Choosing Interior Paint Colors

Pick a paint hue for your walls to set the tone for the rest of your home

Whether you’re adventurous and ready to splash the walls with a bold color or you prefer the low-fi look of neutral tones, begin your paint project by finding the best color scheme that fits your home and lifestyle.

This guide will help you understand the influence of active and passive colors and how to look beyond paint when planning a room’s color scheme.

How Wall Color Influences Rooms

What colors catch your eye when you are shopping, picking clothes from your closet, or looking at magazines? Once you've noticed a trend, try building a color scheme from it and find compatible accents.

Active vs. Passive Colors

Colors are considered either active, passive or neutral and evoke varying responses in people.

  • Active colors such as yellow and red tend to wake up a room, which makes them well-suited for offices or kitchens.
  • Passive colors, like blue, green and purple, create a calming backdrop ideal for bedrooms.
  • Neutral colors, such as browns, beiges, grays, whites and blacks, neither energize nor pacify. They're perfect for bringing rooms together and creating a natural palette that mimics hues found in nature, or toning down other colors.

Consider the Rooms

Every room has certain features that can’t be overlooked, such as its size, wood flooring or wainscoting. Rather than working against these features, consider how you can enhance them with color.

  • Passive colors tend to recede visually, which helps small spaces seem larger.
  • Active colors make a large room appear warmer and more intimate.
  • Use white paint on a ceiling to increase the impression of height or on architectural details such as elaborate trimwork to make them pop.

Look Beyond Paint

Remember that a room’s color scheme involves more than the paint on the walls.

Make sure must-have items such as furnishings, artwork and accessories support your chosen color scheme. Complementary accessories can come later, once the basics are in place.

Color Schemes

Once you’ve chosen your primary wall color, use the color wheel to create a color scheme for your room. 

The basic choice is various shades and tints of your chosen color – a monochromatic color scheme.

Or you can combine your color with its opposite on the wheel for a complementary scheme.

If you’ve chosen a primary color, bring in two other primaries for a triad, because all three are equidistant from each other.

  • A simple way to describe color is hue. The three primary hues of red, yellow and blue are enhanced by the secondary hues of green, orange and violet. These six hues can be mixed to produce an infinite number of tertiary shades.
  • A tint or shade of a color is commonly referred to as its tone. Decorating with colors within the same tonal range is common. Because colors that appear wildly different may have the same tone, tonal unity isn't boring — it allows you to be adventurous.
  • As with any color rule, however, remember that too much may be bad. If the tone in a room is too similar, the overall effect may be heavy or bland.