Jean Molesworth Kee on choosing the right paint color | Home Front

Mar 22, 2012

Jean Molesworth Kee, an architectural color consultant and author of the blog The Painted Room, joins Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza on the weekly Home Front chat. Together, they give advice about how to pick the right paint colors.

NOTE: This chat is separate from the Mad Men design chat.

POLL: Would you paint a room this color?

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We could chat about paint every week - there is so much to say.  We have a paint issue today in Local Living and online too. Our guest is Jean Molesworth Kee of The Painted Room. She is an architectural color consultant and has amazing ideas on paint colors. Check out her pins on Pinterest, too. Let's get going. Send us all your paint questions and we will answer them.

Let's go.

Hi everyone! Thanks for having me on today... Nothing could be more fun than stirring the color pot!

We would love to have you all on our chat just following this one from 12 to 1 pm. I will be chatting with Vern Yip, a co-judge on this year's Washington Post  Mad Men contest. Results of the contest will be published in the March 31 Washington Post Real Estate section.  Vern is the well known interior designer and star of HGTV's Design Star and Bang for Your Buck. He is originally from McLean. We can talk about mid-century modern or anything else you'd like. Is anyone having a party for the show's season opener this Sunday?

So click on here to join the chat.

I'm really looking forward to reading this chat! What colors of do you think would go well with bathroom tiles that are the color of Benjamin Moore's Elmira White? I'm looking to make my bathroom feel like a serene oasis. Thank you!

Sounds like the tiles are a soft neutral. You have many options but I just love soft watery blues and greens for a bathroom. Take a look at Sherwin-Williams Sea Salt or Quietude and Ben Moore's Gray Wisp (a close match to Restoration Hardware's Silver Sage), Green Tint or Gray Cashmere.

The painters are about to begin painting my soon to arrive baby's nursery. Do I need to ask them to use low Voc paint or some other kind of special paint? We are using BM white dove on the trim and a custom color on the walls that I believe is based on a Sherwin Williams color but matched by Benjamin Moore. I still have two months before the baby arrives, If I use regular paint will the fumes have dissipated by then?

Most major paint brands are low Voc these days. There is little difference between low and zero Voc.  I would look at Ben Moore's Natura line. And yes, the fumes will have dissipated by then.


I have a cathedral ceiling in our large master bedroom, which is painted the same cream color as the walls and trim (trim includes crown molding). I'd like to paint the walls a pale blue-lavender, which I find serene and attractive. In doing so, I'm thinking of keeping the trim about the same color (maybe a little whiter?) but don't know what to do about the color for the cathedral ceiling. Thank you!

In bedrooms, I often like to create a sense of  quiet envelopment-- painting the walls the same color as a ceiling gives the space a cocoon-like feeling. Sometimes by painting the ceiling white, the eye is then actually drawn down to that line of contrast where ceiling meets wall.  You should be fine going white on the ceiling and trim,  but keep the wall color fairly pale to avoid that contrast.

What is that color that looks like putty? It is commonly used on older French painted furniture and has some grey and maybe some green in it. Thanks!

"Putty"-- one of my favorite, murky complex colors. So many colors look great against it (white, coral, etc) Take a look at Farrow & Ball's French Gray or Ben Moore's Clarksville Gray or Horizon Gray.

Please take our paint poll today! It's a fun question. Access it here!

My roommate's cat peed on my restoration hardware bathmats... this is why we can't have nice things! Any suggestions on how to get the stain and smell out? I have sprayed with stain spray and will wash them tonight. Should I use anything other than just plain detergent?

Oh dear. Are these rubber or cotton? You said mats so I assume they are what you put in t he bottom of the tub. I would put in a little Clorox 2 or something like that with your mats tonight. Maybe you should keep the door to your bathroom closed at all times...

I (illegally) brought some paint back from England earlier this month. I find the paints over there to be much richer and glossier than US paints. Think of all the marvelous front doors you see in London, Dublin, etc. and then think of the front doors here. What's the difference between US and UK/European paints? Pigtown*Design

Yes, you are probably thinking of Fine Paints of Europe and their oil-based Hollandlac finish. 'Tis true-- that mirror-like finish that you see on the doors of London can really only be achieved with a laborious (sanding and more sanding)  prep process and many coats of an alykyd (oil) product.  That said, Farrow and Ball was an early adopter of "green" and most of their products are now alkyd-free.  You can still find high gloss oil in some major paint lines but it is being legislated out of existence. Stock up!


