Tricks of the Trade: The Power of Paint

Paint is one of the cheapest ways to make a big design impact in your home.


It’s also one of the easiest to mess up. Interior design experts and self-proclaimed paintaholics Julia Buckingham Edelmann of Buckingham Interiors + Design and Julie Fleps of Fleps Designs give us their thoughts on the power of paint.

Have a Plan
Color is personal, but choosing your hues should always be done within the context of a larger plan. “I’ve had clients who want walls to serve as a backdrop to the elements and textures in the room, and others who have always wanted a navy dining room. The key to success is having a plan and not choosing colors randomly,” advises Edelmann.

It’s never a good idea to paint every room in your home a different color; you want to keep a sense of continuity and cohesion. “An artist has a way or organizing colors in a painting, and knows when to stop when it doesn’t feel right,” explains Fleps. “The same rules apply to your home where the paint you choose should make visual sense.”

That doesn’t mean every room has to be the same color or variation of the same color. Paint can be used as a thread to subtly tie spaces together. For example, the red in one room can be picked up in the rug of an adjacent room.

Here are some more tips from our palette gurus:

  • Keep your color tones in the same family—warm or cool—don’t mix Kelly green with sage green or peacock blue with slate
  • Treat hallways and open rooms as passageways with more neutral colors
  • Save creativity for smaller spaces, like a jewel box powder room or a private study
  • Use furniture and fabric (which are a bigger investment) to drive the paint choices
  • Preserve beautiful wood trim or millwork in an historic home with stain, not paint

Look Up
If you think your only option is Ceiling White, think again.

  • For rooms with low ceilings, paint the ceiling the same color as your walls. The visual continuum gives a greater sense of height and gets rid of the “mother ship” feeling of a stark white ceiling
  • Soften the transition between walls and ceiling by using a lighter tint of the wall color
  • Unless you’re looking to add drama (for example, painting a deep hue between ceiling coffers), generally your ceiling should never be darker than the walls

Do Your Homework
How many of us have torn a page from a magazine, only to recreate a paint color with disastrous results?

“Typically a lacquered navy study or luminescent dining room ceiling took more than just a can of paint to achieve,” warns Edelmann. Show your picture to a paint professional, as he’s likely to know all the ingredients and labor it took to achieve the end result.

And when it comes to sampling paint on location, Edelmann suggests putting a different color on each wall rather than grouping swatches together, and always use two coats to get the true color value. “It’s easier to make a decision when colors aren’t competing against one another.”

Paint Resources
If you’re determined to do the job yourself, keep in mind that prep work makes all the difference. “On any job, it’s 80% prep work and 20% application,” explains professional Steve Ragsdale. He also recommends going to an independent paint store rather than an all-purpose hardware store. “You will get the best advice from someone who specializes in paint and understands the color chemistry behind mixing and matching paint.”

Try these online tools for color suggestions:

And don’t forget about the little sample pots now available at most paint stores.

Our Designer’s Favorites

We asked our experts for their “tried and trues” or recent favorites, and here’s what they recommend.

Julie Fleps
Pratt & Lambert Seed Pearl
C2 Potato Leek
Benjamin Moore Mount St. Anne

Julia Buckingham Edelmann
Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace
Farrow & Ball Cornforth White
Benjamin Moore Gray Owl

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