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How to choose the best paint colour for your space

With endless options out there, it is important to assess the space you want to paint, understand the flow of the natural light in the room and how you want the space to feel.

paint colour ideas
How to choose the best paint colour for your space
Lori Bolon
July 14, 2022

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This article was originally posted on Making Space, a Substack penned by our Cofounder, Matteo Grand. Subscribe below to receive more content just like this.

One of the most commonly asked questions we receive is how do I choose the right colour for my space. It’s a hard decision to make. With countless options out there, and so much information to absorb ,it can be daunting. But don’t let that overwhelm you.

“Living without colour is like living without love,” says world-class interior designer ,Kelly Wearstler. “Colour is so powerful, and it evokes so many emotions. … It brings so much happiness and life and love to a space. Colour is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.”

With endless options out there, it is important to assess the space you want to paint, understand the flow of the natural light in the room and how you want the space to feel. We suggest you spend the time thinking about this before going to the paint shop and being overwhelmed by all the choices.

Kelly Wearstler Collaboration with Farrow & Ball Paints Colours
Kelly Wearstler collaboration with Farrow & Ball

1. Understanding your space

The selection of colour in your house is an incredibly powerful tool that not only affects the mood of a space but can completely change the size and shape of the space as well. For instance, if you use a richer colour on two opposite walls, the room will feel narrower and more intimate. But if the opposite facing walls are lighter and you use a dark colour or darker shade at the far end as an accent wall, it actually makes even a small room feel wider.

Paint colours by Little Greene. Colours include Cool Arbour (232), Grey Moss (234), Wood Ash (229).

Off-white and white walls bring in the most light, making the space feel bigger. Naturally darker colours make a space feel cosier and small.

There is an ongoing debate on whether to work with a room's size or counteracting with the size - should you make a small space look larger by painting it in a light colour, or  should you work with the room’s natural features and do the opposite. There is a valid logic to both, but I have generally found that working with, rather than trying to counteract the nature of the room in question works best. This does however depend on the use of the space, the time of day you spend in the space and how you want to feel in the space.

Paint colours by Atelier Ellis. Wall colour is Palimpsest.

The other thing to consider is whether there are any accent features in the room you want to draw attention to? This can be timber panelling, unique skirtings, datum lines or even doors. A great way to introduce colour is to use it on key features to further highlight them in a space.

Paint colours by Dulux. Colours include Brave Ground, Shifting Sands, Folk Tales and Treasure Chest.

Creating datum lines with a change in paint colour is an effective and affordable solution for something truly special.

Paint colours by Paper & Paint Library. Colours include Acqua Viva, Caddie, Desert Rose and Stone 1.  

Using a different colour of paint to highlight architectural features like panelling is a great way to bring in interest to a space.

2. Understanding your natural light

Not all natural light provides the same quality of light to a space, so it’s a good idea to think about your orientation. Natural light at certain times of the day is stronger than at other times and can impact the colour on your walls.

Here are some tips when selecting paint colours.

North facing rooms receive cooler and harsher light

  • Avoid cool colours as they’ll appear even cooler and can look flat. 
  • If you are opting for a neutral scheme, try selecting colours with pink or yellow undertones to keep warmth in the space.
  • If you want to go colourful we suggest yellows or pinks

Paint colours by Paint & Paper Library. Colours include Muga, Paper I, Paper Con and Morning Room.

We love the unique and sharp use of colour in this space, elevating the room and creating something truly special. A feature wall is often the most common choice for a change of colour, but what about somewhere else like the ceiling? We love this image with the rich colour choice on the ceiling, bringing a sense of warmth and comfort to the space yet still achieving an open and airy feel with the neutral walls.

