, 2,000-square-foot farmhouse.

When it came to finishing our penthouse as a bedroom suite, every design photo I gravitated toward was white: white walls, white beams, white ceiling, even white bedding. The spaces looked calm, simple, like a cabin, or a cloud. That was exactly what I was looking for, a respite far above the rest of my busy and noisy life.

But which white to choose?

A reader asked my advice on choosing a white, since Sherwin-Williams alone sells dozens. I did not hesitate. For the cabinet doors and trim, I opted for a semi-gloss in Snowbound, the previous owners had painted all the wood in the rest of the house white. Sherwin-Williams highlighted the hue as its Color of the Month for September.

“A timeless shade of white creates the perfect space where a nostalgic world of color can return,” says the paint giant. “No matter how you layer it, Snowbound’s versatile style welcomes a familiar look with a new twist.”

For the walls, we opted for a lighter shade. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever notice the difference.

We’ll still have some color: I plan to repurpose a denim-blue rag rug on the refinished hardwood floor and paper the end wall with blue waves.

And for a great touch of sunshine, we’re painting the bathroom door bright yellow.

Content Director Laura Johnston writes occasionally about modern life, usually with children. She is chronicling the remodeling of her house every two weeks. Verify past columns here.

paint colors

My daughter went through a phase where she collected paint samples. (And she was new to dressing herself.)

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