Choosing Paint Colors for Walls (the Easy Way)

By Kate Riley January 27, 2012

As one of the bloggers over at My Colortopia, I get to answer inquiries and write articles about choosing color for the home, which really is one of my most favorite topics in the universe ever.  They asked me to write about my method for choosing paint color for walls so I’m going to share the easiest way! 

When you’re about to paint your walls something other than white or a pale neutral, I’m a firm believer in starting with something that will actually live in the space as a source of inspiration.  It can be a decorative object, a textile, something organic, a print or piece of art – anything you love that inspires you. Once you find that thing or that fabric, the easiest way to choose a paint color for the walls is to use that source of inspiration as your starting point. 

In my own master bedroom, I wanted a soothing gray with a hint of blue on the walls, so when I repainted it last year, I pulled my color from this Ikat toss pillow.

kates bedroom ikat pillow on sofa


Fabric or artwork is always a great place to start, but it really can be anything that you use as your jumping off point.  How about the pattern on this loose tea canister?  Your wall color can be inspired by an object just like this. Imagine medium gray walls with vibrant coral or tangerine and spa blue accents, gorgeous!

tea cannister paint swatches

To see a ton of inspiring color palettes, be sure to visit one of my favorite sources Design Seeds – a blog all about pulling color inspiration from both organic and tangible objects.  Also, be sure to check out the My Image Inspiration Tool – upload an image and palette will be generated for you!

Here’s another fabric example. I love this Panama Wave fabric from the Waverly Spring 2012 line (soon to be released).  This vibrant print would be wonderful in a craft room, living room, home office, or teen room.  If you used this fabric as inspiration, say for the window panels or toss pillows or to line the back of cabinets, it’s easy to go right to a paint swatch and pull a soft lemongrass or green color – a paler version of the wave – out of the fabric swatch to use on the walls.

choose paint color from fabric


Or take this medallion print pillow cover with a fabulous motif in various shades of blue. Use it as your jumping off point to search for a deep indigo for dramatic bedroom walls.  

old world blue paint blue fabric


Not only can you pull your wall color out of your inspiration swatch, you can decorate an entire room around a great patterned textile. I found this inexpensive toss pillow at Target, I loved it’s inky blue, cream, and spa blue palette.  A great pattern like this can easily become the theme for the whole space!  Add a gray upholstered headboard, crisp hotel bed linens, white nightstand and trim, a complementary rug and a few more accessories, and you’d have an elegant and enveloping bedroom with this deep indigo blue color on the walls. 

ink blue and white bedroom

Leyland Armless Chair in French Ticking Blue; Sassy Ceramic Table Lamp; Arley Mirror; Medallion Pillow by Target; Old World Blue Paint by Glidden; Carleen Indigo Rug; Bowfront Bedside Chest by Malibu Loft; Greek Key Duvet, Williams-Sonoma.


Two rules of thumb I follow when choosing paint color for walls.

1) Keep in mind you always want to test a 2 to 3 foot sample on the wall before buying a gallon of paint from just looking at a swatch. A few extra dollars spent on samples will allow you the opportunity to see the color on your walls in the changing light to decide if it’s too dark, too light, too intense, too blah, etc.

2) Lean towards a “muddier” less saturated version of the color for the walls. I’ve found that colors with a hint of gray or umber as an undertone look much better on the walls than their more saturated cousins which can often be too vibrant and jarring.


Now for some weekend fun!  The team behind My Colortopia put together this  interactive quiz for all of you.  Want to know the best color scheme that fits your personality and lifestyle?   Test out this My Life My Colors quiz!

(Visit the site to participate)



Mine were pretty close, except for a peachy color thrown in as a suggestion.  What do you think of your results?  Were they accurate?  Have fun discovering the recommended palette for you! 

Wishing you all a fantastic weekend!


kate signature image



**I have partnered with Glidden/Akzo Nobel Paints to participate in the My Colortopia program but the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 



  1. Not so accurate, I’m not a pink and red type of girl, but it was fun to take and your post could not have come at a better time! I’m having a paint dilemna as we speak, although I didn’t take the advice I should have and just assumed that the color in the model could be duplicated at Lowes and would look good with my furnishings which are DIFFERENT than the model. Oyy, at least I didn’t paint the upstairs too!

  2. oooh my colours were a pale violet, powder blue and creams…. just lovely. What a super post – very informative and helpful — I am painting my front room and master bedroom soon — thanks for the tips ! jennie. xx

  3. I own a townhouse with a very open floor plan. In fact, the first two floors only have one door each- for the bathrooms. What advice would you give on choosing one color to use in multiple rooms with maybe a few accent walls?

  4. Here’s an idea for testing paint colors: Instead of painting samples right on the wall, go to the dollar store and buy several sheets of posterboard. Paint the sample colors on the posterboard, and you don’t have to paint over them later. You can test multiple colors, and move them around the room to see how the color looks in different places (say, next to the window, behind the couch, down by the floor, etc.)

  5. I so agree with you on the “muddier” suggestion. My downstairs bathroom is a little too saturated for me and it’s driving me crazy!

  6. Where did you get that ikat pillow or did you make it? If so, where did you get the fabric? That pattern and color scheme would look fabulous in my living room! Thanks

  7. Was so nice to see this post since I am just now starting to choose paint! I have very bold color on the walls right now but I am wanting to go into the whites but not stark..more chippy and homey!! I am hoping that I can live with it once all the work is done. I did paint my kitchen a while back with a shade of white on one wall and taupe on the rest but I don’t want my whole house to be taupe! Any ideas?

