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The 13 “Do’s” And “Dont’s” Of Choosing Paint For Your Whole House – Read Before You Paint

My sister’s house was painted 50 shades of light blue when they bought it, and it wasn’t sexy. All bedrooms, bathrooms, den, closets, etc – every room but the main entry were different subtle shades of the same light blue tone. Clearly, the last owner suffered from “whole house paint paralysis” and just went with the “one and done” approach. I get it – picking 11 different paint colors at the same time is challenging, daunting, and just a lot at once, especially amidst all the other decisions you are likely making.

In a perfect world, you paint one room at a time and see how it looks and feels before you go to the next. But whether you are repainting a room to work with the rest of your already painted house or having to choose all of them at the same time, there are things to consider. There is knowledge for those who have done this before, that can help you do what we all want in life – mitigate regret and optimize our home happiness. For the farmhouse, I’m so excited to work again with Sherwin-Williams on the colors of every wall, every cabinet, all the trim work, and yes, even the ceilings. Some houses don’t need a lot of color (the mountain house) and others want more. This house will fall in the zone similar to the first Portland project – main spaces more neutral, with the trees through the windows adding a lot of color, we’ll add color in the cabinets, built-ins, and rooms that need to feel cozier or where I might want to do an unexpected paint treatment. I want the feeling of the mountain house (calm, warm, minimal) but with the charm of our English cottage (playful, more pattern/fun, whimsy). I haven’t figured it out yet or landed on any “for sure” color, which is why this exercise is coming at a great time. How do you get the paint color right on the first try???

DO: Ask Yourself Some Important Big Picture Questions

Not to get too existential on you, but if designing your home is mostly about your personal preference, how YOU live, then you need to seriously consider the answer to these questions before you choose paint willy nilly.

design by william hunter collective | art direction by emily henderson | styled by velinda hellen and erik staalberg | photo by sara ligorria-tramp

Similar Paint Colors: After The Storm SW 9685 by Sherwin-Williams | Inkwell SW 6992 by Sherwin-Williams

How do you want to feel when you are in the room? I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s super important that you let the feeling of the room dictate how it looks, not the other way around. Do you want to feel cozy? Feel at ease? Or feel like partying?

Similar Paint Colors: Pure White SW 7005 by Sherwin-Williams | Lattice SW 7654 by Sherwin-Williams

Do you want all the colors in the house to work together or would you rather have different exciting experiences in each room? The level of overall color cohesion is absolutely a personal preference and really comes down to how much you can handle. I like for open spaces to have a shared vibe and color palette – but if the rooms are separated from each other by doors, then have more free rein to create different color experiences. For me, it’s all about vibe, and I like tones that feel like varying degrees of a hug. Maybe some hugs are more in the tickle arena, some a quick familiar squeeze while others are a long soft embrace. The colors don’t need to match or carry through necessarily, but the vibe needs to match what you want for the overall home experience.

Paint Color: Cyberspace SW 7076 by Sherwin-Williams

What are your true comfort colors? The ones that always make you happy. Go with your comfort colors for main spaces (take risks in rooms less traveled). While paint is easier to replace than wallpaper, it’s also just good to get in a habit (one that I’ve had to break) of not “buying something you might return,” even if it’s a coat of paint. If you’ve never in your life opted for a lavender scarf then be wary that you might be falling for a trend that is misguiding your true long-term emotions (tastes).

DO: Look At Your Favorite “Everyday” Clothes… What Are Your Comfort Colors?

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: portland media room reveal

Paint Color: Waterloo SW 9141 by Sherwin-Williams

How much color and pattern can you really handle? I’ve found that this changes throughout your life depending on external forces. I used to love a ton of color in every room, but as my life has gotten more stressful and chaotic with kids, I find that I like more negative calm space, moments of pattern, and surprise.

DO: Zero In On The Purpose Of The Room And Let That Guide Your Paint Selections

Paint Color: Laurel Woods SW 7749 by Sherwin-Williams

A room that you want to have a lot of lively fun conversations in might look (and yes, feel) different than a room where you want to snuggle and watch Friday night movies. Also for you maybe it’s similar.

DO: Sit In The Room And Really Picture Your Mood, Your Actions, How You Want To Feel When Using This Room, Not Just How It’s Going To Look In A Photo

A TV room or den can go way darker in tone than a sunroom, for instance. Your primary bedroom should help you wind down and fall asleep, not overstimulate your visual sense. A dining room can be more bold and exciting and a powder room can be the riskiest room in the house – becoming a secret experience for guests.

