Color 101:  Another in a series of basic understandings you should have about color, in order to more easily select paint color.

Color is a Chameleon.  By that, I mean it changes depending upon what it is next to.

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Colors will point out their similarities when far apart, but will point out their differences when close together.  So a color which seems fine on its own may suddenly look too – (insert) blue, red, green, yellow, purple, or any other color name- when placed next to another color.  Now I’ll come back to that characteristic in another post, but this one is going to focus on what that means for sampling paint color.

This change happens every time you paint a sample of a paint color on top of an existing wall color.  You just made it more difficult to perceive what that color will look like when the other prior existing paint color is totally covered up.    My clients all know that this is not how I recommend you sample color.  Not only is the color harder to perceive, but now you will have to paint over the colors which don’t work, and you may end up with shadows of those color blotches, requiring an extra coat of paint on those walls.

Since that is so, how then do you effectively look at a color to see if it will actually work in the room?  There is a great product, the Swatch Right sample kit, which comes in round shapes (because our eyes are round, the round shape is easy for us to focus on), which you can order to put the sample paint on.   To order it, go to


Or paint it on a board, such as a piece of foam core board, or a plasticine type of board such as a “Mighty Board” (Vienna Paint here in Northern Virginia carries both of these, so hopefully the paint store in your region also has a similar product.).  If you have a real wood board or piece of drywall, paint it with primer first, then the color.  Regular poster board will not work – it absorbs some of the paint, and so the color will not be seen accurately on poster board.

Paint two coats on it, two complete coats so that the white background is entirely gone, and then have someone hold it for you about a foot out from the wall, or park it in a chair, about a foot out from the wall.  That way, the existing color doesn’t splash on the new color, or change it.

Once you have the samples, now you need to try them in multiple locations.  Be sure to try the sample next to the flooring, next to upholstery, next to your artwork, your fabrics.  Look at it in a dark corner of the room, and in a light corner.  Because color is dynamic, and you need to see the full range of the colors you are considering.

Go out of the room, and come back in, when you change color samples which you are considering. The human nose can only try three fragrances before it starts to lose the distinctions;  our eyes may need a “refresh” in the same way.

If it is a master bedroom, master bath, or kitchen, places where you tend to start and end your day, and if you have time enough before the painter arrives, look at it first thing in the morning when you are waking up, and the last thing at night, when you are tired and winding down.

Look at the color at the time of day when you most use that room, but again, look at it in the dark corner, and the light corner, and in between, to see the full dynamic range of the color.

Once you eliminate a color – keep it eliminated, at least for that space.

You should come to a decision using this strategy.  Good luck!


Linda H. Bassert,
Masterworks Window Fashions & Design

“Color Harmonies for Your Home, Artistry at Your Windows. ”

Award winning interior design and decorating, paint color consultation, custom window treatments, reupholstery, and other custom items, and art and framing consultation, in Northern Virginia and the greater metropolitan Washington D.C. area.
Contact me at 703-426-8123, or by email at

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