The Biggest Mistake You Can Make When Painting a Wall

So you’re looking at your walls. They’ve been the same shade of off-white for as long as you can remember. But today, for some reason, you’re tired of the bland. You need some pop. A fresh new look to update an old room.

You head over to the wall of paint chips in your local home improvement store and discover a lovely little blue. It looks glorious in your hand and in the pamphlet where it is prominently displayed as the fabulous wall color in the model home.

You buy a few gallons and spend all weekend painting. Then, as the paint starts to dry, you begin to wonder why your robin's egg blue is more sea foam green. Something is… off.

Well, friends, you picked the wrong color.

The world of paint can be a confusing plethora of shades, hues, and saturations. Sometimes it feels like you need an interior design degree just to get it all right.

Well, that might certainly help but isn’t necessary. We’re going to tell you how to pick the right paint color for your space so you end up happy with the end results.

The Perfect Shade

Lit room
It’s hard not to get swept up in trends and popular design choices when you’re working on a home project. You see plenty of pictures on blogs or in magazines showcasing this year’s color and how amazing it will look on your walls.

But the truth is, there is no one color that looks great in every home. In fact, a single paint color can look completely different on different walls in the SAME house. How is that even possible?


Lighting is the key to all things paint. A florescent light can cast a green hue on a white wall while a soft white lightbulb will accentuate warmer tones. Similarly, a west facing window will cast a different light than an east facing window depending on the time of day!

Confused yet?

Lighting plays such a critical role in paint color that it’s almost impossible to simply pick a paint shade you liked in an ad and have it look the same on your own walls. Chances are, it won’t. 

Understanding Undertones 

Pink undertone

When you’re standing in front of the wall of paint chips, it can be hard to perceive some of the subtle differences between the shades. There is a mass tone, which is the overall color a paint chip gives off. This is what directs your eye to the blues or the reds or the yellows.

But within each color family there are undertones, or hints of other colors that are mixed in with the mass tone. For example, you can pull two blue chips, one will have green undertones and another purple.

Having trouble seeing undertones? Just grab a couple of different white paint chips and fan them out next to each other. You’ll notice that one white might look more pink and another a bit yellow. Suddenly white isn’t really just… white. 

Light Reflective Value

Artsy wall

Light reflective value (LRV) is a number paint manufacturers assign to their paint colors. Basically it measures the percentage of light a paint color reflects. Why is this number so important?

For one, a low LRV means the paint absorbs more light than it reflects. That can be a good thing in a large sunny living room where a lot of bright natural light fills the space. But imagine it now in a smaller bedroom with only one window. Suddenly that paint color can look really dark, maybe even too dark.

On the other hand, if a paint has a high LRV and you place it in a bright sunny room, the color may look too subtle and washed out. In a dark bedroom it might be the perfect way to make the space feel a bit more open and bright. 

Getting It Right  

Warm-looking living room

Understanding the lighting in your own home will make a huge difference in how you shop for paint. Once you know your light, shop for the color you want with complimentary undertones.

Let’s say you want orange: Select a range of orange chips that span several different undertones and bring them home to see how they look in your lighting. Check them at different times of day. You’ll begin to see that one orange really looks more pink and another looks more brown.

After viewing them with your unique light, choose your top three and get some paint samples. The true test is how they look on your wall. Make sure to paint a big enough swatch and wait a few days to see how each of your choices looks at different times.

If none of them are “the one” then start fresh with some new paint swatches. It may take a little trial and error but getting the perfect shade in the end will make it worth it. It may not be the trending “color of the year” but it’ll be “your” color and your walls will thank you for it.