No question, I just loved the article...

Thanks so much for saying so!

My husband and I just bought our first home! Very exciting but also terrifying because there are so many rooms to fill. While the thought of decorating is exciting, it's a bit scary making big decisions, paint color, big furniture purchases, etc. Do you have any general guidelines for where to begin with a big, blank slate like this? Thank you!

Congratulations on your first home! That is very exciting. And, I know, overwhelming, too. My general advice is this: take your time. I know the tendency is to decorate and fill your house as soon as possible, but try to be patient and pick things that you really like vs. things you need to fill the empty spaces.  And, if you have to paint,  I recommend painting all the walls in light, neutral colors that will go with everything you have. As you start acquiring new pieces and rugs and art - really pulling the rooms together -  you can pick new wall colors from there, if you want.

What do you think of painting a textured ceiling (popcorn) a color?

It will likely bring more attention to the ceiling, and therefore, the texture.

I have a large coffer ceiling in the bedroom. What do you think of painting it with sky and clouds, or night sky and stars?

Is this a child's room? If so, if you want to paint a sky "scene," then I would go with sky and clouds. But if this an adult room, I would just go with a blue ceiling, no clouds. But that's just my opinion. If it's your room and having an image of the sky and clouds on your ceiling would make you happy, you should go for it! 

In our living room, we have bright red couches with red, gold and olive throw pillows. The rest of the furniture is black and the carpet is off-white.  We want to paint, but I don't even know what color family to start in that would compliment the red without competing. Help!

I might go with something that blends with the gold in the pillows. I really like Yellow Ground or Citron by Farrow & Ball. Benjamin Moore Golden Honey is good too.

For Cat problem Nature's Miracle for smell --may take several applications Oxyclean max strength spray for stain

Meow. I've heard this product is very good. Thanks.

I'm buying a house and need to paint before moving in. I need to move fast!  What are your go-to greige colors? I'd like something with a lot of depth for the bright south facing living/dining/hall stairs with vaulted ceilings. For my bedroom, I'd like a soothing grey, it also has vaulted ceilings and is west facing. Thanks!

Some great go "grays"  (mid-tone w/ some depth)):Ben Moore:  Metropolitan AF-690  and Thunder AF 685 (great with crisp white trim)  . Horizon, and the paler Edgecomb Gray and Revere Pewter are nice. Sherwin Williams: Sedate Gray, Useful Gray, Analytical Gray; C2 Archival is lovely as well.

Remember that you are pregnant with the child. When you breathe the fumes, the baby breathes the fumes.

Very true. Thank you for this.

Do you know when tickets are going on sale? I just checked the website and they aren't available yet. The tour starts April 14.

I have one of the organizers on the phone. You don't actually have to buy tickets in advance before you go. They are available each day at the door. The entrance fee is $20. Parking is available on the streets nearby. The dates are April 14 to May 13. We are all looking forward to the 23 designers work.

My father recently moved into a senior apartment and we are putting his house on the market this spring. The house needs to be repainted, inside and out. The real estate agent and her designer want us to paint the inside various shades of beige. Their argument is that the house should be neutral to appeal to most sellers. But we were thinking pale blue in some of the common rooms and pale yellows and greens in the smaller rooms. We also like white ceilings and the agent is recommending that the ceilings be painted the same color as the walls. Is beige really that popular??

I have to side with your agent on this one. It's not about beige being popular, it's about the fact that it's such a neutral, almost non- color that goes with everything, that it disappears. When perspective buyers walk through they will notice the structure of the house, not the walls they will want to repaint because none of their furniture will go with yellow, blue or green.

We are finally ready to remodel our 1958 master bath. We want it to be classic, so we are thinking of white subway tile with gray grout and a soft gray paint on the walls (other ideas welcome)! But we're not sure what finish is the best choice for fixtures: chrome, polished nickel or satin nickel? We don't want it to look dated in five years.

I would go with either polished or satin nickel. I don't think you can go wrong and it will go well with your gray grout and paint. Choose the most classic, timeless fixtures you can find.

I'm having a huge problem with my wood front door. For years I had it painted with BM high gloss oil paint in Essex green, quite dark.  Now, due to the lower VOC's and darker pigments, this paint is impossible to work with. It goes on gummy.  My painter tried Fine Paints of Europe, but it seeded when brushed on. Do you have any answers for a high gloss paint in a very dark green that will work for me?

