Monday, September 28, 2009

Polka Dots or Plain Vanilla.. ??

(Above: Boutet's 7-color and 12-color color circles from 1708, Courtesy Wikipedia)

Obsession with white

We have both been obsessed with the plain beauty of white ; white walls, white curtains, white upholstery and even white cushions with color introduced in the form of other objects (books, rugs, paintings, whatever..), and have been in love with the results for many years. It is difficult to get away from the serenity of white; meaning there is no bright red wall breaking the line of sight.
So then, why paint ?

After broaching the idea with a few friends, and some research, we discovered - not so surprisingly, that many homeowners (at least in the US) have a mental tug-of-war going on about painting walls. It goes something like this: "I really want a sunshine-yellow wall, but what if the potential buyers of my house -sometime in future-may not like it? Will it bring down the value of my house? And make potential buyers shy away?".
This dilemma results in many folks painting the universal color "beige"- or some neutral color- much to their heart's discontent- and living with it for many years.
We have nothing against "neutral", as long as its done for the right reason. The fact remains- that no matter what you or I like, the next person may like something totally different. So we figured, that there is no reason to burn the gray-matter in our heads and hold off on what we really like (unless of course there are imminent plans to sell the house).

Having said that, over the last couple of years many a thing has changed in our lives. We have added a little boy with whom came a whole new turn on decor and not to mention our growing collections of his "things" which add their own color and flavor. Is the white is beginning to look a little weary? We ponder...

For the lucky few who know exactly what they color they want, down to the perfect shade, our hats off. We join the millions of others, still baffled by that ever elusive shade, that will make tingles go down your spine. And ofcourse, we want multiple shades- all at once, in case the choice isn't complicated enough.
What if we select from the 3564 shades of paint available (across 10 paint manufacturers- who by the way- all claim to have the highest pigment composition), and narrow it down to the last two, with artful precision, and the restraint of a yogi?... And end up with just two colors- Vert de Terre and Pale Avocado...And finally, finally, decide to go for Pale Avocado...only to have that nagging thought always, at the back of our mind, whether we really, really should have gone for Vert de Terre instead?
We dread the very thought of it. Perhaps its best leaving that wall white, after all. As Scarlet Ohara says in Gone with the Wind. "I will think about it tomorrow..when I'm stronger".

So we search for some fundamental questions: Like a warm or cool palette?
A few hours of research reveals some tools (like the one below).
Benjamin Moore's Color Viewer is online tool that lets you play with a lot of Options. You can play around with almost all their colors and test drive in realtime (without messing you own walls). You can also experiment with different finishes/washes -Strie, Sponge-on, Rag-on, etc. to see what the texturing effect looks like. Not a bad place for a start, and it gives some instant-gratification too. :)
As Step#2, They also have a Personal Color viewer that one can download for $10.00. This enables us to import photos of our own rooms and use the color tool on it. There's a short video of it on how it works on Youtube. (By the way- BEHR ColorSmart lets you do this for Free)

Below: Some samples images we created in less that a minute.

Caution: This is a good software from a usability perspective- but NOT so accurate results. (As pointed out in some detailed Reviews). Again, the bottom line is that there is no software that can match a 100%, so dont sweat it. One can start with it as a guiding point to narrow down, and then use actual swatches to see what it looks like and get to that final shade.

Talking about swatches, many manufacturers now offer small "pots" -like the one below -of most colors that they offer, and is a very cost effective way for us to paint a small portion on our wall and compare the results side by side.
Tip: We learnt that since our walls look different at night, and noon and day- in different natural light conditions, it is very important to leave the swatches on, and compare during different times of day and make sure we like ALL the results- not just morning results, or night results.
(Below, Image Courtesy: Ralph Lauren Home)

Texture: Finishes & Techniques give another dimension to adding color.
So how do we achieve these finishes? We found some really nice "How-to Video" pages on the RL home website, that offers a variety of online short videos on different techniques including step-by-step instructions on how to create effects such as Candlelight, Antique Leather, Striping, etc.
(Below: Indigo Denim finish,Striping finish, Image Courtesy: RL Home)

A little about Color:
The Color Wheel: Wolfgang Goethe's Theory of Colors (1810) was one of the first studies in the Physiological effect of colors, and the fore-runner for the Color Wheels in use today.
You could purchase a modern version of this, like the one below from any paint or art supply store (including HomeDepot, Lowes and the like), or online from the Colorwheel Co. The color wheel shows colors, and their natural relationships with each other. (Which is why some colors we notice, go well with others, while some just dont!)
Monochromatic color Palette:
Using flavors of a single color- either in its pure form, or by adding white (tint), gray (tone), or black (shade) to the color. A Monochromatic room from the Palace in Wilanów, Warsaw.

Analogous color Palette:
Using a single color- and colors to the left and right of it on the color wheel.
I found this online to give an example of a room using an analogous palette.
(Image Courtesy:, Palette Icon Courtesy: DiamondVogel Paints)

Triad color Palette:
Using a color- and 2 colors that form a triangle with it on the Color wheel.
In this case, Yellow, Red and Blue.
All these colors can be used in different proportions to create different effects. e.g. Yellow paint on the walls, and Red and Blue upholstery and accents, or More of blue, by painting the wall blue, with other accents of yellow and red to reverse the effect. So the point is that ALL the color need not be on the wall itself ;-) to achieve our scientific quest for color harmony.
(And while we're still on the topic, Green, Orange & Violet would form another Triad combination)

(Image Courtesy:, Icon Courtesy: DiamondVogel Paints)

Here is another tool online from midwest paint maker DiamondVogel, that lets you select a particular color and gives some suggestions for analogous, complementary, triads and other paint combinations that go well with the primary color you selected.