  8. Love your site! I have shared it with lots of friends! you are hired me to re cover a chair. I need to send you a before and after picture. I am wondering where you got the accent table in the picture above?

  9. I LOVE your website and have reupholstered my first chair with your inspiration. I will post a before and after when the cushion is done. I was curious where you got the round accent table the picture above?

    • Hi Shannon, that’s a Worlds Away gold leaf table I scored for half off on One King’s Lane over a year ago, love it!

  10. I love picking out paint colors :) We’re finally getting around to re-doing our kitchen and I can’t wait to repaint the whole main level. Think we’re darkening the wood floors too! I need to check out your post on when you stained your banister :)

  11. I came up with several colors in my house: beachy sands, blue/greens, and driftwoody brown/gray. Most of the other colors came up are found in my accents too. So good job!

  12. kate, what color is your wall and who makes it? literally looking for about that color (at least how it looks in your pictures).

  13. Great ideas Kate..Hey..I opened an e-mail from BHG a couple days ago and there was your DIY make-over chair staring back at me!

  14. this is a great post!!! FINALLY, actual TOOLS to help in the decision-making process! I know I have heard snippets of this before, but it never really cliked, like using a favorite fabric or accessory to guide your color choice, but STILL, I always picked too colorful, or off by a shade or 2……..and on and on. BUT, I love the Design Seeds and My Inspiration, where it actually generates the pallette – much more precise. YAY!!! thank you!
    oh, and LOVE the featured room, and the navy inspiration boards you created, you are definitely talented at pulling it all together!
    1 more thing – so, say perhaps one did NOT choose wisely, or didn’t “gray down” the color and now has very vibrant blue bedroom walls, when she wanted subdued blue – any tips for fixing this? like a glaze? or some sort of wash over top of the paint? idk…any suggestions?

  15. I tend to deliberate for WAAAYYY too long about which paint colors to go with, and often times, I end up wanting to CHANGE them after I paint. UGH! But lately I have fallen in love with all things turquoise, so my rooms have all been taking on shades of turquoise. My favorite is Sherwin Williams “Rainwashed.” I painted my bedroom that shade. Check out my blog, under “My Master Bedroom” for pics of it. It’s so calming!! I could paint my whole house in it :) LOL

  16. This was a great blog! One of the best and most informative I’ve read recently. I struggle so much with making decorative decisions – this is a tremendous help!

  17. I have always used an inspiration piece as well for picking my paint colors and it hasn’t failed me yet. Another option for testing a sample of paint on your wall is to first paint a large poster board, in the color you want, and then hang that from the wall to see a bigger swatch. Great tips here!

  18. fantastic post! will definitely be coming back to this when it’s finally time to pick colors! (kinda need actual walls first ;) )

  19. it IS! I’ve been looking for the perfect fabric for my laundry room window for over a year now. I’ll message them!

  20. I’m in the middle of choosing paint colors for my daughter’s nursery… hard, hard, hard one. I found the perfect mango orange to add some light and color to one accent wall, I plan on painting a wardrobe a darker shade of hot pink, and I’m looking for the perfect soft, mousy, warm grey to put on the three other walls. I’ve been looking at about a thousand paint chips…

    While I’d love to match paint to fabric or anything existent, I don’t have anything in that case. I find that choosing grey is the hardest. I’m French, so don’t give me hints, I can’t take them, we don’t have the same brands here :-(. The colors are perfectly defined in my head: mango wall, white furnitures and trims, hot pink wardrobe, and soft pink and yellow to tie the rest, plus grey walls. The grey will be the foundation for every other colors to pop up, and I really can’t decide on a shade… I hate that. I wish I had a piece of fabric or that awesome tea canister as inspiration.

  21. I came to your blog because we are painting our master bedroom and I was thinking of a silver gray with a hint of blue for the walls….exactly how you describe the color in your master bedroom. “This was meant to be!” I was thinking….until I went to the original blog post and see that you achieved your color by mixing 2 different Benjamin Moore paints! Aaaaah, the disappointment! I almost had a REALLY easy answer to my color problem. ; ) Do you have any suggestions for picking out the perfect silvery bluey gray without it being too cold and dull?

    • Hi Cheryl, I have BM Affinity ‘Tranquility’ on my walls in my living room, that’s a beautiful blue gray, let me see if I can come up with a few close color matches to my bedroom too!

  22. It reminds me of the time I was still living at home and I wanted blue on the walls of my bedroom. A bit like you use on the background of your blog. We didn’t try it but slabbed it on and it turned out sunny day bright blue. I always said, we should have painted a sun on one of the walls as well.

  23. Great advice! Picking color takes lots of patience and testing…poster board works for me too. Samples in the tiny less expensive size from Benjamin Moore make trying colors less expensive!

  24. Wow Kate! Thanks so much for introducing me to My Colortopia. I know it will be a great resource and inspirational place!

  25. Thanks for the tip Kate! I looked at the color online and it seemed to have a greenish hue (monitor perhaps?) but plan to pick up some swatches and samples this weekend. : )

  26. I loved taking the quiz, but it wasn’t accurate. I hate peach, unless I”m eating them. And the other colors really weren’t me. But thanks for putting it out there, I really did have fun doing it!

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