Choosing Paint Colors with Confidence

Selecting paint colors can be a frustrating experience. Knowing the color you want and studying samples in the paint store is not enough to ensure you will be happy with your selection.

Before you spend time painting or hire a professional to do the job, it is a good idea to buy small cans of the colors you are considering and try them out. If you skip this step, the outcome could be an unpleasant surprise. There are multiple ways to do this:

  • Paint directly on interior walls or exterior siding
  • Paint on large poster board or wood scraps
  • Buy sheets of drywall, have them cut into large pieces, and paint on the drywall
  • For exteriors, buy birdhouses and paint them with all siding and trim colors

For the most reliable results, paint on the same surface you will ultimately use.

When testing interior colors, I like the drywall method. Be sure to use the same primer and number of coats that will be used on your walls. To keep it simple, test up to three colors at a time. Live with the samples for a few weeks.

Testing paint colors

You need to see your contenders in natural light, lamp light in both day and night, as well as indirect and indirect light. Be sure to move the boards around the room so you can see how lighting and reflections affect the color. The color of your furniture may change how the paint appears. Plants from outside are likely to add a greenish tinge to the paint.

For exterior jobs, I like the birdhouse method and painting on the siding. When we decided to change the color of our home from putty to a silvery gray, I painted a birdhouse to see if the new gray would go with our federal blue shutters:


After we were sure we liked the overall effect, I painted flowers on the birdhouse and left it outside. We get a nest and baby birds every year.

new porch and front door

The cherry stain on the front door and ceiling of the porch completes the traditional look of the house. Do you see how I used the birdhouse to test the new gray color with the blue of the shutters?

When decided to repaint last year, we wanted a darker color on the siding. I bought several small samples and painted large areas on three sides of my house and on the two walls of my screened porch.

If you have stone or brick on your house, be sure to test the paint in places where the two materials will meet. Colors that looks great on siding may look completely different near brick or stone.

Colors used on interior walls do not look the same when applied outside, so be sure to test in the location you plan to paint. I applied paint leftover from my bedroom hoping it would work outside. The green that appears soft and olive-toned indoors was yellowish green and harsh on exterior siding.


Over the course of a couple of weeks, I observed the colors in bright sunshine, cloudy weather and rain. It was spring and as the trees leafed out, the colors changed! We decided on a lovely shade of green. It stands up to the blue sky and bright green wrought iron dining set in the porch and surrounding foliage without turning blue or yellow.

The biggest change was painting our front door a tropical blue. It adds an unexpected punch of color to a traditional exterior.


I love how the blue of the door and green of the siding mimic the sky and the trees. The black shutters tie in nicely with the bits of charcoal in the brick and everything is in harmony. When colors clash you may not notice, but you might feel uneasy in your surroundings and not know why. When colors work, everything feels right.

For more ideas about testing colors, check out this blog post on Houzz:






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