While studying color it is almost impossible to ignore the strides made by Pantone- in defining it as a study ans science. For anyone in the color industry , from architects & designers to publishers & fashion designers, it has become the single authoritative source for color coding and standardization. It's worthwhile to check them out if you are looking for an exact match- and if you are pretty uncompromising on getting a 100% match with something you have in mind- or already have as a reference.

By the way, for all the iPhone enthusiasts , there is a (Free) application from Benjamin Moore -called BEN Color Capture, that lets you take any picture using your iphone camera, and present the corresponding paint colors from their palette on the iPhone. Again, great idea, not so accurate results- use it for the fun of it. If you want professional grade matching,
use a tool like the Pantone Color Cue (shown below) (approx $250USD) that lets you click on any surface and get the EXACT match to the Pantone color code.

(Image Courtesy: Pantone)

Nature as a guide: Mother nature has been juxtaposing hues long before man learnt about color. And her vast experience about chromatic configuration shows rather obviously. Consider the image below(not mine) from Napa Valley , and the colors on it that can be used to build a palette.

Or this shot of a windmill from one of our trips to Solvang, CA.
Tip: Use ColourLovers to easily create a palette FROM any image that you love- be it nature, Mona Lisa, or simply your favorite jewelry or scarf!
Well, the decision process, we find, is certainly getting interesting now.

Glazes: Various types of paint glazes are used on different areas of a home. Below are the main broad categories of paint finishes.
Flats- give a matte finish, helps hide surface imperfections, Normally used for ceilings and walls in areas not subjected to a lot of wear and tear, dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms.
Satin /Eggshell- provides a soft luster sheen similar to that of an eggshell. Satin finish is more durable & stain resistant than a flat finish. Used in higher traffic areas-Kid's rooms, Hallways/stairways, etc.
Semi-gloss- very durable, easy to clean, and more stain resistant than satin.Best used on very heavy traffic areas/surfaces like kitchens and bathrooms. Also on wainscoting, wood trim,cabinets, etc.
Gloss Paint- Most durable, and stain resistant. Easiest to maintain. Note: Gloss makes surface imperfections more noticeable. Generally used in kitchens, bathrooms,furniture, cabinets, floors, stairs, handrails, etc.
Here's a link on with more details on basic paint glazes/finishes available for purchase.
For preparation,
tools (sand paper, rollers , brushes , drop-cloths), and Painting101, check out this link on Howstuffworks. We found that its pretty detailed, and easy to follow.

Whether to paint all sides , ceiling?
Another alternative is to start with one wall- instead of all 4 walls of a room, while still achieving a painted effect. This also called an accent wall/feature wall, and typically would be the wall facing you as you walk into a room. (e.g. the wall that serves as a backdrop for a sofa, or bed, etc)
Below: An accent wall.
(Image Courtesy: Ellen Kennon)

Painted ceiling?
We really didnt want to use Joe Nye's beautiful Beverely Hills apartment as an example, since its been quoted in pretty much every blog since it first came in House Beautiful magazine. However, we just couldnt resist, and the glossy ceiling reflecting the light says much more that we ever need to write here on how a painted ceiling can work.
Below are some of the sources of good paint in the US.
Farrow & Ball (UK-based, but has US retail)
Benjamin Moore
Ralph Lauren Home
Restoration Hardware

We cannot quote it here due to copyright violations, but a leading end-user study that we have subscribed to reports that after testing some of the less expensive ones like Behr, had a better performance rating in several categories than some of the pricier ones! That was a revelation.

How much paint do you need?

There are many simple Online Calculators which give you how much paint you need by inputting the dimensions of your walls. So no guessing, and minimum wastage. As a thumb rule, a gallon covers around 300-400 sq ft wall area.
View an Online Paint Calculator here (There are several others available as well)

Trial and error.
In the end- we learnt that there is no such thing as a back-seat painting. We learnt one has to get his feet wet and start by trial and error. There's simply no way to just browse and decide if your really want soul-satisfaction with painting.

So we started painting one of the walls on our garage-and were pretty happy with the results. The money& effort spent on primer (before painting), and sanding for smoothness, were well worth the effort. This wall will probably retain status as an experiment wall for future projects to come.

Topping it off:
After hours of deliberations, with tints, tones and shades, values, triads, tetrads, complimentary and split complementary, our heads are feeling somewhat heavy. The only color Joe can see right now, is the color of the bottle of Merlot sitting on the table :)

And then again, we see the sheer beauty of white in a magazine open in front of us (image below)....and the battle continues.

"To Paint or Not to Paint"... is the question of the day.
(Courtesy: Shakespeare & Co.)

Wishing you COlORful Days ahead !


  1. I am usually very adventurous with color...One thing which I have found useful before committing to a color, particularly one which is bold, is to take sheets of poster board and buy small amounts (now you can get testers--but a quart if you have to) and paint the poster board. Tape the poster board in the room, leave it in one place for a while, then move it to another place where the light hits it differently. You will then have a good idea how the color changes as the light in the room changes. You'll also have an opportunity to see if you like it in an amount which is meaningful.

    While a quart can be one third of the cost of a gallon of paint, the amount of time you have into the painting and if it is a larger room, more paint, it is really worth it to test using this method.

    And yes...I really did have a salmony-terracotta living room back. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing Lisa! Thats a great idea, especially when one wants to compare side by side, and combinations of colors.


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