East-facing rooms in the morning are bright and then become cooler as the day progresses

  • Embrace  cool colours like blue or green as these colours will balance the sunshine, making it less intense.
  • If you decide to go for a neutral scheme, try selecting colours with a blue or green undertone to balance the strong light.
  • If you choose to embrace the morning sun, pick a strong colour that will then be bought to life by the sun.
Paint colours by Farrow and Ball. Colours include De Nimes No.299 & Treron No.292 ,Estate Emulsion, Bancha No.298 and Estate Eggshell

South-facing rooms benefit from warm light all day long

  • The consistent sun in these rooms means the colour of your walls will be flattered at all times of the day… lucky you!
  • These spaces tend to look yellower so opt for a cooler tone to make the space feel airy.
  • If you decide to go for a neutral scheme, opt for a cooler base as the room's natural light will provide warmth.
Paint colours by Little Greene. Colours include Baluster 321 and Portland Stone Pale 155.

Neutral earthy tones are a great choice with this even source of light. A great idea is to use an accent of colour with furniture to make the space pop.

West-facing rooms in the morning are cooler and then become warmer as the day progresses

  • We recommend you follow the same rules as the east facing rooms except it is the reverse hours of sunlight here.

3. Determining the feel of the space

The colour of the walls can have such a profound impact on a space that it is important for you to understand what colours you are comfortable with and how you want to feel in the space.

The simplest way to test what colours you are comfortable with is to go to your wardrobe and see if you have any clear favourite colours. Do you have mostly warm or cool colours? Earthy tones or vibrant colours? The colours you look good in are often the ones you feel good in, as you have developed a relationship with that colour subconsciously.

Paint colours by Farrow & Ball. Colours include Elephant’s Breath No.229 in Modern Emulsion and Strong White No.2001 in Modern Eggshell

We love this bathroom with the neutral wall colour, which is perfectly balanced by the white floors and woodwork to create a subtle depth.

How you want to feel in a space plays on the emotional use of colour. Are you trying to achieve a sexy interior, an airy space or a tranquil retreat? Perhaps if you want to feel sexy in the space you would navigate towards black and rich red. If you want to create space and air maybe its white or pale blue on the walls. And if you want a tranquil retreat it is earthy tones or green.

Have a think about how you want to feel in the space and this should help you decide what colour is appropriate for the space.

Paint colours by Farrow& Ball. Colours include Stone Blue No.86 and Estate Eggshell.

4. Don’t forget the finish of the paint

Not only does paint come in many different colours, it also comes in a number of finishes You will need to know which finish is the best paint for your project before you head to the paint store. There are five main types of paint finishes, categorized by their shininess—flat/matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss. Each finish will affect how the paint looks in the specific colours you are considering, so make sure to test out your paint in the appropriate finish to be sure what the final product will look like.

  • Matte paints tend to provide the most coverage but are the least durable, therefore most appropriate in low-traffic areas like dining rooms and ceilings.
  • Gloss paints on the other hand are the most durable and are great on areas like skirtings and architraves to avoid scuff marks from shoes and cleaning.
  • And then in the middle is the satin paint finish which is the most common interior paint finish. These have a velvety sheen and are easier to clean than flat and eggshell paints.
Paint Colours by Bauwerk. Colours include Barley Natural Limewash 

Now that you understand your light, how you want to feel in the space and the appropriate  paint finish it’s time to go to the paint store. We recommend you get a few sample pots and paint swatches on a piece of cardboard so you can get the most realistic sense of the colour. We suggest you try the swatches on cardboard to get the truest sense of the colour rather than painting swatches on an existing colour on a wall.

Paint by Atelier Ellis

It doesn’t have to be all that complicated to choose your colours. Remember you don’t have to paint every room in your house a different colour – in fact quite the opposite. Many interior designers and decorators will limit themselves to a small group of interior paint colours that evoke their desired vibe, and then they use those room colours throughout the house design. Not only does this help you avoid clashing colours, but it also gives the entire project a cohesive feel from room to room to make it feel like one unified whole. Cohesion also makes a small space feel larger.


If you need any other help selecting a paint colour, let us know and we would be happy to help.