Design

How I chose paint colors and palettes that flow and balance from room to room (and the first floor floorplan!)

August 23, 2021

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Behind the scenes, we always have way more irons in the fire than we share in any given week. It’s important to keep the projects and the business going, especially in these times where lead times are a lot longer. We have trim being ordered for one room, wallpaper being made for another, furniture on order for another, and some rooms we’re still in the thinking stage on. Well, I should say that every room we’re in the thinking stage on–I can’t help myself. 

And really, when you’re designing one room–it’s really good to think ahead. When I think about the spaces in our home, I like to think about the color story from one room to another. While each room is its own design, I am always conscious of how it works with adjacent spaces and within the palette of the entire house. Last week, I casually shared on Instagram that I was thinking our living room wouldn’t be white or light–but a darker color instead, and although “because I want to” is definitely reason enough to paint anything in your house whatever color you want, today I wanted to share how I actually came to that thought.

First, I always look at connected spaces. I don’t like to stop and start a paint color on a corner, so connected spaces will likely all get the same treatment (think our former living room was open to our breakfast nook and kitchen and the hall and up the stairs! All of that was painted SW Alabaster).

In our home now, there are a lot more cased openings separating room (I love that about it!) with the openly connected spaces being the kitchen into the hall in front of the living room and hall leading to the entry and going up the stairs. Those spaces will all get the same paint treatment on the walls. Do you see (below) how the dining room and living room are separated by a cased opening from each other and the kitchen and hallways?

It might make the most sense, while looking at a map of our first floor.

These large connected areas (the circle going from the kitchen to the entry) I will likely paint a light neutral–right now we had our painters paint any patched drywall in SW White Flour. This works even in the kitchen area where the cabinetry will be green and taupe–the walls still need paint! (See the kitchen plans here!)

With the connected spaces all spoken for, I start looking at the pockets that branch off from that–the music room, our bedroom, living room, dining room and even the laundry room way back in the corner. I think about repeating paint tones, and balancing patterns. For instance, if I want to do a mural in the music room–more on THAT in the future–and there’s wallpaper in the powder bathroom, then maybe our room would be a nice place for trimmed out walls and a solid paint color.

It would be nice to balance the pattern in this layout by bringing wallpaper into the dining room! Which leaves the living room. I’m really thinking our bedroom is going to stay lighter in color (it helps me get up in the mornings, I’ve learned!) so that’s how I came to the conclusion our living room could and should definitely be a little more dramatic. I’m thinking a very dark navy or green. To balance the dark island going in the kitchen. To balance the lighter walls in the connected spaces. To balance the wallpaper that will be next to it in the dining room. It’s the center of it all, but it’s also it’s very open space trimmed out and separated.

When I showed my sister how I plan this all out, she said, “Oh, so you’re designing a Clue board.” Hahaha and maybe I am! Also maybe this is not new to anyone, but I thought it would be helpful to share as we are just getting started here!

But now I’m curious, how do you choose paint colors and palettes for your rooms?

What do you think?

  1. AWM says:

    I start with a compass! For instance, SW Accessible Beige looks warm and beige in South facing rooms, and very, very gray in North facing rooms. In East and West facing rooms the appearance of the color changes through the day. North facing rooms need warm colors that do not have green or gray bases. SW Creamy works really well in Northern light, and the “blueness” of the light from that direction takes away yellow tones, leaving a nice clean looking neutral. Northern light makes cooler colors look even colder, so blues and teals and purples have to be chosen carefully and balanced with warmer tones.

    I have a compass app on my phone, so I just hold my phone to the window and I can get an exact reading on the light direction/color!

  2. Debbie says:

    Love leaning your thought process. The visual learner in me would love to see your selections layered on the floor plan to see how you envision them all working together. I’m trying to plan similar selections now abs my fiancé thinks all the rooms need to be one color since there are no doors in the shared spaces. I need to help him along ;) thanks for always inspiring!

