This Is the One Thing You Should Always Do Before Painting a Room

Welcome to our Painting 101 series, where we tap the pros to answer your burning questions about paint colors, finishes, and applications. If you have any other questions about decorating, reach out to us here.

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Photo: Grey Crawford

Whether you are planning on using a traditional white, or going for a more daring, out-of-the-box hue, the pros agree that the most common painting mistake people make is that they don’t test the colors out first. “My big advice is always to sample, sample, sample,” stresses Farrow and Ball’s in-house color consultant Joa Studholme. You need to see them at different times of the day, so look at them in the morning, in the evening, and even by candlelight, she says.

Of course, there are particulars when it comes to sampling paint, and it’s a little more complex than simply throwing a coat on the wall and calling it a day. But if you have a little patience and do it right, it will be worth it in the long run, especially if the colors you’re considering are risky hues that you haven’t lived with before.

First “pick a range of colors you like, and make samples that are at least 2-feet by 2-feet” using two coats of paint, recommends N.Y.C. color guru Eve Ashcraft. “Too much of a good thing can be great, or ... not,” but you won’t know until you’ve seen them in a larger capacity than a tiny swatch at the store and experienced them within the actual space. Studholme even likes to make two samples of each color on large sheets of paper so that she can place them on opposite sides of the room and even move them around if needed.

Once you see them on the wall, you’ll realize how drastically different they can appear from looking at the tiny swatches in the store. The way that you view a color is highly affected by the context that it is in. “If it’s surrounded by white, it’s always going to look darker in contrast. When you get them away from white, they’ll obviously look less dark,” says Studholme. So, a blue swatch amongst a sea of blues will look drastically different on the card than on a white background.

The other major factor that determines how we perceive color is lighting. The lighting in your home is probably not the same type in a hardware store, so depending on the type of bulb that is used, and whether you’re looking at it under artificial or natural lighting, colors can appear much cooler or warmer in different settings.

To round out the full paint sampling experience, you should live with the swatches in your home for at least three days so that you can see how it looks in all circumstances: When it’s sunny or cloudy, light or dark, and lit by natural versus artificial light. Once you’ve passed this test, you’ll be ready to confidently commit, without having wasted gallons of paint.

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