Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lesson: Test Your Paint Colors

We recently made a classic mistake that cost us a bucket of money and if we can help you avoid the same awful blunder, it will take a little bit of the sting out of it. Now we realize this isn't about world peace or saving's far bigger than that: Choosing The Right White.

We met with team Build and on the agenda was picking a white for the walls, ceiling, and trim. We spent a bunch of time talking about flat vs eggshell sheen for the walls. Flat is much easier to touch-up but eggshell is easier to clean and can add more light to a room by bouncing it around a bit (we decided on flat). Next was the choice of white. We worked with the standard Benjamin Moore swatch book strips and they have 140 different shades of white. We wanted a white that wouldn't be super stark and just a bit on the warm side to complement the other materials being used in the house. We eyeballed the warm white (BM White Vanilla) used in Build's offices and went one shade less warm with BM Easter Lily.

Easter Lily

Danger Zone: Entire families have been destroyed over the question of WHICH WHITE but we felt like we could just quick draw from the hip and make the decision without any testing. Big mistake.

House Visit

So, we stopped by project Massena Modern for our weekly walk-through and my eyes bulged out of my head as soon as we walked into the house. Someone had broken in and spread day old mayonnaise all over our walls and ceilings. I just couldn't believe this was the color we picked (it was). So we made lots of hysterical calls to Kevin, burned a bunch of money and had the whole house re-painted in BM Cloud White...two coats.

Cloud White

Those of you out there that are true white snobs will recognize this as a classic go-to white used by many of the top interior designers. It is a soft white that tilts just a bit to the warm side and our walls look fantastic now.

Why You Must Test

We could have avoided this gaffe if we had taken the time to paint out some good sized test patches in the house first. Some of the reasons paint colors will look different in different locations are:

  • Lighting: Daylight in sunny or cloudy conditions will change the color. Artificial lights all produce different color changes. Incandescent is warm, fluorescent can be cool and greenish, etc.
  • Location: Surfaces in corners and small rooms will look different because the light bounces around amplifying any tinting that is present. A slight tint on the wall will look like a massive tint inside an open closet.
  • Surrounding Materials: Other colors and materials near the color can really change how you see it. Two materials/colors that look great on their own can really stumble when placed near each other.

So you've been warned...test, test, test.


  1. Thanks for this tip. We are just finishing up on our paint choices and will get samples to test. Glad to find you via the Times. I'm a regular reader of the Build blog.

  2. Nice post. We had a similar situation with choosing exterior colors which I wrote about in our house blog at; "Extreme Makeover" in May 2011. We used the online color visualizer by Sherwin Williams, but still had to test swatches "live" to choose our final color. Like you, our takeaway message is test, test, test and NEVER choose from just a paint chip!