  3. Jillian Rumpza says:

    Painted our secondary living space (library), BM Wetherburn’s Blue. The walls, doors, trim, and built-ins… everything! It’s such a moody place and I love it.

  4. Eileen Rinehimer says:

    I do much the same as you, in considering the visibilty and flow of wall surfaces. (And feel good about that now!) I also choose paint color based on the mood I wish to create in a space.

  5. Lauren says:

    I would say I use a process pretty similar to this; but I have never selected paint colors at time of move or even closely after. Is that wild? It’s easier for me to choose paint colors when I’ve lived and moved around a space for awhile. Our current home is a bit of a conundrum because of the slightly open layout-similar to here-with rooms that open to each other, and some that don’t. This explanation helps a lot, and seeing the overhead view gives my minds eye a picture of my own overhead. I think you just simplified this house for me in one post! Now I want to go paint!

  6. Jeanne Gallagher says:

    I had a room painted navy and it collected so much dust. Washing the walls was constant. I would never do super dark again.

  7. Teri Sands says:

    What color did you paint your master bedroom?

  8. Sara says:

    Studio Green by F & B–I painted a small first floor powder room in it a couple years ago and it’s still a moment I LOVE. Really lovely dark, dark green. Check it out!

  9. Kari says:

    I love the way you explained your process. Thank you. It is so helpful! My husband is very cautious and hesitant about painting or wallpapering rooms (bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry room) that will be different than the main living space, which includes the kitchen, living room, and dining room. I think the way you explained it here will help me explain to him what my vision is, AND keep me on track with my vision as we go room by room! All that to say, thank you again for your willingness to share and teach!

  10. Emily says:

    I love the layout of this home. I have looked at so many floor plans, and (after you closed off the door from the music room to the primary bedroom) this layout is just so good. I’m loving this bike so much and can’t wait to see all that you do! For as many bad comments you said you’re getting, please know there are way more of us who are simply cheering you on and love seeing what you’re doing. This is my favorite house to date!

  11. Adrienne Buck says:

    I choose colors as I’m inspired. I recently saw a pink hutch and knew I needed to paint my newly acquired hutch pink, but it wasn’t in my home palette. With some help from my trusty sister we determined to use the terracotta from my rug as inspiration for a light pink with orange undertones (coral peach goodness). People tend to spend so much time thinking they don’t take action. I jump from the plane and build my wings on the way down!

  12. Susan Scott says:

    I love having dark “accent” rooms in my house. While most of the house (kitchen, LR, DR, sitting room, foyer, stairway) are SW Sea Salt, I painted my office SW Salty Dog and my husband’s office SW Underseas. The contrast is great, adds interest, and allowed me to play with our artwork and accessories in those darker rooms. Going to do the stair treads in SW Peppercorn next!

  13. Elisia H. says:

    Love your style!! I’m looking to adopt a similar style in my home kitchen. Can’t wait to see the other additions you make to your home!

  14. Carly Long says:

    This came at a good time for me. I feel like our dining room needs some drama. I am leaning toward wallpaper above a chair rail. Most of our downstairs is a neutral except our kitchen (which is a mid blue). I feel like if I go dark in the dining room or wallpaper it will feel heavy on that side compared to the living room/ office. Granted all of these spaces are separated by cased openings or doorways. I want it to flow nicely. This is where I get stuck!

  15. Heather Wikds says:

    I just painted our bedroom SW Greenblack and I’m obsessed. Can’t wait to see what lands on your walls!!!

  16. Renee says:

    I just painted my bedroom dark green (Cushing Green by Benjamin Moore) and find it to be the most soothing color. We live on the Crystal Coast in an elevated home and it truly mimics the trees outside. So peaceful and lovely. I find myself taking cues from nature when decorating with accessories (neutral bedding) and love the way it makes rich wood tones and brass pop.

