The Only Secret Formula For Choosing the Perfect Paint Color

peppercorn paint color

We are all looking for those foolproof, step by step rules that we can just implement, get ideal results and then forget about it. We want less work, no risk and lots of reward. Even when it comes to something as simple as choosing a wall color. And I am the queen of wanting an easy answer. If there was an app or robot that could actually make the right decision for paint, I’d buy it right now. Last week I showed you the paint that Sherwin-Williams supplied for our bedroom makeover, this week, I’m getting on my cute decoupage soap box and giving a State of the Nest address about choosing a paint color.

Choosing a paint color is an art.

I may hate a color in a room, you might love the same exact color. There really is no wrong. Therefore, sadly, no one can give you a formula for how to get the ‘right color’ for a room they aren’t living in.

But I can tell you a way to find the right paint color.

It’s not about learning the secret step by step formula to how to choose the perfect paint color every time.

I can’t teach you how to pick the perfect paint color on your first try. And anyone that says they can is a liar.

how to choose the perfect paint color

How can I convince us that it’s better to finally just pick a color. TRY something. Because even painting a space a wrong color is better than leaving it a color you don’t like. Can I get an amen?

EVERY designer has picked the wrong color. Every designer still picks the wrong color from time to time, and if they don’t it’s probably because they have a little batch of tested colors that they’ve learned work really well in their spaces.

I learned how to find the best color by sometimes first finding the worst color. Or at least a color I didn’t like.

Because spaces are organic. I mean, I’m not too science-y but, I’m guessing that our eyes aren’t even created the same and what is a gross puss lemon color in my brain could possibly be a beautiful light happy yellow in someone else’s brain. That’s okay!


We want someone to give us the secret formula to picking the perfect color the first time.

But we really need is someone to convince us that it’s okay to pick the wrong paint color.

The one formula I’ve found for finding the perfect paint color?

Choose a color.


how to choose a paint color

Pick something. Because something is better than nothing when it comes to trying to find the right color for a space. If you hate it, at least you know what color NOT to pick! Yippie, you’ve learned something!

white and wood

One of the reasons I wanted to do this room project was because of the limitations. Those lovely limitations that Sherwin-Williams put on me: I had to chose from the HGTV HOME™ by Sherwin-Williams Softer Side color collection. YES! Just the kick in the pants I needed to actually, finally get this room moving forward.

In my normal, everyday life I have something like 2000 paint colors to choose from. With that many colors to choose from I’ve been putting off painting for nine months. It’s debilitating.


Once I had the choices from Sherwin-Williams I was so thrilled to see that it only included 20 beautiful colors. It took me 3 minutes to decide which color I would use and I was SO happy to get to choose from a small batch of colors instead of choosing from any color in the world.

YES! It was actually freeing.

limitations are lovely

When I’m picking a paint color I usually start by eliminating options so I don’t have to think about those colors. I learned this years ago, the less choices I have to choose from the easier the decision.

For this room I wanted it to be obvious that it’s a room for a man and a woman, masculine and feminine.

I also wanted to honor the wood in the room. We have wood trim around the windows, wood floors, wood dressers and a wood light fixture–wood practically acted as a color in our room. And I’ve learned that I appreciate wood tones when they are paired with white. But I also think they pop when paired with black and gray. Because I knew I was keeping the wood in our room, I knew that pink or green or blue or yellow walls was something I wouldn’t be happy with.

We also have a gray bed that we aren’t changing, that was the only color that had to stay in the room, everything else was up for grabs–part of my problem was that I like gray paired with every color. But once I counted the wood in our room as a color, I was able to eliminate a lot of options.

Peppercorn it was.

dark grey master bedroom


I got really lucky with these Ikea drapes being a perfect match with Peppercorn. I love happy accidents.

paint colors

Plus, I’ve learned that when I have a neutral color on the walls, I’m free to add whatever color I want for pillows and smalls, it takes hardly any time and I have a fresh room because the dark neutral acts as a big blank canvas.

the perfect paint color lie

The truth is, the perfect paint color doesn’t exist. And if I ever find a step by step formula or an app that works, I’ll be the first to try it out. You get to decide the best color for your room and the only secret is to actually start.

peppercorn paint color

Winner of the 5 gallons of HGTV HOME™ by Sherwin-Williams Interior Paint giveaway from last week:

paint winner


If you are like me, and you have that one room that you’ve been waiting to make a decision about. Start today by eliminating colors. Need a jumping off point? Check out the Sherwin-Williams Pinterest page for all sorts of color inspiration organized by color, tips, collections and rooms.

