I zipped off to NY state last week for a few days to lend a hand to one of my sisters who just closed on her first house. She only had a few days between closing and moving day, so we stepped it into high gear and prepped and painted her living room (while also taking care of four kids and one baby) in just three days. I should mention that our mom also came into town and worked tirelessly along side us. We literally could not have done it without her.
The first step was choosing a paint color for the living room. I love that kind of thing. My sister does not. So I gladly stepped in
and took over. Just kidding. I tried to help guide her through the process, and listened when she had an opinion, and continued to listen when she said, “I can’t make any more decisions. I don’t care!” There, there sister. We’ve all been there. Now which white do you want to go with for your trim? Should I put one more paint chip on the wall to make it an even twenty?
Picking a paint color for your walls is such a space specific thing. Every space presents its challenges and has its own personality, and my sister’s living room is no different. The walls are covered in wood paneling (that had been painted a dingy off white), the fireplace has a unique shape that (with its former paint job) reminded me of something you would see in a lodge, the room only has one (albeit very large) window, and there is a built in at one end of the room that is very Mad Men-esque.
The two most defining features about the room are the paneling and the fact that the room isn’t super bright and sunny. My sister decided that she is over white walls for a while and was ready to go with something more saturated for the space. That was music to my ears, and we quickly narrowed down our paint swatches to the dark bluey greys. The goal wasn’t to have so much an obvious color as it was to find an interesting deep neutral that would make the space lean more towards the sophisticated end of the spectrum as opposed to looking too country or outdated. Wood paneling = challenging.
We slapped some samples on the wall, and thought we had decided on a color (the middle swatch). In fact, when I put this picture on Facebook we even had some people vote for the same color we initially chose. Context is everything though.
It was a Valspar color very similar to what I used in Ada’s bedroom in the condo (Nature’s Retreat by Behr.) I lived with that color for three years and my love for it never waned :) But rather than rush out and buy paint right away, I suggested we sleep on it. I wasn’t 100% convinced it was perfect for that space, and I even had a hard time sleeping that night because I kept stewing about it. Color obsessed. Right here.
We came back the next morning and after seeing the swatches again in the morning light both agreed the middle color was not right. Space specific. So important to remember. Here is Ada’s bedroom in our old condo:
How I loved that room. The difference is that the condo was in an old building with high ceilings, tall windows, old plaster walls, and substantial doors, trim, and baseboards. It would have been really difficult to make that space look “country.” The living room with the paneling, on the other hand, could very easily lean that way if we chose the wrong color for the walls. This blue paired with paneling= super country.
The only other color I liked out of the samples we got was the darkest one (far right in photo.) It was a risk to go that dark, but we decided to go for it. Unfortunately the people at Lowe’s weren’t able to color match the color we chose to the brand of paint we wanted to use (I don’t want to throw them under the bus. They supposedly got a new system a couple weeks ago with a lot of kinks still in it) so I ended up picking a Valspar color that was nearly identical, except a hint too dark. They lightened it by 12% and I crossed my fingers and brought it home.
The color we ended up with turned out to be a little different than the sample we chose. It is more complex, has a touch more green in it, and looks just fantastic in the space. Home run. I’m sorry that I don’t remember the name of it.
The fireplace was dirty and the cream colored paint was only on the bricks, not the mortar. Weird, and not my favorite look (or my sister’s, most importantly.) Before painting it I brushed off any loose paint with a wire brush and then wiped down the fireplace with a special cleaning solution before priming it with an oil based primer. When that was dry, I gave it two coats of a light beigy grey in a high gloss finish. (Latex paint can go over oil based primer but oil based paint cannot go over a latex primer. Who knew??? That’s what I was told anyway.)
The walls are still wet and only have one coat of paint in these pictures, but you get the idea.
I had to come back to Detroit before the space was finished, and I regret not taking a picture of the built ins. The textured wallpaper in the back of the built ins is getting painted a beautiful light avocado/apple green. It looks so fantastic with the walls and wood tones in the room.
The most important thing is that my sister and her husband love the room. They have a lot that needs to be done in the house (I don’t know what that’s like at all!) but having one room “done” can be a real game changer and just the encouragement one needs to keep chipping away at all the other projects that are on the never ending “to do” list.
Since we are on the subject of dark paint colors…
I know that conventional wisdom says to paint dark rooms light colors and only use dark colors in rooms that get a ton of natural light, but I actually don’t agree with that. I’ve painted a few spaces in my day, and I find that I get the best results when I paint bright sunny rooms light colors, and darker spaces more saturated colors. If you have a dark room that you paint white, you are going to end up with a white room that still looks dark, and maybe a little dingy. Painting a darkish room a darker color actually can make the walls appear to recede, therefore making the room feel larger.
The dining room/office/art studio! in our condo got almost no natural light except that which spilled over from the kitchen. When we bought the place I painted it white, thinking that would make it brighter. It just made it feel very blah. I eventually ended up painting it dark, and loved it. Things suddenly popped against the walls, and the space became much more defined and unified.
Likewise, I initially painted my light filled kitchen a medium toned swampy green color (not the best choice). After repainting it white I was a much happier camper.
One of our bathrooms in the condo was window-less. (I really miss our bathrooms, by the way. The bathrooms in our new house leave a lot to be desired.) Anyway. I painted it a dark eggplant color. It worked because of all the white tile and trim.
Ultimately it’s about balance. The proportions of light and dark can make or break a space. And it sometimes takes a few tries to achieve the right balance. But I say go for it. Very few things are irreversible, especially a paint color. But before you pick a paint the right shade of white, grey, or pink you need to answer some very basic questions-
What do you want the space to feel like?
Do you like high contrast, low contrast, or no contrast?
What do you own that will be going in the space? If you need to, can you modify the pieces to fit your vision?
Maybe you could care less about undertones and complementary shades and you would rather just hire a designer. Or bring in a sister. Fine. Do it. But create a space that you love being in and looking at every day.