Home Front: Picking the perfect paint color

May 24, 2012

Every week, Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza help you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? They're happy to whip out their paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself (or call-in-a-pro) advice. They can even help you cope with the eternal pets vs. furniture battle. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. They invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Hi everyone. Terri and I would love to chat about paints today (everyone's favorite topic!). What's your go-to white or favorite blue? Chime in and share some colors. Any paint projects planned for Memorial Day Weekend?



I have a non-working fireplace in a classic brick wall. Since I can't use the fireplace, I want to get rid of the ugly old fireplace screen and put something decorative there. Can you think of anyplace that sells decorative screens? Or ideas of what to put in or in front of the fireplace opening? thanks!

If it's non-working, I agree with your decision to get rid of the old screen. How about sitting a wire basket filled with some white birch logs inside ?

We're painting our child's bedroom, which has a white chair rail. Our plan is to paint a dark color below the rail, with light color above. We're having trouble deciding how dark/light the colors should be, and whether the colors should be in the same family (for instance a dark green w/ a light green). Do you have any thoughts or advice?

Nice idea. I would definitely not go too dark. And I would keep them in the same family - in fact, you can use colors on the same fandeck page that come from the same color family. For example, I like Caribbean Mist on the top and Little Boy Blue on the bottom, both by Benjamin Moore.  Or I like Behr's Parsnip on top and Sea Cap on the bottom.

We have a victorian-style hom on Bainbridge Island that sits on two acres of thickly wooded ground. We are going to re-paint the exterior and interior but cannot decide on colors. We would lkike the exterior to be warm and inviting, but also subdued and subtle. We have a lot of art work to hang in the interior and just plain white seems too distracting - what weould you recommend for colors?

Lucky you! Bainbridge is a wonderful place and the clear, luminous  light there makes colors pop. I like the idea of using Benjamin Moore's Historic Colors for your Victorian-style home. Abingdon Putty or Kittery Point Green would be really nice for the woodsy exterior. For the inside, creams and tans would be nice - Natural Wicker and Pale Almond by Benjamin Moore would be attractive.

Hi Terri and Jura, We would like to let your readers know that there are still spaces available for the ASID Washington Metro Chapter's Spring Spruce Up. It 's a great chance to meet with a designer for a promotional rate, to get advice on paint colors, furniture layouts, etc. It would be perfect for someone who wants help with a small space or just one room, too. Details are at www.asiddcmetro.org. Thanks, Susan Tully, Communications Director

Happy to send this notice out in the chat. This is a great way to learn about working with a designer and what they can do for you. Thanks for sharing this.

I'm painting the master bedroom with BM Quiet Moments (muslin trim). Looking for a color for the 2nd - much smaller - bedroom within sight lines of the master. Thanks.

How about a pretty green-blue? Take a look at Lido Green, Robin's Nest, Bath Salts and Feather Green. All Benjamin Moore.

I really enjoyed your feature on "How to run a neat home on a budget," and I'd love to see the author of that blog as a host here on the chat sometime. I'm sure we could all benefit from some tips about this. Along those lines, I recently instituted cleaning up with my toddler before we go to bed. I call it "picking up the edges" and we just try to get everything up off the floor. We walk through the house putting stray toys into a basket with a handle (me) or a little pull wagon (him). Seems to be working thus far and we don't come down to a mess every morning. (Or at least less of a mess.) Anyway, love the chats.

Thanks. We will try and have more bloggers and professional organizers on the chat as they seem to be very popular with everyone. When my son was little, I had an attractive large basket in pretty much every room of the house that could be used to quickly stash stuff recovered from the floor. At least it corralled books, toys, stuffed animals even shoes in one place. In the evening, we'd go around and retrieve everything and try to put it back in its rightful place. A full time job!

The best white paint ever is from Kaufman. It was used in the Getty Museum.

Donald Kaufman Paints are very popular with artists and museums. www.donaldkaufmancolor.com

I recently saw a picture somewhere (can't remember where) of a nonworking fireplace that had been filled with books--like all those big coffeetable sized books that never fit into bookcases. It looked fantastic and really different.

What a fun idea. And another place to put all those books you don't have a place for.