I’ve curated a few boards as well if you want more photos:

 Click here for inspiration for easy ways to add color to your home

Click here for white wall inspiration

Click here for black wall inspiration

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  1. Just last week I had my office painted white. I mentally resisted going with white because it can be so generic. But, I needed something bright and calming to offset the busyness of my book shelves. I picked out a fun fabric to use as my table skirt and chose a white paint to match the white in the fabric. I love it!

  2. So so true, my friend! My mantra this year is to ‘Just Start Somewhere!’ And that includes picking the wrong paint color first sometimes. I’m so big on always telling people, ‘It’s just paint, you can always paint over it!’ Yet, here I sit with yellowy walls for 4 years that I despise!!!

  3. My husband was a contractor for many years. They mainly did restorative work after fires. When it came to picking colors, he too found that less is best. He would start out handing the customer a card with the standard paint colors on that and most often, the customer was quite happy to choose from those. Limiting the options is very freeing. Great post!

  4. I have to agree – making mistakes with paint is how I really learned what I prefer in a room. I love seeing all the grays that people use on blogs but I live in central Pennsylvania where we have lots of gray days. So more gray in my life doesn’t work for me. I’ve found a creamy white (yes – with a bit of yellow! : ) creates the illusion of the sunlight I crave during the long, gray winters. So my strategy has been to find colors that bounce light around my house. That being said, I do love to see someone else’s saturated-colored walls!

    • I’ve always loved creamy buttery color in my main living area. It certainly adds warmth, makes our home feel homey, and I have no problem mixing in cool colors through accent pillows, etc.

  5. Peppercorn is the perfect backdrop in your bedroom. I imagine peaceful nights in this room.

  6. “The dangers in life are infinite, and among them safety” LOVE IT! You have to TRY. with everything in life. When our kids attempt anything (trying out for college cheerleading six months after shoulder surgery, running for class president, applying for a camp) we always tell them how proud we are of them for TRYING. You never know unless you try something. You will get plenty of “no’s” or maybe ugly walls (or people who scoff at your art), but the final reward of something going right is so worth it! I am amazed at the scaredy cats out there. The ones who “arrange” everything for their kids – make friends with the coach, first, etc – they are doing their kids a disservice and creating unnecessary fear in them. Those kids will enter adult life always needing things “worked out” in advance for them. That is my soap box issue for the day. LOVE that quote! (and by the way, she made college cheerleading! Just posted it, yesterday:))

    • let’s get matching soap boxes!

      And yes, if we can’t take a risk in our HOME, the very safest place on earth, than no place is safe!

      yippie for cheerleading!! xo

  7. Merlyn Corcoran says

    Two paint color mistakes I made turned out to be the right choice for another room. Sidewalk Gray looked lavender in the kitchen but is lovely in the guestroom. Benjamin Moore Frappe was not the same color as Valspar Frappe (remembered the name but not the brand!) so it found a home in our bedroom and I love it! Sadly I was not so happy with the pale sage green I chose for the living room so soon it will be covered with grasscloth – too bad we have 5 gallons of it left over!

  8. Mary Hite says

    I really like what you said about paint color. And, truly, this applies to color in general.
    As an artist and someone who has moved a great deal, one of the things I use to personalize a space is color.

    And color looks different to every person and in every light. Paint that looks great at the store may be a different color in your room. Painting squares of potential colors on your wall is one way to try your choices – but it leaves your room looking like a project. A simpler way is to get canvas board – or pre-stretched canvas at a local hobby/craft store and paint them several versions of your color choices. You can look at them in morning light, day light, artificial light and see how the colors feel to you. Inexpensive way to try since so many paint lines are now offering sample sizes. You can even mix your own color – then take your painted board back to have it custom mixed.

    The light in the room and the other colors in the room will influence any new color you add. So color testing is a simple way to streamline your process.

    hugs to all!

  9. Great advice lady. Especially on the fewer options the better. I’m not going to lie though, Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter may be the safest (and prettiest) paint color to blindly throw at someone. Your bedroom is awesome.

