PaintPRO , Vol. 2 No. 3, May 2000
PaintPRO Vol 2, No 3

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Related Readings:
Conversion Varnishes
Metallic Paints
Color Paint Coordination
Color for Kitchens & Baths
Glass Textile Wallcoverings
The Winning Ways of White Paint
Profile on Design: Metallic Paints
Refinishing Sinks & Tubs
Who Needs Paint: Colored Plaster
Other articles in this issue:
Color Know How
Concrete Makes A Statement
2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City
Coating Metal Surfaces
Managing Cash Flow
Faux Finishing: Glazing
Contractor Profile: Mike MacNeil
Paint Product News
Painting Tips

PaintPRO Archives

Paint Colors, Color Selection

A contractor who offers advice on color selection is more likely to earn his customer’s respect and loyalty. Several basic guidelines can help you and your customer zero in on just the right shades for the project.
by Ester Brody

Although color is one of the first things you notice when you enter a room, how often does it factor into your initial conversation with the customer? In fact, a contractor who can offer solid advice regarding color selection is more likely to earn his customer’s respect and loyalty. Picking colors from the many hundreds available may seem intimidating to some customers, and no wonder: some fan decks have more than 1,000 colors. But helping customers choose the colors that will meet their decorating needs doesn’t need to be a complicated process. Several basic guidelines can help you and your customer zero in on just the right shades for the project.

First, Be a Detective and Ask Questions
This is an important step in helping your customer discover what they like and don’t like when it comes to color. For example, what are their interests? Outdoor enthusiasts may show a preference for colors inspired by nature like cool blue water, natural stone, warm sand shades, or a wide variation of green tones. The customer who shows a preference for traditional furnishings may lean toward colors that have historical roots like rich reds and blues and other jewel tones. Another key in selecting color is based on the type of mood the customer wants to convey. Is the room meant to be a quiet work area, or a gathering space? Do they want tones that communicate tranquility or lively activity? The old rule of thumb about “warm” and “cool” colors comes into play here. Warm colors like reds and oranges tend to add excitement to an environment, while greens and blues have a calming effect.

What about the other decorating elements that will be used in the room? Often, customers rely on paint color to tie many patterns and textures together. Exploring some of these questions with your customer can point you in the right direction and greatly narrow color choices down to the ones that will complement the setting.

Consider the Light Source
Nothing impacts color more than the type of light that is used. Fluorescent lights like those in most kitchens or offices have the effect of leaching out the cool tones in a color, so that the color appears warmer. Incandescent lights have the opposite effect, subtracting the warm tones from color and highlighting its cooler shade. For example, a true green under florescent light will appear as a yellow-green. But when exposed to an incandescent light, that same green will take on a more blue-green hue. This illusion of color changing according to its light source is known as “metamerism.” According to JoAnne Day of The Day Studio Workshop, Inc., in San Francisco, understanding this concept is critical when selecting color. Day works closely with painting contractors teaching the fundamentals of color and design in addition to more advanced coursework.

When working with contractors, Day stresses the importance of going to the job site and examining the light source of each room. If possible, Day also recommends visiting the site at different times of day. “What a color looks like in the direct sunlight is obviously very different to how it will look in the evening under incandescent lighting,” Day says. In addition, Day notes that strong sunlight in a room with a southern exposure will likely have the effect of “washing out” colors. On the other hand, diffused sunlight in a room with northern exposures will tend to bring more blue tones into the space. To help customers better visualize the impact of light on color, Day suggests developing several test panels in warmer, cooler and duller versions of the same color. Then, place the test panels in the room and allow the customer to see what the colors will look like under various lighting situations. This, according to Day, is an excellent way to demonstrate how colors change depending on the light source.

Guidelines for exterior color choices also depend on the intensity of the sun. The strong sunlight of warm tropical or dessert environments is conducive to brighter colors that tend to get washed out. But the same bright tones in northern locations would be out of place since sunlight is more filtered. In addition, color samples should be examined outdoors.