We decided to paint the exterior of our home a different color. We selected a variety of color combinations we liked. We then met with our painter for his opinion. With his expertise on color, we selected a color combination and got a fantastic looking home.

Go with a pro. Always a good choice.

I hate picking paint colors. I risked painting my small 1st floor powder room an icy blue, thinking it would be more reflective and bright. Instead, it feels cold and institutional. I like to think my taste is classic elegant not fussy. Any color suggestions? Now I'm thinking a golden taupe but obviously I can't decide.

I'm not surprised that the "icy" blue you picked makes the room look cold!

What colors do you like? Start there.  If you like the way the blue looks, but find this shade too cool, try something warmer. Take a look at C2' Mikonos and Raindrop; Sherwin Williams Buoyant Blue, Meander Blue, Timid Blue and Open Air; and Glass Slipper, Woodlawn Blue or Yarmouth Blue by Benjamin Moore.

Hi! I love reading your chats and always take notes. I have one son, and we hope to have another child(ren). I love to decorate my house myself, including painting rooms, so I have basic skills and tools for a paint project. I want to have a kids' growth chart that's a tree with a brown trunk, branches and top. Location question: Do I place it in what is now a nursery? What if the kids grow up and don't want to have it in their room? There's always the hallway where the family photos are displayed, too. No paint in the hallway currently, but I'm thinking of sage green. When it comes to the chart itself, I could use brown paint for a tree trunk and then add some stickers for each kid's height. I can later add a tree crown, fruits, birds, etc. This option is crafty but it will have to stay in the same place or fall victim to kids decor choices, etc. Other options are to buy a chart that hangs on the wall or a wall-decal chart. Please share your thoughts and ask your readers to chime in!

How about painting the tree on the inside of a closet door? You could us any closet in the house.

After years of doing really crisp whites, I am finding my clients and myself drawn to softer, warmer whites. Benjamin Moore's Glacier White is a new favorite. The name is misleading as this white is not the least bit icy. It has a mellowness that I find works especially well when doing an all-white room. It is not yellow or gray and so it works well with other shades of white.

You are right, the choice of the name for this color is misleading. Thanks for sharing this.

Right on time! What wall colors go best with hardwood? I don't like any dark flashy colors but rather light ones.

It depends on what stain you have on your wood floors. I would keep from anything too orangey. You might like Sisal or Buckwheat Flour by Martha Stewart for Home Depot. Champagne Ice by Behr?

I have a transitional house that is very warm with lots of light, (red leather furniture, dark flowery upholstery, red, orange and gold strips and patterns). I think a warm yellow wall paint would tie it all together. But everything has a shade of green, which makes it look dated to me. Any suggestions?

Try Starbright by Behr.

I am going to paint all the rooms in my new condo white. It has a northeast view so gets morning sun. I love the white, white I've seen on decorator shows. Can you suggest a really good white (no yellow, blue or gray undertones) for my rooms in a smallish condo? Thank you.

Try Super White or Moonlight White by Benjamin Moore.

Or make it a plywood cut-out and screw it to the closet door. That way, you can take it with you when you move (and you'll probably move sooner or later).

Another solution...

Put this on something that can be moved when you sell the home. Unless you plan to stay there till you die, the new owners will paint over that beloved memory so if you want this forever, put it on something like a door that can be removed and taken away or a large board that can be moved from room to room is needed. DO NOT leave this behind for someone else to destroy and you never know what the future will bring - job transfers, economics, etc. Just my two cents.

More thoughts on the growth chart. Thanks.

My husband and I are moving back into our Arlington home (it had been rented out for a couple of years), and he'd like to paint the outside (all brick). I've never really liked that look until we start to drive around Arlington and Falls Church and saw some pretty painted exteriors. What do you think about painting outside brick? Ugly? Nice?

I'm going to post this question knowing we'll get some very strong opinions about painting brick. Personally, I like the look of painted brick exteriors. I've also seen plenty of non-painted brick exteriors that are nice, too, but I usually like the painted look better.

We have a small powder room too and I painted it BM's Wedgewood Gray. With white trim, the color looks warm and cozy and not icy at all.

Great suggestion. Thanks for sharing.