  10. I have a sort of cove in my living room that I use as an office. I painted it Rum Raisin (brick red) a few years ago. Since then, I’ve acquired a grey sofa, and wanted a cooler color scheme. I decided on gray and what I call mid-century blue…. Not ocean, not turquoise….. Try getting other people to understand what you mean by mid-century blue! Think of a blue sofa on Mad Men… THAT blue.
    I walked into a paint store, found a Peacock paint chip and went with it!
    The saleswoman wanted me to take some samples but I swore I wasn’t going to pussyfoot around. Just give me the can!
    It’s perfect!

  11. You asked for an Amen and I can give you a big enthusiastic Amen for that post! Paint is oh so very tricky and finicky. Although the following link is not a cure for the epidemic paint color problem it is a tip I’ve found helpful.

  12. My mom and I once painted her living room green. She was looking for a dusty sage but on the wall it was more spearmint. We kept saying “oh it will be different when it dries.” Then sat in te room for about 20 minutes after we were done. “Oh, it looks good.” “Yes it does.” Finally we looked at each other and said “we have to get a different color”. Back to Home Depot. The second color was perfect.

  13. You are so right!! I absolutely love our bedroom color but I have a feeling no one else does (you can just tell when they peek their head in). I am confident in the choice because I’ve dreamed of a green bedroom for years and I finally have it! Besides they don’t wake up in this room every morning.

  14. Thank you! A friend of mine just texted me and said I needed to read your blog today… so glad I did. I am in the process of choosing 2 paint colors for our downstairs and you have given me some courage. I love the way Peppercorn turned out in your room – it makes the space feel so relaxing and warm.

  15. Just had to comment that between the book and your blog and IG, you are on fii-yaa!! So much good stuff! I’m soaking up all this encouragment, and getting stuff done! Tagged you today on IG with our newly-painted fireplace, and gave your book a shout-out to all 8 people who read my blog :))) Thanks for doing what you do!

  16. Gorgeous paint color. But what I’m really here for is that geometric sculpture. Where did you get that? I must know!

  17. Love this advice, as we are moving into a new home that needs fresh paint throughout I am anxious. I think I want neutrals, but do I? I have picked GOD AWFUL paint colors before and our first bedroom color actually came from the disney princess display. Husband never let me forget that…

    Luckily I have paid a designer friend a small-ish fee to help me make all these decisions in the new house. I am pregnant, busy with work and excited to work on the house but happy for the sounding board and help. Never thought design help would be available on my budget… but you’d be surprised.

  18. Ha! You should see my collection of paint cards. It’s an addiction really. When we were renovating our little house I had so many shades of white that it was almost overwhelming, but I finally picked bleached lined for most of the rooms and I love it. It is a warm, creamy white, and certain times of the day it has just the littlest hint of pink. I went with honied white by Sherwin-Williams in my bedroom – it has a little more green than I like, but we are living with it for now. I had seen it in a magazine and a designer said it was a great white and her go to white. I liked the paint chip, but it looks nothing like the paint chip. You are right, paint is a personal preference and sometimes you don’t know until you try.

  19. These posts are so close to home right now… We’re busy with our bedroom. I thought my hubby was the only one who painted zigzags and other delicious smudges with the leftover paintbrush paint before the roller hits the walls! Plus, also, too:) the choosing the wrong paint colour first!!! I chose paint for my living room ages last year which thankfully (now in hindsight) was too little for there,that I decided to use as the white in my bedroom… After one coat it looked pink, and my hubs must just have been extra loving as it was mothers day because I declared I’m off to get WHITE paint. And even though I made the wrong first choice he let me and painted another two coats of white and now I love it!! I had bought charcoal material for drapes already so when I saw your bedroom makeover last week I could show him my vision you see! I was going with a teal accent wall but I went with him and you on the dark grey! Now I understand how to use the neutrals as a backdrop for the teal I love in pillows etc. Its so cool to be working on this as a team. I used to be the person in your post ‘ How to know if you are decorating out of fear’ and he was so no. 6! Now he’s even used to me reading your blog posts to him out loud:) bless him! So thank you! Just thank you!

  20. Love this! I have a tiny half bath downstairs painted a funky green color that I love. It’s not for everyone and it would be overwhelming in a larger space. I do like neutrals on the walls because I love to add pops of bright color…they make me smile.

  21. I just chose the wrong color for my master bath. I was loving Sherwin Williams “naval” and pinned it all over my Pinterest account. I painted it and hated it. Going back to the pictures, I realized I always loved it with natural light and my bathroom has no windows. Now my husband is making me live with it because he doesn’t want to redo a part of our house he considers done when there is so much else that we have do yet. I will get my way eventually though ;). Incidentally, the color looks lovely in our living space which gets TONS of light! I used leftovers to paint our dining chairs and the door to the dining room :)

  22. This is so true! It baffles me why people get so scared of picking a paint color. Just try something… you don’t have to keep it forever. I also tend to decorate a space faster with other furniture and such if the walls are a neutral color and I can add bold color in other items.