    So I’m voting for dark green for your living room! ;)

  17. Hillary says:

    I like symmetry in the house yet each room displays color so differently. The process include lots of poster boards painted to move thru rooms, and to al coloring – for example our master was a warm latte color, our large master bath was 1/2 formula and the hallway vestibule into our master suite, our closet and the sitting room were 1/4 formula. The trim throughout the house was the constant.

  18. Linda says:

    I love your design style but noticed your homes seem to all have great light. We live in a L-shaped one story ranch with lots of trees that block light. My dining room and kitchen are sandwiched between a Florida room on one side and a living room/covered porch on the other, making that dining room and kitchen relatively dark. I have, therefore, avoided dark colors and am thinking of painting everything white. Does this seem to make sense to you?

  19. Laine Johnson says:

    Do you think you will paint the brick fireplace? Both on the wall sound and ground side? I have been thinking of doing that for about 5 years. ;-)

    • Julia says:

      I don’t think so.

    • Eileen Rinehimer says:

      I do much the same as you, in considering the visibilty and flow of wall surfaces. (And feel good about that now!) I also choose paint color based on the mood I wish to create in a space.

  20. Betsy Morris says:

    When we were building our house, I painted a printout of the floor plan using q-tips as my paint brush and the sherwin williams paint samples we were trying on the walls. It helped me to see how everything tied together!

  21. Jean says:

    Love that you have cased openings to separate your rooms. All of our rooms flow together except the bedrooms and bathrooms and it makes painting harder to customize. I’m excited to see how your house story unfolds.

  22. JL says:

    Oh, I was so excited about your previous post highlighting mid-tone paint colors. I adored your inspiration photos. That’s the direction I’m trying for in my home. Still, looking forward to seeing your color choices for this house.

  23. Jeanette Stemen says:

    Love your style and seeing your plans. Moved into our dream house in May and so relate to so much of what you’re going through in your. You guys are helping to inspire us as we make this new house our home. Quick question about ceiling paint. In your previous home did you carry the SW Alabaster to the ceiling or did you go bright white on your ceiling. My husband and I are having a debate and hoping you can help to settle it 😉!!! Thanks again for all the inspiration!!!

  24. Shelley says:

    Looking forward to seeing the overall 1st-floor color palette. We painted the living room in our colonial Virginia home In the Navy SW to make the casings and moldings and panels pop. With the floor-to-ceiling windows and french doors, it was the perfect color instead of a lighter color.

  25. Britt M. says:

    I think this is SO smart. Also, tremendously helpful when thinking about it as an entire door plan—from an aerial view as opposed to laying mock up designs of rooms next to each other. Thanks for the tip!

  26. Virginia Toolson says:

    I usually have a jumping off point. A rug or artwork. I recently changed my color palette with the renovation of our kitchen, floors and fireplace.

  27. Kimber says:

    I am really looking forward to seeing how you use the dark colors but still keep it fresh! When we moved to North Carolina in the early 90’s every house I went into was forest green and maroon–ugh! Coming from CA it felt so heavy and traditional. I know you will do it right-cant wait to see how you push yourself;)

    • Sara says:

      Yes, we are definitely cycling back into colors I have lived with before. And maybe it’s because it was nearing the end of the jewel-toned trend of the 90’s, but it felt less ‘moody’ and more like ‘depressing’ to me. I know Julia will do it right. I’ll probably just applaud from my neutral-colored vantage point and use color in my accessories.

      • Julie S says:

        Hahaha same here Sara! I don’t mind the colors so much from having lived them before, but I know from several types of homes and light and paint situations, that for me there is no such thing as too much natural light indoors, so while I might paint a less-frequented room like a powder bath or pass through as deep as a midtone, all my main living, working, and sleeping rooms will be forever some shade of white or the lightest neutrals.

  28. Donna Pickenheim says:

    Would love to see a side by side of the previous floor plan with the new floor plan!

