Should you trust your paint chips?

A hundred or more paint chips have been scattered across my table, floor, couch, etc for the past several months. I am not a ‘pick whichever color looks best in the store’ kind of person. I can’t just take home ‘the two best options.’ I have to see every option in every light with every piece of furniture. And since my husband and I were moving into a new apartment where we wanted to repaint 5 rooms, there were a lot of options.

Eventually, we decided on a scheme and picked out the actual colors (a warm beige for the living- dining area, with a purple accent wall in the living room and a red one in the dining; gray in the office; green in the library/guest room; orange in our bedroom). As you might imagine, after all this effort we were pretty certain about our choices. Until we started painting.

The gray looked blue. As in baby blue. Yes, some grays tend toward blue, but ours didn’t. At least not until now. I liked the color on the chip, I liked it in the can (my husband says I’m the only person who would open a can of plain gray paint and say, “ooh, pretty!”), I liked it in the roller tray… but that color on the wall I just could not live with. But here’s the thing—we were painting over yellow walls, and the influence of that color changed our perception of the gray. We trusted our choice and finished the room—and now it is a lovely gray, nothing like baby blue.

Similarly, in our bedroom we had picked out an earthy, clay orange, the paint chip of which we both loved. As it went on the walls, though… at first it looked really orange. Then I was convinced it had a green cast. Wait, no, it was a bit too red. My husband thought it wasn’t brown enough. I thought it was already way too brown. Again, we were forced to trust (very nervously, on my part) the paint chip. Now, after two coats, it’s exactly the color we were both hoping for.

The lesson here seems to be: select your colors carefully, and then just push through until it’s done (even if your magenta looks crimson because you’re painting over indigo). Those little sample jars that are all the rage would have made the situation worse—we would have painted a 2’x 2′ section of gray, and as it was surrounded by yellow, would have decided it was the wrong color and picked out a different ‘less blue’ shade.

However… my friend Krista is also repainting her house. She picked out a beautiful deep turquoise for her living room, along with a lighter blue that was supposed to go with it. I didn’t get a chance to see the paint chips, but she thought the two colors looked really nice together. The turquoise wall got painted, and then a sample of the blue was brought home and put up next to it… and they just don’t match… at all. If she had already bought 2 gallons of the blue, well, she’d be stuck (or out of money). Those little sample jars have been a huge help for her (they also settled a ‘which shade of green’ dispute with her husband).

So what to do? On one hand, the existing color of a room greatly affects the appearance of any color in it. Even if you paint your sample on a separate board (which I’ve never seen anyone actually do), the surrounding walls in your vision and reflecting on your sample will color (excuse the pun) your decision. On the other hand, if you’re not exceptionally good at visualizing larger swaths of color from a 1″x 3″ card, you could save yourself a big disaster.

My thought is: know yourself and/or get some help. I should know by now to trust my instinct and judgment. I can envision a room from a paint chip. Not everyone can. If you can’t, go ahead and try the samples. Better yet, find a friend who can. Either way, make a choice and stick to a carefully thought out decision. Panicking and changing your mind halfway through a project only makes things worse.


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