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  • Writer's pictureWendy Elizabeth

If you give a man some paint…….

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Many years ago my parents went to the Greek Islands for a holiday. When they returned they decided to paint their newly renovated bathroom a warm shade of terracotta; they were inspired by their trip and wanted to recreate the sunny, Mediterranean feeling back home.

They bought the paint, mum went to work for the day, and dad was left to paint the bathroom.

When she got home that night the bathroom wasn’t terracotta – it was a very pale peach. Apparently, when dad opened the can he thought it was too dark, applied to the wall it was even darker, so he took it upon himself to add half a can of white paint. The striking orange had become a pastel. My mum took it in stride (or so I was told), hastily changed plans and turned the bathroom into a relaxing spa-like room instead. 

I think of this story often because putting color on the walls is a daunting task for most of us. The walls take up so much space in our homes that we want to get it right, we don’t want our homes to look boring but neither do we want them to look cartoonish.

When I moved into my home I painted every room in the house cream. Because that’s what people did. After a few years I got bored and decided to paint my kitchen green. Not just a light green but a dark, mossy green. The minute I painted it I loved it. My kitchen is tiny and dark but it has been green for over 10 years. I have changed the counters and the cupboards many times since then, but I have never tired of the green walls.

After the kitchen I began experimenting in other rooms. I knew that if it didn’t work I could always paint over it. Although my living room is still white, several of my other rooms are now quite colorful. All of them are very small rooms (8 x 10 at best) and all of them have colors that we would traditionally shy away from with smaller rooms. Interestingly enough I found that having color on the walls created personality within the room, the shapes became more interesting and the room was easier to decorate.

At the moment I really want to paint my living room. Well, I don’t really want to paint it, I want to decide on the color, then pay some nice person to paint it for me! But that’s beside the point. As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, my living room, although edited, is still filled with a lot of stuff and a lot of color. Its the color that is already in the room that keeps tripping me up. It is starting to resemble a Frida Kahlo painting and I think there is a fine line between eccentric and downright strange. I love Frida’s work but I don’t want to feel that I am living in one.

With that in mind I decided that choosing paint would be an interesting topic for this week.

  1. The first and easiest option is to go with your gut, choose a color for no reason other than the fact that you like it and want it in the room. If you are making a drastic color change then I would recommend getting a sample of it to try before you commit to the whole room. I know it seems like a lot of work but it is important to see how the color looks in your home, with your furniture and surroundings. Buy a small sampling of the color. Some paint distributors have testers available in the form of a sachet or a miniature bottle (I saw some the other day for just $2.97 each and they had them in every color). These will usually cover a three foot square area. If you don’t want to paint the actual wall with your test color then paint several pieces of paper (even newspaper) and hang them up around the room. While not perfect it will give you a visual reference that no tiny paint card can.

  2. Live with the color for a couple of days and then make your decision Also, I hate to say this, but if it is a very dark color you may need to prime the walls first. I did not prime my kitchen and bedroom but I can honestly say I was foolish not to. Both times I had to return to the store to get more paint. To get the true color I had to apply three coats of paint, it took me longer than if I had primed it in the first place.

  3. The next color option is always white and cream. Although these are often frowned upon they do have their place (downstairs in my living room apparently). The good thing about these colors is that they are a blank canvas for your home, anything you put against them will stand out. My only caution would be to think carefully before you use bright white paint. The difference between cream and white is subtle but if you use cream (or a light butter color) your home will look warmer. Of course there can always be beautiful white rooms but take extra care in how you decorate them, without the right accessories it can be a bit harsh.

  4. My absolute favorite way to pick paint is from something that inspires me. I need to touch or see the color first before I tackle all those tiny paint cards. I need a starting point. My strategy is that when I see a color that I love I will try and do whatever I can to remember that color. I’ll rip the page out of the magazine, pick the flower, photograph the window, write a description, anything. Once I have what I need I am ready to go to the store.

  5. When I get to the store I head straight to the color matching scanner in the paint department. These are ingenious; take the item that you have and hold it against the screen, it will analyse it and give you the coordinating paint color. Once the formula has been printed out the store will mix up the color for you. You’ll be surprised what they can process (fabric, old paint cans, flowers, magazines etc). For my kitchen I matched the inside border of a painting, for the bedroom a piece of suede on a quilt that lay on the bed and for my bathroom I took a photograph of the wallpaper in the hotel that I was staying in and matched that.

  6. You can begin with anything you want. Maybe the stitching on a pillow is the perfect shade of green, or maybe when you got a special gift you decided that the silver jewelry and the blue box were exactly what you were looking for. Once you start looking to be inspired you’ll be surprised at how much there is right in front of you. The world is filled with color and there is nothing better than something you love to get you motivated.

  7. Sometimes you’ll find that an item can’t be color matched with the scanner (eg. a car, the belt on a strangers dress, clouds) but at least you know what you like and how to find it. Knowing what you want is half the battle. 

I meant to keep this post short but alas I am not very good at editing myself. One thing I forgot to mention was to look outside for inspiration too. Colors from nature always go together and are always, well, natural. Maybe you want some color but are afraid of being too bold. Try shades of green, brown, red or yellow and see if they would fit into your home. Experiment by bringing branches or flowers inside. Anything you can do to create an image will help you make a better decision.

As for me, I think I want to paint my living room a very light yellow. I wonder if I can scan a piece of cheddar cheese…..

(p.s. yes, you can scan a piece of yellow american cheese). 

For more by Wendy and the Blue Giraffe, go to:

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