DO: Have Some Darker Colors To Pull Your Eye Farther Into The Room

 design by ginny macdonald | photo by zeke ruelas

Similar Paint Colors: Cheviot SW 9503 by Sherwin-Williams | Rain Cloud SW 9639 by Sherwin-Williams

I’ve made this mistake before, where everything is too same same and light, which sounds nice in theory but adding a darker paint color (or even a piece of furniture) on the opposite side of the room (think a dining room you can see from the living room, or built-ins in the corner of your family room) can help draw you into the room and feel grounded. It actually makes the room feel bigger. Don’t be afraid of a couple surprises.

DON’T: Paint A Dark Room “White”

 design by ginny macdonald for ehd| photo by zeke ruelas

Similar Paint Color: Sea Serpent SW 7615 by Sherwin-Williams

The sad truth is that rooms with more natural light can be both light, medium, and dark. But rooms with very little natural light can feel really “dead” and cold with just white paint on the walls and no light bouncing around. You don’t need to go dark, bold, or busy but just consider a warmer or more inviting tone to cozy up the dark space. Lean into the darkness.

DON’T: Worry About Your Architectural Style

photo by tessa neustadt

Similar Paint Color: Tinsmith SW 7657 by Sherwin-Williams

It’s my opinion that permanent fixtures (tile, flooring, molding) need to work with the original architecture of the home, but paint color? No. Any paint color can work with any architectural style as a backdrop for all the rest of your decor. For the farmhouse, I’m leaning towards more muted but happy blues, greens, roses, and mustards but you bet cobalts, saturated yellows and reds could look great – it’s just a totally different vibe. I love an unexpected paint color on an older home – just make sure you do, too 🙂

DON’T: Forget Your Other Permanent Fixtures

design by ginny macdonald for ehd | photo by sara ligorria-tramp

Similar Paint Colors: Pure White SW 7005 by Sherwin-Williams | Needlepoint Navy SW 0032 by Sherwin-Williams

This is a reminder not to design in a vacuum. You like mauve? Great me, too. But a mauve paint color next to a medium-toned wood floor can either compete and look muddy or create a lovely cocoon-like feeling – either way, it’s important to see the two colors next to each other (not just on a digital mood board). Same with tile, fireplaces, and anything else more permanent that you have already chosen – which brings me to my next point…

DO: Choose Paint (Almost) Last

Similar Paint Color: Rain Cloud SW 9639 by Sherwin-Williams

Hear me out. You have less flexibility in colors with vintage rugs, wallpaper, and tile even than you do with paint colors, so choose those first (if you find them in time). I like to use those pieces as a jumping-off point and then pair the paint color with it – ensuring they look good together. Sherwin-Williams has so many varying shades of the same color for this exact reason – to give you endless options and flexibility – to be able to work with anything in the home. So don’t try to find a rug that works with your paint selection – if you can, do it the other way around.​​

Take advantage of digital resources like Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap Visualizer so you can picture what paint colors will look like along with your actual finishes.

DO: Consider The Colors Of The Nearby Rooms

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | design by arlyn hernandez

Similar Paint Colors: Pure White SW 7005 by Sherwin-Williams | Mountain Pass SW 9655 by Sherwin-Williams

This is kinda specific but pretty important – if you can see multiple rooms from one vantage point – a living room that can see the kitchen, dining, and family room for instance – be sure to select colors with that in mind. You don’t want the colors to be A. too close that they look like they are slightly off or B. look like a funhouse (in a bad way). When putting together an outfit you don’t choose your cardigan independent of your shirt underneath, no, you make sure you like how they look next to each other because you see them at the same time.​​

Sherwin-Williams Peel and Stick paint samples are a game-changer here! You can see how two colors will work together without making a mess with wet samples, move them around to see how they look in different lighting, and help you have more confidence in your decision.

DON’T: Paint One Wall An “Accent” Color Unless It Architecturally Warrants Its Own Moment

design by molly britt | image via house beautiful

Similar Paint Color: Mountain Pass SW 9655 by Sherwin-Williams

This is a general design pet peeve – when a random wall is painted a bold color for seemingly no reason other than to be different. An accent wall must warrant the attention, it needs to be a focal point, not just randomly placed. My two favorite places for accent walls are behind a bed or in a niche.

DON’T: Think That Every Paint Color Has To Be The Star

It’s not a “go big or go home challenge” on every wall and unless you know that the rest of your decor can handle it, you might be setting yourself up for just too much. If you love a lot of color then you likely also have a lot of color in your furniture/textiles as well and a bold color on the wall might be too much once it’s within that context. Use some restraint to ensure that the room doesn’t look like SpongeBob SquarePants’ college dorm room.

