How to Choose a Whole House Color Palette
Demystify the process of choosing paint colors and other finishes by creating a cohesive Whole House Color Palette based on color theory and lighting. Your completed whole house color scheme acts as a money- and time-saving blueprint for any future decorating choices!
One of the choices people seem to struggle with most in their interiors is which paint colors to choose for the walls when creating a Whole House Color Palette. I’ve already shared our New England-inspired Neutral Paint Color Scheme, which includes the colors I chose for my own home. I have also helped dozens of people choose color schemes with both my Color Story Course and also one-on-one with my Virtual Paint Color Consultations. If you’re more of a DIYer, the information I’m about to cover is a great jumping-off point for creating your own!
How to Create a Whole House Color Palette
Along with paint colors, a whole house color palette includes accent colors that guide you while choosing decor, finishes for things like wood furniture, floors, stone, and metal. Overall, it acts as a complete blueprint for making decorating decisions.
Why Choose a Whole House Color Palette Ahead of Time?
- It acts as a go-to guide for choosing any furniture or decor for your home, which eliminates some of the guesswork (ugh, decisions).
- You can save money and time by choosing the correct items the first time.
- All of this adds up to less overwhelm and stress.
Without further ado, let’s jump in.
How to Choose a Whole House Color Palette Step-by-Step
1. Set Your Intentions
It’s difficult to know where you’re going without a map to get there! I recommend doing at least a quick brainstorm to determine the mood and atmosphere you’re trying to achieve in your space for yourself, your family, and your guests. The information I’m about to share will guide you in the best way to accomplish these goals or intentions.
Ask yourself how the current colors in your home feel:
- Are they too dark?
- Too bright?
- Do they feel “dirty” or “dingy”?
- Maybe they just don’t fit your decorating style (Haven’t figured out your style yet? Start here!).
After determining what you don’t like, make a list of what you would like the mood of your home to feel like. Here are some ideas:
- Calm and relaxing
- Warm and welcoming
- Neutral with fun pops of color
Determining the Mood
Next, you have to figure out what type of colors it will take to create your ideal Whole House Color Palette. Color psychology is fairly complex and largely subjective, so I’m not going to go into the topic. It’s best to have a basic understanding of Color Theory and Color Relationships in order to choose the best colors to fit the mood you’re going for.
2. Understand Color Theory Basics
The color wheel above can do many things, but it’s essentially a tool that helps us by providing a visual representation of colors that will work together.
One thing that the color wheel highlights are Color Temperatures, which also touch a bit on mood:
Warm Colors: Hues red through yellow, which includes most browns, beiges, and tans. Active and stimulating.
Cool Colors: Hues green through purple, including most grays. Recede or fade. Cool and
Monochromatic Color Scheme
One color from the color wheel is repeated in various shades and tints. You can have just one paint color repeated through your home in different shades.
Complementary Color Scheme
Opposites on the color wheel. It’s best in complementary color schemes to use the undertones in neutrals to create a complementary color scheme and to allow one of the two colors to be the more dominant. They are a perfect balance maximizing contrast and stability.
Analogous Color Scheme
Three colors that are beside one another on the color wheel. In interior colors, a good rule is to consider 60-30-10. When using neutrals, this is very close to a monochromatic color scheme.
Compound Color Scheme (Split-Complementary)
A combination of the complementary and analogous color schemes. It takes opposite colors, but then it also gives you two additional colors that are right beside the main color. This color scheme is at it’s best when you use your base color as the dominant. Instead of choosing a full hue, try to focus on a color for your base that is more on the neutral side. Then, if you choose, you can go bolder with your other two shades.
Triadic Color Scheme
This color scheme utilizes three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel as every fourth color. It’s recommended when using a triadic color scheme that you choose one color to dominate, then use the other two more sparingly to complement the main color. In interiors, this is a very bold choice as the colors will be high contrast.
Applying Color Theory to Creating a Whole House Color Palette
Now, I know that’s a lot of information. You can use this in two ways. If you’re starting fresh with a full renovation or new build, choose one of the color schemes from above with the mood in mind and pick your colors accordingly. More likely, you have some colors already in the existing finishes of your home. You’ll want to choose colors that complement them or tone them down to achieve that mood based on Color Relationships.
3. Consider Your Fixed Finishes
Fixed finishes are the things you’re already working with, such as wood floors, cabinets, and large pieces of investment furniture. Based on the Color Relationships above, determine where your fixed finishes fit into your favored Whole House Color Palette and choose the rest of your colors accordingly.
If you’re working with neutrals, you’ll want to look for the undertone of the color to determine where it fits into a Color Relationship. A quick strategy for this is to look at the paint chip and see whether the undertone of the color becomes obvious in the darker shades.
Additionally, you can run the neutral color around the color wheel. An undertone will become more obvious in comparison to both the pure hue of that color or the complementary counterpart to that color. It’s pretty fun to test out!
4. Find Inspiration
Your next step is to gather the colors that you come across. Notice that I don’t recommend this as a first step. I didn’t want for you to become fixated on a color that’s all wrong in the grand scheme of your Whole House Color Palette. Blogs and Pinterest may seem like an obvious source of inspiration for such a thing. However, you should also look at some of the favorite things you’re drawn to. Martha Stewart famously designed a beautiful line of paint colors inspired by the colors of her Araucana eggs, her dog’s fur, and antique bowls. Make note if something catches your eye and fits with your color scheme. There’s probably a color out there to match it (or you can color match it at the paint store).
Paint colors won’t necessarily look the same in your home as they do in the photographs. There are several factors that go into choosing paint colors. It’s always important to create color swatches before you paint! However, if you do want to check out some virtual color ideas to test out, I shared my favorite neutrals here!
5. Test Your Lighting with Large Color Swatches
Lighting and how it impacts paint colors is another complex topic. There are many factors, such as determining which direction the room faces and how colors that respond accordingly.
However, what you mostly need to know is how the colors you’ve chosen as inspiration respond to the light. I recommend painting a large poster board with a sample of your color and living with it for a while. Observe how it responds to different times of day, different weather, natural vs. artificial light. Overall, determine how it works with the finishes of the room in those situations. Adjust based on what you do and don’t like.
6. Choose Your Whole House Color Palette
Now you have a pretty solid idea of which colors are going to work, and where you’re headed. You’re ready to finalize your Whole House Color Palette!
Out of the 3-5 Main Colors, at least one should be neutral, one should be a white, and one should be a darker contrasting color. For the remaining two, it’s up to you! My personal preference is to stick with neutrals for my main colors and go bolder with my accent colors.
For example, in my home my main neutral is Edgecomb Gray, my main white is Simply White, and my darker contrasting color is Kendall Charcoal.
These are the colors that you will use throughout your home in your more changeable finishes such as throw pillows and other smaller accessories. You will usually use up to two of these accent colors in a single room, three would be the absolute maximum.
One or more of these may have already been determined by your fixed finishes. You will want to choose one or two more, depending on whether you have bought all of the furniture you plan to.
These may be countertops, tile floors, or a brick fireplace. Again, these may have already determined by your fixed finishes.
Like any other finish in your home, metals have undertones. Gold, Brass, Bronze, and Brushed Nickel are warmer. Chrome and silver are cool. Black is neutral. You will want to use 1 or 2 in a single room of contrasting undertones.
Now, put it into action!
Yay, you did it! Well, you read through this novel of a post, at least. Chances are, implementing the things you just learned will take a bit more time. That’s completely understandable! Take as much time as you need with this, and don’t be afraid to get things wrong and make changes as you go.
Free Quiz — What’s Your Paint Color Personality
Let me know on Instagram if you put together your whole house color palette!