4 Steps to the Perfect Paint Palette

Color says so much about the mood of everything that happens in design. Whether the space is commercial or residential, color sets the tone. For new construction projects, the color palette starts when you are specifying the hard materials in the design. For projects where you are working around existing hardscapes like cabinetry or tile that a client may want to keep, we will work to complement those materials with paint and accents.

Paint and Color is One of Our Design Pillars

I love paint because it is timeless – not always the color, but paint is timeless in the sense that it can easily be updated. Unlike wallpaper, which is awesome and fun, where patterns follow trends and will quickly date a space. With paint, it is so easy to manipulate how you want it to feel in the space.

Paint is a design foundation for me and helps us keep things cohesive, because it provides a natural process of elimination.

Color is Personal

In the 90s I had a business called “Alison Smith Decorate with What You Own Interiors.” When I would meet with clients for consultations, I would note that there was often no sense of continuity in terms of color. I would say, “Listen, I can rearrange all your furniture and maybe add a sofa or whatnot and make it look right, but really I feel like to tie all this together and what would make sense is if you had a fundamental paint palette to really make everything sing.”

As this became a consistent need, I developed Allison Smith Color Seasons, which was a line of 64 colors that were combined in predetermined color palettes so people could easily guide their own way through the selection process.

We all have colors that look best on us, or make us feel good, and I seek to use that in my projects.

4 Steps for Building a Color Palette

Whether you are starting a new construction or simply remodeling a current space, its important that you get all your materials specified before you choose paint colors. It is more difficult to find a perfect tile that goes with your chosen paint color than it is to manipulate the paint around the materials.

  1. Start with Hardscapes. First, you need to select things like flooring, tile and cabinetry. In one of the examples in the video, we started with a very neutral tile flooring.
  2. Determine Your Predominant Color. In the commercial example in the video, our predominant color was the neutral tile flooring. Everything else needed to play well with that color. Every color palette needs a neutral to build off. Neutrals are often white, black, gray or tans.
  3. Decide what Tones/Colors to Highlight. There may be some things you want to bring out or highlight, or some things that you would rather minimize. In our “70’s modern retro” example in the video, we had a high gloss tile that mimics a wood grain, and we wanted to highlight the chocolate color.
  4. Add Accent Colors. Then, we were able to add in some other pops of color.

How to Select Colors

I come up with a predominant paint color by going to the chip chart, which is that big old wall of paint chips at the paint store. I grab a few that speak to me, and then I go to the clerk at the paint counter and I ask them for sample sheets.  Most paint stores will provide them for free. They are a computer-printed piece that are extremely close to the real paint color – a difference really can’t be noticed by the average eye.

I take these color sample sheets and I move them around the space that I’m working on or placing them next to the other materials I’m going to be using.

Then, I will grab several colors that I may want to accent with. At this point, we can be liberal in our selection. We can narrow things down as we go.

In one of the video examples, the client mentioned that they wanted some cobalt blues and maybe some fresh blues that are more marines or turquoises. I try to complement cool colors with cool colors. Once in a while I’ll throw an outlier and stick something warm in.

As I’m building a color palette, I will take some time to see how it feels. Color palettes are really about feel… and they take time to build correctly!

Ultimately, I want to end up with a paint palette that is no more than four colors. Unless the space is very large, using more than four colors will start to feel “patchwork-y.”

The “Cheater” Monochromatic Palette

If you are still not feeling confident about selecting color, I have an easy cheat system that I think makes sense and it will be helpful to you.

For example, let’s say you want to do something semi-neutral. You can grab a chip chart from the paint store. You can see that the colors on a chip are all from the same formula, but they have been tweaked and lightened a little bit as you move up the chart. These colors are all within that family.

For a monochromatic palette, you can literally pick one as your predominant color and then use two more as accents… this works every time!

Other Ways to Work the Color Palette In

However, color doesn’t stop with paint. If you have a color that you REALLY love, but you just can’t make it work in to your paint palette, you can include the color as an accent with accessories or other elements.

An easy, quick fix to really making things feel like they are all pulled together is to weave colors throughout your home in the accents and accessories. You don’t want to just have one of something, but you want it to repeat a bit.  

What other questions do you have about building a color palette for your home or business?