I really think I should be sending this question to a therapist, but am hoping you can help!! I need to paint my dining room and am paralyzed with indecision. We have many paint sample squares on the wall and they all look wrong. Here are two specific issues- what do you think of blue for a dining room? I'm sick of red and can't think of another color. Also, most of our hosue is French Country, but I am trying to ease away from that look Any ideas how to pick a blue (or really any other color, as I said, am wracked with indecision) that wil look clean and modern without feeling cold?

We recently did a story on a house in Alexandria that had a blue dining room. They used Inuvik Ice by C2. I remember their color consultant Jean Molesworth Kee telling me that she doesn't use too many blues in the dining room as a rule. She told me that if you follow color psychology, many blues are often cooler colors that suppress appetite. But this particular blue she chose was a muted blue-green shade and balanced the warm colors of the cherry furniture. It adds mood and drama to candlelight dinners.

Benjamin Moore 's CHINA WHITE. Used it for years in many homes. Buyers love it, Sellers love it. Recommend it to all my clients.

Great tip. If buyers and sellers love it, it's a winner.

When I am trying to find a new color for a room, I usually know the general color family. I am going broke and wasting a lot of paint buying sample sizes of paint. Any suggestions of how I can find my perfect shade without ending up with 5-8 containers of samples.

Have you tried the C2 Ultimate Paint Chip? It is seven times larger than the average sized paint chip and helps you visualize the paint quite well. I also might suggest purchasing a fandeck of the paint brand you prefer. Then you can hold up all the chips you want without making a further investment.

I had marked my kids' heights with pencil on the inside of a door frame between the kitchen and dining room. Once, I hired a housecleaner who diligently scrubbed all the markings, names, and dates off the door frame. So I vote for using something portable for a growth chart.

I hate it when that happens!

I have used Sherwin Williams White Flour throughout our house and it is great. It's warm without being yellow and not too stark. I have lots of colorful artwork, rugs, etc. so I like white on the walls. Just a suggestion for people to look at (SW and Duron are now one and the same).

I will add that one to the list. Thanks.

I'm struggling to find a good green pain--Benjamin Moore colors, preferably--that's not too dark, not too sage, not too mint, not too apple/lime/neon green for a 3-year-old boy's room. He is quite insistent that the room must be green. One wall will have a 99"x59" wall decal mural, either in a deep blue (Pantone 468c) or dark gray (Pantone 425c). The rug is a pool blue and cream stripe from West Elm. Maybe BM Cucumber, or Veranda View? Any other suggestions?

Hard to say without knowing what the blues in the room look like, but take a look at Lakeshore Green, Sweet Dreams, Fresh Dew, Lido Green (all benjamin Moore)

DO NOT paint the brick! I am a realtor - do you know how many homes that buyers have been put off by peeling paint on brick? Or they will say, what a shame the owners painted the pretty and rustic brick with such a nasty color! Whatever, you do, DO NOT paint the brick!

Another opinion...

Why are there are thousands of off-white colors, all almost exactly the same? They ridiculed this concept in a great Frasier episode.
Niles: What color is the new carpet?
Frasier: I'm going up a shade... to "Harvest Wheat."
Niles: I thought the next shade up was "Buff."
Frasier: It used to be, but they've discovered a whole new color in between.
Niles: So now it's "Tofu, Putty, Oatmeal"...
Both: "Almond, Harvest Wheat"...
Frasier: "and Buff."
Niles: That's going to be hard to get used to.
[Frasier nods]

This says it all.

Good morning! I am moving into a larger home in a few weeks and need to buy a few new pieces of furniture possilbly a sectional couch, night stands, and barstools for the breakfast bar and few other items. I am at a complete lost of where to start, I am not a huge fan of shopping to begin with so do you have any suggestions of where to start with quality pieces that are moderately priced and that I am not driving all over the place looking? We are moving to Alexandria, Va from the District. Thanks!

I don't know where in Alexandria you're moving, but you might want to spend a Saturday afternoon strolling King Street in Old Town Alexandria or going to Delray. There are lots of fun shops selling new and used furniture and accessories there. You might head to Georgetown and hit CB2 and West Elm. The 14th and U Street corridor has edgy and vintage and modern things within a few blocks of each other. Also check craigslist and local yard sales or estate sales.

