Every week, we’re asking designer Scot Meacham Wood, formerly of Ralph Lauren and now owner of his eponymous design firm, a question from our readers. This week’s topic is all about choosing paint colors and finishes. Have a decorating dilemma? Comment below and yours might be featured in a future installment.
Q: What are your best tips and methods for choosing paint colors? How do you decide on a finish? —Susan T.
A: Paint color can be (and quite often is) very tricky. Even those of us that who deal in this world every day need a certain amount of trial and error to get things perfect. Let me talk you through my usual process.
1. Determine the Palette of the Room
You should know from the start whether you’re looking for a dark, dramatic space or something more neutral and softer. One common misconception is that small dark spaces will feel lighter with a gallon or two of white paint — I actually find the very opposite to be true. I often take those rooms that have less natural light and make them much darker and more dramatic. My best advice for you is to meet your rooms “where they are” and not try to make them into something that they can never be.
2. Shopping for Paint Options
Now for the fun part: Let’s hit the paint store. You’re always going to be best served if you take a few things along with you while you’re shopping. I’ll often take samples of some of the textiles I’m using in the room, or even a favorite piece of clothing if it’s one of the inspirations of the space. Your “color memory” can often play tricks with you, so having a few references always helps! I will caution you that quite often paint colors read much darker on the walls than they look on the swatches. So if you’re in doubt, I would recommend that you err on the lighter side. But, much like we talked about last time when discussing mixing textiles and patterns, you’re always in better shape if you’re “working from a place of abundance.” If you need two of three colors, pull 20 samples. Get a few lighter, a few darker, some with more yellow, some with more blue. In my opinion, the best part of shopping for paint is reading all of the colors’ names!
3. Shopping for Light
Get the largest paint chips that the shop will give you and head home and start taping them to the wall. It is amazing how much paint colors can vary over the course of a day. Check them out in the morning and take another look at them in the evening. After you’ve edited them down to a few options, I always get a small sample of each color and paint a three-foot square sample on a few walls within the space. Colors are going to be a bit different on each wall based on how much light they have, so put your samples in several places.
4. Decide the Paint Finish
Yes, there’s still another decision to make! Paint will come in several finishes from flat to high-gloss. For wall surfaces, I prefer an eggshell or satin finish. It will have a tiny bit of reflectivity to it, and frankly, it looks amazing by low light or even better by candlelight. You could also use a flat finish, but personally, it feels too chalky for me. But, take a look at your options. Keep in mind that as your finishes get more and more reflective — from flat to eggshell to satin — the imperfections in your walls will become more evident. I’m seeing a lot of lacquered wall finishes these days, and Ilove them, but, your walls have to be in magnificent shape before you lacquer. For the trim, I love a classic semi-gloss finish.
This living room from Miles Redd is kind of right in a sweet spot, as I’ve always responded to this kind of inky, peacock navy. Also, notice that the walls are lacquered — it certainly gives this space a healthy amount of style and attitude.