5 Key Questions To Consider BEFORE Choosing Your Paint Colours (That No One At the Paint Store Asks You!)

5 Key Questions To Consider BEFORE Choosing Your Paint Colours (That No One At the Paint Store Asks You!)

It’s just paint!

Said the person NOT actually doing the painting. Right!?

Painting is a big, messy job. Whether you do it yourself or hire it out.

The only thing worse is having to repaint because “it’s not the right colour”!

Does this sound familiar?

You loved a colour in your old house.

Hate it in your new one.


You saw the trendy new colour everywhere and were excited your room would be “in style”.

Can’t believe how different it is on your walls.

Picking paint colours is hard.

And expensive when you can’t return all the wrong ones.


It gets frustrating. Even embarrassing when you just can’t seem to get it right.


Asking for help at the paint store isn’t much help.

And who can blame them? They’ve never seen your house. And there’s a line up waiting for paint, after all.

So how can choosing paint colours be less scary?

Knowing the answers to a few questions helps remove the mystery.

And make you feel less inept too. Yeah!

Because knowing WHY a colour might not be working is the first step to knowing which will.

1. What direction does your room face?

Let’s be clear. All those paint colour fumbles aren’t really your fault!

Let’s blame light. Because light controls everything.

Why do you care about which way the room faces?

Light changes wall colour. It’s the most important thing to know.

  • The direction light enters a room.
  • The time of day that light appears.
  • Even light bulbs have a say.

So how does light work?

Light can be warm or cool.

The direction your windows face and let in the light determines how warm or how cool that light is.

Light from the north is cool. It has a blue cast.

If you like a cool toned, cool feeling room that’s great.

If warm and cozy is what you’re after you’ll be looking to counteract the coolness with a warm paint colour.

But colour likes to have its own way.

So the slightly blue cast of the light from north facing windows will make a warm colour you chose a little cooler than you expected.

Or it may coax out a cool, previously unseen, undertone of green or blue in your colour. Shifting light yellow to look more green than you expected. Or turning whites a dirty grey.

While colours that are already cool, like blue, green or grey, will feel right at home in that same room. The northern light doesn’t need to change them much. So your cool walls getting a bit cooler won’t surprise you as much.

North facing rooms are also a good place to play. To embrace what nature gave you. Cool light and probably less light overall. Here’s where a dark colour can step up to make it cozy.

A south facing room gets warm light. With a more orange glow.

So warm paint colours will look the way they’re supposed to (warm) or become warmer still.

Cool wall colours can balance the warmth of a south facing room. While also pushing those colours to be a little warmer, just like it is. Or coax out a surprising undertone. Shifting the colour you thought it was going to be.

Then there’s the whole east and west thing.

The sun rises in the east. East rooms get warm light in the morning.

But the light it gets decreases for the rest of the day. Without direct light, colours start to feel cooler.

They can turn more grey or blue or green, depending on their sneaky undertones.

A west facing room does the opposite. It doesn’t get the morning light.

No direct light means bluer, cooler light.

A west room feels cooler until the afternoon, when the sun finally gets there.

Then it enjoys strong, warm light. And that warm light will have nudged your wall colour into a warmer toned version of itself again.

Even the light from your lightbulbs is warm or cool.

Because it’s light, right?

Paying attention to the colour of the light you can control can be really helpful.

You can use it to gently change the way a wall colour appears.

So the question becomes…

2. When do you spend the most time in that room?

Because the time of day matters to wall colour too.

  • Morning sun is a warm, orangey yellow mix.
  • By noon it becomes strong and white.

Midday light doesn’t want to push a colour in either direction. Because at noon it’s sitting in the middle of warm and cool. It’s neutral.

It allows a colour to be seen as it’s true self.

Midday light is stronger though, so it may wash a colour out for a little while. Making it appear lighter than it is the rest of the day.

  • By early evening light turns cool and blue.

Let’s say your room has a southern exposure, you spend the mornings there and it’s painted yellow….

Well, you better love yellow. And not mind feeling very warm and cozy. All those warm elements combined will make it look and feel even warmer. Maybe too warm.

Painting it a cooler shade can dial down the heat.

Be prepared for a possible shift in that cool colour choice. Knowing the warm light may change it to a slightly warmer shade than you thought.