So funny! My front door was also painted Essex Green and I'm dealing with the same issues. I tried Fine Paints of Europe Coach Green (Hollandlac) -- just FWI the color has a bluish cast compared to Essex.  The answer may be to strip the door all the way down and try the Hollandlac (there aren't many painters who do this well) in a color match to Essex.  This is a good product, but prep is everything.

I have a townhouse with a living room and step up dining room. I was looking for some thing that could go with a olive green living room set or just a color that is neutral.

A nice warm camel would be lovely. One of my favorite warm neutrals is Sherwin Williams Ivoire. Also take a look at Ben Moore Papaya, Powell Buff, or Desert Tan. Those warm tans would certainly complement olive upholstery and would look great with shots of red (accessories).

I'm installing new hardwood floors. I see many espresso colored floors in design magazines. Is this a passing color trend or will that dark color have staying power? Camilla

Wood floors, whatever color, are classic and will always look great. Dark floors are not a trend, they are  a classic look as well. I think it's a great choice, especially with light walls.

What color would you suggest for kitchen cabinets in a kitchen that has oak floors, and lots of windows, and is open to dining and living room areas. I was thinking of a soft sage green.

Sage green could be just lovely for kitchen cabinets. Take a look at my Pinterest board "Colorful Kitchens" . There are many examples of painted cabinetry. You might also want to consider a grayed-off color to balance the warm tones of your oak floors. Take a look at  Ben Moore's "Hearthstone" 1601. Major cabinetry lines are now offering more grays.  There is also a fabulous line, Crown Point Cabinetry, who uses Farrow and Ball paints-- just beautiful.

Someone last week asked about a dark eggplant color for a powder room. Sherwin Williams Blackberry is a good one for that. I did this a few months ago in my upstairs hall bath, and it is fabulous, even though it's an interior room with no window. The tub wall was already white tile in excellent shape, so I left it alone. I used SW Ceiling White for the ceiling and trim; painted the vanity that same white (also semigloss) and gave it a new cultured marble top in white, and changed all fixtures to brushed nickel. Use a tinted primer and three coats to get the deep color. The result is worth it.

Sounds divine. Please send photos!

My deck is painted gray with white railings and I have a white-framed glass table with white chairs. So I like the crispness of the whites and grays. However, the table has seen better days so I've been looking for a new one, but there's nothing out there in white. Everything is in bronze, taupe, brown, natural wood and occasionally black. Should I hold out and wait for white to come back, or go with one of the warmer tones? If I switch the table, should I get chairs that match it or keep the white chairs?

Could you repaint the white part of your current table? If you want a different table, you could always paint one that you like the shape of - and it doesn't have to be new. Check local flea markets or consignment shops for tables with shapes that you like and ignore the color because it can easily be changed. As for the keeping a set, I definitely dont think you need to do that.  I actuallu think it's more interesting to have tables and chairs that are not matching.

I'm  ready to change my walls from off-white. I have a new pale grey/silver berber carpet and want to paint the walls in living room a shade of grey that is not too dark and calm & relaxing, yet uplifting.  Trying to keep a neutral organic look to the house. We have wide cherry molding on all windows but do not get direct sun in the room.  Should I continue the grey all the way up stairs? What about the ceilings?

Yummm. Love the warm tones of cherry trim with gray walls. Could be very nice!  Take a look at the images on my Pinterest Board "Gray Walls"  It is a good starting point. Ben Moore "Edgecomb Gray" (similar to Farrow and Balls' Skimming Stone) is very versatile.  The new Ben Moore Color Stories range has some wonderful grays, such as Penthouse CSP-35. Consider also, Ben Moore "Gray Owl" with the lighter "Gray Wisp" in the stairway.


I was thinking of painting three walls and using a large paisley stencil on the "feature wall" Thoughts or suggestions I should think about before hand?

Go to . There are lots of good ideas and tips about stencils. Have you all used them? Send in any tips. Thanks.

So nice to read an article that DIDN'T advise all boring blah neutral everywhere all the time! This is the second time I recall you all doing really great articles on interesting paint. Please continue, and please stop advising people that beige is the way to go. Color is so much less BLAH!