DO: Give Your Eye Some Negative Space

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house living room reveal

Paint Color: Pure White SW 7005 by Sherwin-Williams

Like an outfit, if every room is bold and wild your eye doesn’t know what to look at and everything becomes competitive and sometimes even visually chaotic. This is awesome in a restaurant or bar, someplace where you are meant to feel jolted alive so you order another round, but in your home you should allow some calming visual moments and some transitions spaces between big colors. What color “calms” you down is up to you (and can easily be black, navy, light gray – doesn’t have to be white or beige).

DO: Consider What You See Out Of The Windows Of Each Room

If you are surrounded by trees you might not want your walls green, so that the trees outside can pop and be more of the focus. If you face an apartment building that you don’t love or are directly on the street, you can bring your eye inside more by painting the room a happier tone (also consider bottom-up shades for privacy without blocking natural light).

DON’T: Forget The Ceilings, Casings, Trim Work, Or Just Doors

photo by matthew williams | via country living

Similar Paint Colors: Allegory SW 9553 by Sherwin-Williams | Ghosted SW 9545 by Sherwin-Williams

A great way to add color, contrast, and style without overwhelming a room with a dark or bold color, is to just paint the ceiling or the casing, baseboard, and molding of a room. Just be mindful that painting the actual window mullions (the grids) isn’t always easy to paint over or undo as the paint can build up over time and cause the window to stick. I love when the base, doors, ceiling moulding, and window casings are a contrasting color, while the walls remain a softer neutral.

See? There is a LOT to consider even before you get to selecting the right color itself (that’s the next post, I promise). Remember, the key to a great home that you love is leaning into your personal preference and knowing how you want to use the home – my hope is that with some guidance and forethought we can all ponder, think, ask ourselves questions and THEN paint, not the other way around. 

This post is sponsored by Sherwin-Williams(R). All opinions are my own.

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp


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31 thoughts on “The 13 “Do’s” And “Dont’s” Of Choosing Paint For Your Whole House – Read Before You Paint

  1. It’s like you were in our house last night. We just bought a new house and we had to choose all the paint colors because our painters have limited availability before we move in. SW has a really nice and legit free service right now, where you can schedule a free 30 min color consolation with a real live person over the phone. Then they send you a write up with what you talked about, additional options, sheens, ect. It was daunting to pick all the colors at once, but we stayed within one color collection and it helped the process. Also the peel and stick color samples are a game changer- no more wasted sample paint!

    1. Also, I was in that opening and not sure how I feel about it! Just kidding y’all, I’m not mad. But I do have a very very cohesive color scheme. I think it’s weird that the conclusion that someone painted subtly different but coordinated hues of the same color throughout their house means they didn’t think about it enough. That’s hard to do! It may not be everyone’s style, but it is not easy to get 5-10 shades of blue (or whatever) to work together harmoniously and that person is probably a lot like me: I like living around very few colors and I want every single room in my house to the have exact same vibe of inner peace. I don’t want drama in the bedroom due to the paint, I don’t want a showstopper moment in the entry, I don’t want energy in the dining room to come from the yellow wallpaper. I like. big. blue. and I can not lie. But I promise that I have put a lot of thought into this home.

  2. Hi Emily! This is so helpful as we’re building our home and I’m trying not to fall into the “just paint it all white!” mindset. I have a question about undertones. I really like F&B’s Hay as a nice subtle yellow for my kitchen, but I will have lots of greens outside my windows in the summer and lots of yellows, browns, oranges, etc in the fall. Hay has a green undertone but I want it to lean way more yellow than green. Will the trees bring out the green undertone or tone it down? What about in the fall… will my room feel green? Thanks so much for being a wealth of knowledge through this entire process.

    1. I love F&B’s Hay for my future kitchen remodel, too. I think I’ll ultimately go with something more in the creamy yellow area to match my range, but I’m not quite to picking out colors yet. I really like how EHD paints large pieces of paper to place throughout the room to see how the color changes with the light. Paint manufacturers with the peel snd stick options make this process even easier. It’s hard to say how a paint color will look in your room without actual samples. I’ve noticed the green undertones of Hay, but I’ve also seen photos where it looks more creamy, so definitely test before you choose. Good luck!

      1. Thanks Suzanne! I definitely plan to use the giant sample papers and move them around, but my biggest problem is that I currently don’t live anywhere near the new house! So I’ll only be able to test the color a few times. I guess I could always repaint if it’s not good! Good luck finding your perfect creamy yellow.

        1. Designing from afar is so hard! Hopefully a couple test visits and looking at a lot of online photos will equal success. Repainting is no fun (I’ve been there).