West facing room? And again, you like it warm and cozy, spend your mornings here and painted it yellow?

Your room will be helped by a warm paint colour to balance the cool morning light.

But you also know to expect it to look slightly more green than it will later in the day.

And by afternoon, when the warm light finally gets there, it’ll be the yellow you chose.

What part of the day is more important to you in that room?

Then pick your colour accordingly.

Yes, it will change during the day, but you know that.

And even if you’re in there all day, you can tweak that colour choice to compensate for that change.

Thinking about the warmth of your light will lead you to ask an important question (that I bet you never thought of).

3. How warm or cool do you want your room to feel?

How does it feel now? Always hot? Pretty cold?

If every finish colour in your room is warm, including the light, chances are it always feels too hot. Adding more heat with a warm wall colour won’t help. Cool walls are the answer.

Or does it always feel cold and grey? Cool or pale colours dominate the room? Then a warmer wall colour will heat things up.

Knowing your light and how you want the room to feel sends you in the right colour direction.

Looking at the room even more closely though, is crucial.

4. What’s outside your windows?

What’s out there can be just as important to your paint colour as what’s in the room.

That’s because wall colours reflect what’s outside.

 Especially very pale paint colours.

Dreaming of white walls?

But your windows face a red brick wall? Your white walls won’t stay white all day.

At some point they will turn a pale, orangey pink.

Lucious trees outside? Wait for a haze of green.

Or a pristine pool? Yup, pale blue your walls will be.

Those reflected colours will bring out undertones in your paint colour that you hadn’t noticed before.

For that matter, vast expanses of any colour inside or outside your room can shift the appearance of a nearby wall paint.

Especially very light ones, since they will reflect it even more.

And that leads us to discover what exactly is in your room.

5. What colours are you stuck with?

The colour of the flooring, expensive countertop, backsplash or new cabinet colour. Or maybe your living room sofa or draperies.

Sure, light might be powerful.

But those colours..they’re bossy.

They all have a say in choosing the wall colour around them.

And especially what’s touching the wall colour.

Think of the new wall colour you’re considering you as an option.

Not the winner.

Not until you hear it out.

And NOT until you put it to the test.

So what’s it telling you?

Is it warm or cool? Muted or a saturated?

Because here’s the danger with a new colour you try to add.

It can make all the existing colours you need to keep look bad.

A pure crisp white wall can make a muted beige floor look dirty.

The cream coloured draperies can bring out the purple in a new blue wall.

Orangey wood cabinetry can make a grey wall look green.

So what’s the solution?

The only way to know what colour will do in your room is to…


1. Make paint colours the LAST thing you choose for a room.

2. Paint 2 coats of the paint colours you’re considering on 2 large pieces of white cardboard. (Minimum 8”x12” but BIGGER is better.)

3. Get 2 more pieces of white cardboard (or tape together white computer paper) that are larger than your paint sample boards.

4. Pin them to the walls of your room. One facing the windows. One on a wall perpendicular to the windows.

5. Attach the paint sample in the middle of it. (So the existing wall colour doesn’t influence it.)

6. Notice how the colour changes in direct and indirect light in the morning, noon, afternoon and night.

7. Place them so they touch an important existing (bossy) colour in the room. Keep both at the angle they will live at.

For example, to see how a potential wall colour works with a floor or counter make sure to keep the wall sample vertical. Don’t lay it horizontally.

8. If you’re starting a room from scratch assemble samples of all the finishes you’ll be using. Group them together at the angle they’ll be installed at.

9. Step back and look at them from a distance.

10. See if they look good together. Does one look too bright or too dull? More clean or dirty?

11. Eliminate any paint samples that glaringly don’t work.

12. Step back and look at the next pairing, until you narrow it down to one.

Congratulations! You have a winner!

And you’ve discovered colour isn’t so mysterious after all.

When you know what to look for.

And you have a system.

You know it changes. But you know why.


  • Your light is special.
  • Your windows aren’t your neighbours.
  • The big trees out front belong to you.
  • That granite countertop is all yours.
  • One trendy colour does not fit all.

No one else has the combination you do.

That doesn’t make paint colours scary.

It makes them exciting and beautiful.




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A No-Fail Guide to Choosing the Right Paint Colour (The First Time)