  29. Rochelle Wright says:

    Hi, I had did similar color and layout in our house we built in 1994! We even had the Brazilian cherry flooring haha. We’re building a house in Sun Valley, ID now and I’m curios as to what color you painted the trim and base molding in the picture shown in your last house. Do you mind sharing? Thanks and good luck! Rochelle

    • Lyllian says:

      The trim in her last house was accessible beige by SW. I know this because I also painted my trim that color and I have not been disappointed!

  30. Olivia says:

    At one point you mentioned considering paint colors in the mid tone range and not so much in the dark/light tone range. Wondering if when you say dark for your living room if you’re still thinking in that mid tone range?

  31. Judy says:

    Looks amazing!

  32. I love that you are going with a mural and can’t wait to see how everything else starts to come together!

  33. Natalie says:

    Thanks for sharing! Do you keep trim color consistent across the whole home? Or do you also select trim color room by room?

  34. Molly says:

    I think your methodology makes complete sense. I like to choose paint colors by what activity occurs in the room on a daily basis. My bedroom is also light for the same reasons you mentioned. The living room is a warm gray because I relax when I’m there. The kitchen is in the middle- it’s a place to be creative but also a place to decompress with family. The dining area is lighter so people don’t fall asleep in their plates. Our house is very open so I do have a hard time shifting from one space to the next and to be honest, I’m very leery about painting window trim and siding….which I think I need to get over!

  35. Betsy says:

    I agree with your clue board theory. I have always utilized the Benjamin Moore historical colors and their color cards that show say a gray tone from light to mediums to dark. Like you I have our den painted in BM Hale Navy as the “punch” color as well as the laundry room. The flow of the grays is good and the navy is great for smaller cozy rooms. No wallpaper.

  36. Kelli R says:

    Whole home color pallets is something I’m struggling with for my home.I would love to see a color pallet mood board!
    Also, if you have any inspiration for master bedrooms I would love that!

  37. Pia says:

    For me paint is one of the last big things to be selected… Basically because it is easier to paint walls than to buy all new furniture and make companies change colors on wallpapers and fabrics.
    Usually I end up in the green family… Love green. But my husbands office that is next in line for a makeover needs not to be green, so most likely somewhere in the beige family. Perhaps the beige from the mostly green Morris wallpaper in the hallway? Or something darker in the warm brown-red family? Both work with the already selected curtains, rug, table and chair.
    Decisions, decisions….

  38. Jessica Dupont says:

    I love this! I feel like I just took a class on this, and that this thinking should be taught to everyone trying to chose paint and pallette colors and patterns. Such a good way of going about making these decisions!

  39. Janice says:

    I love reading your ideas and methods. It makes sense reading but I havent ever been disciplined. I need another person to help me along
    I am awful and picking colors and pallette. Hoping to learn more and next house start with a whole house plan!

    • Megan says:

      This is so helpful! We are planning a new build and choosing paint colors feels really intimidating to me. So its great to get some insight on your methods!

  40. Rebecca says:

    I love this concept. Our downstairs layout has sight lines to almost every room so I have color coordinated the entire downstairs with ivory, taupe and shades of blue. The only room with wallpaper is the powder room but we do have quite a bit of trim work. I cannot wait to see how your clue board turns out.

  41. Tea with Florence , Farrow and Ball is a lovely green

  42. Kerrie says:

    I love this way of thinking of things. When you said wallpaper in the dining, I feel like it would be really neat with a tall wainscoting and a bolder floral print above. I made me think of Sara Richardson’s Sarah’s house – the first one. Which technically was a farmhouse so not the right esthetic. But the colors she used are so inspiring. Can’t wait to see what you do. And love the idea of a moody navy living room. I’m here for contrasts!!

  43. Anne says:

    What an excellent way of thinking about a whole floor. You seem to be leaning blue/green rather than revisiting the terracotta colour used in your previous music room. Do warmer colours not work as well for you in a warmer climate or in the light in your new home?

    • Julia says:

      I’m considering a warm tone for our bedroom and a really warm olive for a space upstairs! No colors are off the table

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