    2. Mallory, Emily has some very good old posts on here that address your questions. I would do a search on this site (upper right corner of the page) to find them. Also, check out Maria Killam’s blog. She is specifically a color consultant and you will find even more info there (not just tips, but good explanations so you can understand what’s happening). She’s credited EH’s work several times in the past as good examples of working with color, so I think it’s okay to mention her here.

  3. I love your content and images, all very helpful and beautiful, but the titles and formatting such as dos and don’t, and top mistakes are starting to feel ‘how to lose a guy in 10 days’ sensational. I’ll continue to click every day without the drama, promise.

  4. Agreed! Lots of what size rugs, how to choose paint, how to host a party, best of: boots, jeans, etc . . . looking forward to some original designing content soon!

  5. Just painted my whole house Farrow and Ball Cornforth White. It’s the most perfect, soothing pale grey that compliments warm wood floors and furniture. And it looks good on cloudy grey days. It’s my third house painting this color and I’ve loved it in each one. When you know, you know!

    1. Thanks for sharing this endorsement. Checked ou FB content on this color and it would be my go to based on my love of grey, love of colors that change subtly based on weather and light (I mean maybe they all do but some really reward paying attention) and it’s Complimentary colors. But I’m struggling to commit to a big change in a home with lots of flow from room to room that currently has SW Navaho White everywhere (doors and trim). Despite my affinity for a Cornforth White, I’ve tried to work with this color. It’s a warm cream that I enjoy about 70% of the time. But as northern winter approaches I find it feels dingy and I’m itching for something that works better in winter light. I wish this list addressed the fact that unless you are in CALIFORNIA the view outside the windows may be lush and green half a year, and stark, white or grey the other half. I’m also considering the investment of redoing the colors on three floors. The remodeled areas got painted a brighter white and a large basement area went khaki, making me feel trapped into a green/yellow pallete I never would have chose. Sigh. If you have a fresh start and can do the whole house at once, good for you. Enjoy that rare luxury and read all the articles like this you can.

  6. Thank you so much for this post! I just purchased a 1933 Tudor in Atlanta and am struggling with deciding on colors. I am feeling a neutral palette with similar tones throughout.

  7. Hey, Emily. The link for Ghosted needs to be corrected; it currently points to Mountain Pass (SW 9655). Also, this post is awesome and reminds me of how much I LOVED the Portland House. XO

  8. “SpongeBob SquarePants’ college dorm room” Bahahaha 🤣😂 I’ve seen too many houses that look just like that!

    Such sa5gd advice. I’ve had green hue colour samples stuck onto my lower kitchen cabinets and everyone who enters my home has had to choose which one they like and explain that reasoning (basically, I interrogated them on the spot!).
    After weeks of that… I changed my mind in an “Aha!” moment, and I’ve moved toward aqua!
    So, the interrogation begins again! 😅

    When I was choosing an exterior colour, I narrowed it down to two. I painted both entire sample pots onto the front of the house so I could ‘watch’ them change in different light over the course of a week.
    One was obviously a bit too art nouveaux for a really old house and I went with the other (Dulux, Open Sesame). Passersby commented on the ‘wrong’ colour saying “Oh no! I hope they don’t paint it that one” and I knew I’d chosen correctly.
    The neighbourhood kids nicknamed my house “The Happy House” after it was painted = mission accomplished!

    While choosing paint colours is to make a house YOUR home and ‘do you’, I’m all for bouncing samples off others to get a bigger picture. 🤗

    1. Rusty, I painted my house shades of yellow, too. It was yellow when I purchased, and the new color was a close match… in Benjamin Moore Historic Colors, but can’t remember all the names. I love Dulux, Open Sesame!


    3. haha i love that you were incorporating the feedback of people walking by! Here is to happy neighborhood houses.

  9. I will forever love the Sherwin-Williams color you used on the cabinets of the Portland kitchen. Stunning!

  10. What’s the best way to match an existing wall color? Do I try to pry off a chip from some inconspicuous spot? Do any of those iPhone apps work well? A previous owner of my house was a color consultant and did a genius job choosing the colors. Several rooms use more than one color but it reads more like a shadow than a different shade. It’s also a very velvety matte finish so I’d love recommendations for matching that, too.

    1. I love blue too Emily, but this post is ALL about blue. There are so many more colors that you could have mentioned. Not terribly helpful, I’m afraid.

      1. Amber, which one did you buy? I’ve always wanted one of those. Maybe I will put it on my gift list this year.

  11. I really enjoy your blog and find it such a great source of info. and inspiration! There are so many great articles I’d like to save on pinterest to refer to at a future point in time (it’s my primary source for filing info.). Can I respectfully request that you add a pinterest option to your photos/features? Thank you!

  12. Thanks for the tips! Also I love the buffet/sideboard in the media room with the Waterloo paint. Can you share where to find it?

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