    I see you are reading The Fault in Our Stars….. great book!

  23. Nester,
    I have a story about a paint job that wnet so wrong it turned out perfect. The guest room started with a pale old pastel “bedroom green” from previous owners. We wanted a Latte color to blend the wood tones of the maple and pine woodwork, walnut dresser and the 1820’s tiger maple bed. We did not prime first or use primer/paint and the Latte color has a greenish tint to it. Turned into one of those impossible to describe, yummy, calm, colors that glows in daylight and wraps around you at night. It is darker than we were comfortable with and opened so many doors to us rethinking what colors we could use.
    Maybe later I will share the 14 coats of paint to get it right story. :(


  24. I think I like that color, Is it me, or does the color look grey in one picture and an almost deep blue in another?

  25. Yeah, that Peppercorn color turned out pretty much perfect :) My husband finally gave me the OK to repaint our living room (it’s a cream that is too light for the dark room and not quite the right tint of yellow anyways) so I’ve been doing the paint swatch dance. I’ve got 5 chips now in contention that are all mid greige or tan and no idea which is best. Who can really tell that from a paint chip, at least when it comes to neutrals? I’ll be getting sample pots of the top two that I think might work and paint up large samples on posterboard of each and see how that looks when I hold them up and move them around. If neither is quite right I’ll buy a couple more samples. This is MY 90% reliable method for finding the right paint without spending too much money. :)

  26. Nice post, love the way you have explained to choose the right color. I always been confused whrn my asked what color to choose for the living room or somthing like that. Now i can try it out with some fun and i hope my wife will like it to.

  27. I love this post- I think it’s so true! I’ve repainted one room in my house three times now, and I could not be happier with the results now. It took some trial and error but I got there! I adore your new bedroom. It is so beautiful and looks really relaxing and soothing. Love the dark gray with the wood.

  28. This really strikes a chord with me. When we moved into our home I painted our living room a custom gray color. I had my local paint store mix it until they got it right. I lived with it until I found the color was just bring down my mood. So I painted the living room what I thought was a nice putty color, but it was really yellow. Just didn’t work at all! Now I think I’ve finally found the right color. But it took a few attempts. You can read more about my blunder here…

    Thanks for sharing!

  29. Stephanie says

    I’d love to know which curtains you ordered from Ikea. They are beautiful! I commented on an older post, but thought it might be better to comment here. So sorry to be a bother! :) Your bedroom is absolutely beautiful.

    • I should have put that in the post, the drapes in the bedroom are: Rivta

      if you are asking about my other Ikea drapes? Light gray in the family room? they are Aina

      I’m really happy with both of them!

  30. Waiting to paint house….BUT read this, went to HD website, looked at colors, chose one, and lo and behold, paint samples were on sale for 1.64 w/ free shipping! So ordered one. Took 5 minutes. Yeah!!!! House to be painted sooner than I thought!

  31. Hi I love the shag rug! Where did you get it? Does it shed like crazy?

  32. Love the “you don’t know till you try” approach and honestly, anything is better than Contractors Beige.

  33. Color is an art form and just in the past few years my eye has improved so much. I can recognize undertones and I know what looks good and what is a little bit off, but I do agree that you need to start somewhere. Color needs context though too – there needs to be a reason for choosing a particular color which you’ve explained about your bedroom. Color is such a fascinating topic too that i’m sure we could talk about for a long, long time. I always enjoy reading a paint post and nice to see this SW collection.

  34. I like your blog.

  35. Where did you get the wood chandelier. It’s lovely and exactly what i’m looking for to put in a guest bedroom. I found a similar one on overstock but it was pretty pricey.

  36. neutral paint is the best option in my opinion because of the accenting colors. thanks for posting

  37. This has been so encouraging today! I am working up the courage to paint a very dark teal accent wall in my living room. I have wanted to for years but it is kind of scary. The color I’ve picked is fabulous but it intimidates me. It’s happening, though. We have a wall of windows behind the couch and it will go there. Between the light and the white curtains and how little actual wall there will be okay. Now I need to decide if the other walls will be pale gray or white. ???

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