Regional Preferences
Linda Trent, Director of Color Marketing and Design for The Sherwin-Williams Company notes that color themes seen throughout the United States are derived from a mix of conditions, including the region’s landscape or topography, its weather and climate patterns and its unique cultural history. These regional preferences typically show up on home exteriors where color choices are a blend of what the individual home owner likes and what the home builder offers, leveraged against prevailing color themes indigenous to that particular area of the country. According to Trent, here are some of the color preferences consistent to region:

  • Shades of gold, yellows, wheat and sage-tinted green are popular among homeowners in the Pacific Coast region. Typically, these customers like cheerful yet sophisticated hues that reflect colors found in the surrounding environment.
  • Customers in Western-Mountain states show a preference for natural colors like warm tan shades, and the use of rough-sawn cedar and stone for exteriors. Homeowners in these areas tend to avoid darker stains in exterior siding due to the fading effects of the sun.
  • The preference for neutrals throughout the Southwest blends well with the prairie terrain as well as coastal areas. Subtle differences show up in dessert areas where the use of darker tones like deep taupe and cactus greens are popular. Ethnic influences also come into play in areas close to the Mexican border where combinations of sand and turquoise, bright blues and terra cottas are common.
  • Midwestern homeowners lean toward traditional shades such as creams, whites and light beiges for siding colors. Deeper tones such as burgundy or forest green are commonly used for doors and shutters.
  • White is still the color of choice for exteriors in Southern states. Cool green tones are popular as accent colors for roofs, shutters and awnings.
  • For homeowners in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern Coastal regions, neutrals from the tan, gray and white families are the preference. These color choices are a reflection of environmental elements such as sand, sea grass and the green-gray waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Some mild differences can be seen in the homes of the southern coasts where crisp pastels in melon tones are popular for trim choices.
  • Once again, the popular neutrals from the tan, gray and white palette are the norm in New England where homeowners prefer a conservative palette. However, these tranquil colors are accented with vivid shades of navy blues and berry tones for doors, trim and shutters.

Trent also notes that exterior color choices should always be evaluated along with other building materials that will be used such as shingles, brick and stone. “Consider these elements as color resources,” says Trent. “There are numerous shades and hues in building materials.” For example, Trent points out that a charcoal gray shingle could have flecks of gray-green or gray-blue, which could be matched to a paint chip and incorporated into the overall color scheme. In addition, increased travel and relocating from state to state has caused many customers to bring regional tastes with them. However, most homeowners will showcase these color com-binations on home interiors rather than exteriors.

Keep Up with the Trends
Mary Lawlor, Color Design Studio Manager for The Kelly-Moore Paint Company, says that one of the biggest trends in using color for interiors is — using more color! “Customers have been using neutrals for so long that they’re ready to add some excitement to interiors,” says Lawlor. Lawlor credits this new drive toward color on trendsetters like Martha Stewart and designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. “These designers have brought wonderful ideas on decorating and the use of color to the masses,” Lawlor says. “Stores like Target and Sears also do a great job showcasing these new color schemes.”

Lawlor also observes an increased use of faux, metallic and opalescent finishes. Overall, clean, crisp colors from nature are the most prevalent trends in color styling for the new millennium. Among the most popular colors are upbeat yellows and greens, and aquatic cool blues. Other earth-based shades that are emerging include deep reddish-browns and stone colors. Some other trends range from ultra-feminine lavenders and peaches to vibrant, bright colors inspired by Latin America.

But in the final stages of choosing colors for their homes, customers are attached to their own ideas of what works best, according to Erica Woelfel of Colwell General, manufacturers of color merchandising tools. “The bottom line is individuality,” says Woelfel. “In the new millennium, people do not feel pressured to always keep in step with the trends — personal tastes prevail.”

Take Advantage of the Tools Available
While fan decks are probably the most common source for current color selections, they tend to include so many colors that selection becomes confusing. Better choices for helping customers are color cards. “Color cards are excellent for showing how colors work together,” says Woelfel. Keeping an eye on the leading shelter magazines can also be a useful guide in helping customers visualize what’s new in home decorating.

Of course today’s computer technology offers the best way for customers to see results before one coat of paint is applied. Some software programs now being developed offer a “virtual view” of what interiors and exteriors can look like based on photographs of the actual site. Though not widely available yet, some paint manufacturers may be offering this service to painting contractors within the next year. Other manufacturers have web sites to assist customers. Samuel Cabot Inc., manufacturers of wood stains, offers a web site called “Dream in Color” at “With a few simple clicks of the mouse, you can fill a Cabot house illustration with your personal choice of Cabot siding, trim accent and deck colors for a preview look at what your home can look like when completed,” says Brett Reily of Samuel Cabot.

Share Your Knowledge
Although most painting contractors shy away from giving their opinions, customers are still interested in what they have to say. “Professional painting contractors have a wealth of information to share based on their experience,” says Day. “Painters are more knowledgeable about how coatings will perform and how simple things like glossy or satin finishes can change the appearance of a color.”

While no one expects their painting contractor to be an expert designer, customers will certainly appreciate the additional time and effort spent on color selection. In the end, how the job looks will pay dividends on job referrals for the future.


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