Noted! Less blah, more bravado. Thanks!

Sorry, this isn't a paint question. I seem to be able to pick furniture, rugs, window treatments (the big items) for my rooms. However, I don't have a knack for picking accessories. Suggestions on how to get that beautiful finished look?

Maybe the problem is that you're thinking too much about it. If you are successful at picking out the big things, I think you'll do great at the small stuff. Just keep you eyes open for things that are interesting and that appeal to you, wherever you happen to be. Accessories can be anything from seashells to books to small pieces of art and nature. Literally, anything can be an accessory. You also probably have lots of these things in your house already. Start my looking around in every room and see what you can gather. 

I have a bathroom with no natural light and no window. The walls are fresh drywall, no paint yet, so whats a nice color? Please no white paint. Vanity is chocolate with tan-ish granite, shower is white. Thanks!

No... "white" needs natural light to live, otherwise it simply dies.  Go with some saturated color. Assuming your floors are also neutral, a complex -muted blue could be lovely with the chocolate vanity- take a look at Sherwin Williams Languid Blue or Rain, or Ben Moore's Santorini Blue

Young House Love DIY'd a gorgeous stenciled wall in their office. They have lots of good tips.

Yes, they do. They are a super couple with lots of great ideas.

I am looking for an off-white shade to paint my kitchen cabinets. I'm going for a comforting, creamy, vanilla milk kind of color. Not your basic ivory! I think pure white would look too sterile, but there are so many options, it's overwhelming. It needs a hint of taupe, and a little ivory. Dove White by Benjamin Moore is recommended often, but is that off-white enough? Not ready to commit...

Check out Pointing and Clunch by Farrow & Ball.  Both amazing off-whites with lots of depth. 

We've decided not to find out if we're having a boy or girl...any thoughts on a nice, inbetween room color? I like yellows, blues, and greens in particular.

I usually suggest a pale green color for a neutral nursery paint. I like C2 Gingko or Lichen or Cucumber. Also Martha Stewart for Home Depot Endive or Artichoke Heart.

We have a home with cedar shingles that are stained a medium gray, with white trim around the windowns. Our doors and shutters are currently painted a forest green, but we'd like to repaint them. We're thinking about painting the doors and shutters a dark navy, almost black. Any thoughts/suggestions for a specific paint color? Thanks!

Yes.. a darker blue- based charcoal or black might be an improvement over green and will visually pop against white trim. Ben Moore's Midnight Blue 1638 might work.

Last weekend we lit a fire in our wood stove in the basement. We had some issues with smoke escaping and still now (six days later), we can smell it as we walk downstairs. Any tips on getting the stink out? Thanks!

Turn on a dehumidifier. If you don't have one, go out and get one. It is amazing how it gets smells out right away. My sister just told me it was time to turn mine on for the season since it's kind of warm and muggy already. And it made a huge difference - I turned mine on last night. Here is my article on dehumidifiers by the way. Lots of good tips.

We're thinking of repainting our bedroom a taupe or coffee color. We live in a 50s rambler, so the rooms are small. Should we worried that it will be too dark? We want the space to be cozy. Right now it is a very pale butter yellow, and it just doesn't feel right.

Think about when you spend time in that room-- guessing evenings? So a nice mid-tone neutral could be very cozy in the evenings with lamps turned on. Some great warm "coffee" or "kahki" neutrals are Sherwin Williams Ramie, Ben Moore's Bleeker Beige,or Hot Spring Stones.  These colors are great with white bedding or trim.

Thanks for your input! I'm excited to try these!


Would love to know!

C2 Paint has GREAT reds. There is more pigment in that brand and the reds don't need 4 coats (like other major brands). They have great depth and luminosity. C2 Firefly and Tango are great orange-reds

Was great fun today-- wow my fingers are tired. Until next time!

Great questions and also great answers today by Jean Molesworth Kee. Thanks everyone for being with us today for our paint chat. And if you can, stay with us at for the next chat with HGTV star Vern Yip about mid-century modern and the Washington Post Mad Men Contest.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Local Living section.
Jean Molesworth Kee
Jean Molesworth Kee is an architectural color consultant in Alexandria. Her clients include homeowners, interior designers, architects and developers. Jean received her B.A. from McDaniel College and graduated from the International School of Colour and Design in Sydney, Australia. Jean runs the blog, The Painted Room.
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