If you have a non-working fireplace or a "rarely used" fireplace; would it be a good idea to have it removed? We have a very large brick fireplace in our family room that we never use. It takes up almost an entire wall since there is a mantel and a brick wood box. The house was built in the '60s and there is no insulation other than the brick itself. What is your opinion on removing it? Friends - one of whom is a real-estate agent, say that it would hurt resale value since we are probably going to move in a year or two. Any thoughts?

I'm not a real estate expert, but here's my opinion: if you're going to move so soon, why would go through the expense of having it removed? and I agree with your friend about a fireplace being a selling feature. In this instance, I would definitely keep it.

Morning! I'm looking for a great light grey or beige or mushroomy color to paint my kitchen chairs. I'm not a fan of the "chalk" paint look. Any suggestions?

Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore is nice. Also Elephant's Breath by Farrow & Ball or Martha Stewart's Mushroom for Home Depot.

Pier I has some great decorative fireplace screens . . .

Thanks. While you're there, pick up some inexpensive wicker trays and outdoor candles.

plow & hearth has many fireplace screens that are extremely decorative, if you want to actually hide the whole thing. (i.e., if it's very blackened inside). I think they have some that are painted, maybe one made of stained glass, etc. Love the idea of keeping oversized books inside though!

More ideas. Thanks guys. I may have to rethink my summer fireplace look.

WE have a large master bedroom, high peaked ceiling, with North facing windows. Everything we look at we are afraid is either too dark or too brown. The carpet is blue. Any suggestions are welcome, we are stuck!

I don't know what shade of blue your rug is, but here are a few suggestions: Palladian Blue or Opal Essence by Benjamin Moore; Behr Club Soda or Pratt & Lambert Antique White.

Timely topic... We have a 1940s cape code with a central foyer/staircase. To the left is a warm yellowish/gold dining room and to the right is a cool pale blue living room. We want to paint the center hall something in the white/cream family to tie the rooms together. We're finding this choice harder than picking a "color." Ideas for the perfect "white"? Thank you!

A couple of my favorite creamy and off- whites are White Tie, Clunch and Pointing by Farrow & Ball. Other options: Sherwin Williams Dover White and Benjamin Moore's Linen White, Navajo White and Bone White.

In our last house, we used a white called Queen Anne's Lace. It was either Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams. A lovely, soft white. And I loved the name. :)

Great! thank you.

My husband and I have used Pratt and Lambert's Ancestral on the trim throughout our house. We were recently in a Sherwin Williams store near home buying paint for the laundry room/half bath and the folks in the store were able to tint a gallon of Ancestral for us. I was thrilled not to have to make another trip for paint! The clerk said they have the tint specs for lots of non-SW colors. Good to know!

Great to know. Thank you!

If you MUST paint the brick (and I recommend not doing so), use the special brick paint. Regular exterior paint won't let the brick breathe and the brick eventually starts to disintegrate, requiring the replacement of ALL the bricks.

Great advice. Thanks!

There's a house in my neighborhood that is brick and was clearly painted at one point. The paint (which was probably white) seems to have worn off so that the house is a sort of rosy color (or perhaps this was done on purpose). Anyway, it's a beautiful, mellow color and I really like how it looks.

I personally really like this look, too. It reminds me of Tuscany or the South of France. But I guess some picky people feel something like that looks uncared for. Sigh.

I'm easing my dining room into an Arts and Crafts style (just bought an antique Mission sideboard--so excited!). Can you recommend any paint lines that have historical paint colors? I'd really like to do something with a deep coral and some other color.

Check out the Benjamin Moore Historic Colors - they are labeled HC. They would be perfect for an Arts & Crafts style look.

Could you suggest a few blue and green paint color options for a gender-neutral nursery? The room is small but bright (two windows) in a 40s Cape Cod and has medium-tone hardwood floors.

Pratt & Lambert's Argent, Benjamin Moore's Sweet Dreams.

Lots of winning paint colors today. Thanks for asking great questions and sharing your favorites. Have a great Memorial Day weekend everyone.

We have a LOT of artwork and we have been fussing over the living room color- the photos of the Alexandria Va home with the ripe squash walls (a color I was rooting for) convinced my husband!


In This Chat
Terri Sapienza
Terri Sapienza is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Local Living section.
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.

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