The Cottage Smallholder

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How to choose the right paint colour for your room

Phoo: Pink love gallery

Brringg, Brrringg.
“Hello, we’d like our kitchen decorated. There’s just one problem we don’t know what colour to choose. We’ve already spent over 20 pounds on matchpots.”

My initial visit to make a quote is free. And all advice on colour is free too. I work in loads of different houses each year, from the basic housing estate box to the ones with mile long drives. Gradually I’ve developed a feel for colour and which ones work best with the light in a room.

Most people start by choosing a colour whereas the true key is assessing the quality of the light in a particular room. Colour is alive in daylight. Think of colour at dusk and after dark. It’s grey moving to black. Daylight and night light can dramatically affect the colour in a room. And a wall that catches the light can look totally different from wall that always remains in shadow. Every room has them both, even at noon. So if you invest in a matchpot, test it on every wall. And remember that the little square of colour will have a dramatically different effect when painted wall to ceiling. Either a joy or a reason to reach for the tissues.

If you are planning to redecorate it’s worth investing in a few lifestyle magazines such as House and Garden, Homes and Gardens or Country Living. Study the rooms that appeal to you. And remember that most of these rooms have been professionally lit for the photographs. The top paint producers also offer free colour charts with tempting photographs of houses decorated with their range of paint. These ‘houses’ may be the corners of a photographic studio, so beware.

It’s very easy to get carried away with these catalogues and magazines and imagine that a change in colour will bring light flooding into your room. But in reality, a dark north facing room will always remain a dark north facing room. You can enhance the light with the colour that you choose and well designed lighting could also mask the drawbacks.

Avoid the mistake of matching the colour from a fabulous room in a sunnier country. Some clients chose a paler emerald blue they had enjoyed in the south of France. After a few strokes I knew that it was a mistake.
“Are you sure that you want to go with this colour?”
“We were so happy on that holiday. The blue of the bedroom was to die for.”

They repainted within a few months.

There are painting tricks too. In very dark rooms I add white to the paint that I use only on the walls in shadow. The room then appears to be lighter than it actually is and works very well if you have the time to get the mix just right.

Over the past five years or so I have probably road tested every brand of paint on the UK market and Dulux wins hands down. If you are doing DIY don’t be tempted by the offers in the DIY stores. Find your nearest builder’s merchant and invest in the Trade version of Dulux paint. It might be a bit more expensive but has greater opacity and handles like a dream. The paint that is offered to the general public is not such good quality and when I hear the chirpy,
“We’ve bought the paint!”
My heart sinks. Labour is far more expensive than the paint. The off the shelf paint always needs an extra coat so is much more expensive.

There are a few colours that seem to work well in any size of house and any room even those with the worst light aspect. These are all from the Dulux Heritage range and are my answer to Magnolia:

  • DH White
  • Cream
  • Edwardian Lemon
  • DH Linen Colour
  • Warm Stone

A few years ago, before I started decorating professionally, we decided to redecorate the cottage and chose a selection of bright ‘happy’ colours. After a couple of months we were overwhelmed by their chirpiness. Gradually the cottage is being painted in DH White (sunlight on white) with white ceilings and white eggshell woodwork. I used this combination for a house on a small estate in Cambridge last winter/spring. Despite the dying market it sold within a week.

Although there’s a radical change in cottage colours we are keeping the pink corridor that leads to the white bathroom. The Love Gallery just has to stay the same.

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  1. I enjoyed reading all this info. I need all the hints and tips I can get having a big victorian house in which I do all the painting and decorating. Thanks for sharing. x

  2. samantha winter

    The advice is wonderful. We have a white cottage all the way through because the light in our little windows isn’t enough.
    I have been wondering if we might have a bit of colour and these whites with a bit extra seem like a good idea.

  3. kate (uk)

    I’m a fan of Dulux too-their ‘Timeless’ is a really useful colour, it can be warm or cold depending what you put with it and has real subtlty, which is rare in a neutral cream, looks wonderful with white woodwork and any colour works with it. The trade paint covers like a dream.

  4. FN, we are having a completely new bathroom. Top to bottom. large south facing window, nearly as wide as the bath is long. Travertine tiles on the floor and around the bath/shower area (shower over the bath). Half recessed sink into a cupboard, that will also house the toilet cistern. The counter top will be black marble with a shallow splash back, like in kitchens.

    I just need to get the colour on the wall correct, else it will all be in vain. I have saved like mad and worked extra, scrimped and budgeted. For over 2 years now to get this room done. If the paint is wrong I think I will go stir crazy.

    I can understand why people buy new houses. they dont have to do anything to them! I am going to take lots of before and after pictures. Then when and if I dont like the colour, it will make me feel better that it is better after.

  5. I’m going to investigate these colours for my brother who lives in a small, low ceilinged cottage which gets plenty of sunshine on one side and very little on the other. When he moved in a few years ago he went out and very carefully chose paint for the kitchen, had it painted and then felt his heart sink as he realised the colour was in fact magnolia by any other name. Would it look odd to strip the paint altogether from the door frames as his wheel chair chips it off anyway if he knocks them on the way through? Would we then need to strip other wood to match? I suspect that it has been painted so many times anyway that perhaps it is time to start again. As a child I wondered why my parents agonised for so long over any decorating decisions. Now I know …

  6. How very timely! We have a whole house and office to decorate, and were planning on paint-choosing this weekend so that we can paint over the holidays. It’s a challenge since it has only two outside walls (one of which is only a metre from the neighbouring house), hence some rooms (the bathrooms) have no or very little natural light. There are many mirrors in our future 🙂

    We were assuming we’d paint the lot in brilliant white, but maybe we should choose something more subtle?

    Also, what do you think about those paint-spraying machines, Fiona? The floors haven’t been laid yet, so making a mess isn’t too much of a worry, and it would be a lot quicker than rollers!

  7. Being a relative newcomer to this blog, I hadn’t seen the love gallery entry. What a lovely idea. I keep all hubby’s cards in a drawer, but my last Feb 14th card is so pretty it is on a shelf in the bedroom. A frame calls!
    I notice you also have a mirror to bounce light around in your tiny gallery – an excellent trick.
    The house we live in now is the first I have ever lived in which faces north/south, half-way down a north facing hill, and I find it much harder to decorate than houses which face east/west.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi S.O.L.

    I’ve seen quite a few brown bathrooms – they generally don’t stay like that for long!

    If you mix white into any paint use the same type of paint so that they will mix perfectly.

    I had a hideous turquoise bathroom suite in my first London flat in the seventies. I wallpapered the room and it looked quite good as it seemed to deflect from the turquoise.

    So if it’s the suite, you could consider wallpaper.

  9. Inspiration Found Here! I am so worried about the paint in my bathroom, you would have thought it was the Palace of Versailles.

    I am now wondering about DH linen and Warm stone or DH White. So many choices. I really need someone to just come in and just decide for me. Paint the room and tell me ‘you love it’ over and over. Till I think ‘I love this colour’.

    Unfortunately, the bathroom is the sticky plaster for the relationship I have with this house. I dont like it, I never have. So the bathroom is make or break.

    Thanks for this post! Inspiration in a tin. LOL pun intended.

    Have a great day everyone! Thanks again

  10. Allotment blogger

    Himself manages the Dulux store in Haywards Heath – instant 10% discount to anybody who comes in and mentions the Cottage Smallholer, he says!

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