Caroline Browne

Choosing & using paint colours in your home

Choosing and using paint colours in your home can be daunting and stressful, right? With the massive ranges of paints and colours available, it’s difficult to know where to start, let alone actually make a final choice.

Here are my tips to help simplify the choice so that you can feel confident of getting it right.

Practical tips

It might sound obvious but paint always looks different from the colour card once it’s on your walls so do buy a pot and test it in your room. The colour will almost always appear darker and stronger when it’s on the wall. Ideally paint up as large an area as you can-a large sheet of paper or wall-lining paper can be moved around and looked at in different positions in your room. Paint colours can look very different in daylight and artificial light so do check both.

Give yourself plenty of time to consider the choices and trust your gut instinct-if it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. However, it’s easy to obsess and overthink it! If the worst happens and you don’t like it once the room is decorated, then paint can be changed relatively quickly and easily.

Pale to mid tones


From the huge range of off whites, greys and putty shades available, favourites that I use time and time again include Slipper Satin from Farrow & Ball (pictured above, F&B) and Joanna by Little Greene (LG). Both are warm off-whites that work with everything. Shaded White (F&B) and French Grey (LG) are slightly stronger warm greys, both an excellent background for pictures and artwork.

Ammonite and Cornforth White from Farrow & Ball are pale cool greys, ideal for contemporary homes.

If you prefer something warm and homely, Clunch (F&B), Stone II (Paint & Paper Library) and Hay (F&B) contain increasing amounts of yellow and are perfect for traditional interiors.

Darker colours

Deep and dark paint colours such as charcoal, inky blues, deep sage and forest green are currently having a real fashion moment in interiors. Although traditionally associated with library and dining rooms, they also have a contemporary feel.

These intense, deep shades are perfect in the autumn and winter, offset with flickering candles and a glowing fire. They look really effective combined with natural materials such as wood and stone, and with metallic finishes such as brass and copper. Pale furniture and textiles will “sing” out of a deep, rich background.

Some of my dark and moody favourites are Night Swimming, a deep grey-blue from Paint the Town Green. Also Stiffkey Blue, Green Smoke and Railings, a deep charcoal shade (all F&B).

What goes where?

One of the questions I’m often asked is about choosing paint colours for woodwork and ceilings. There’s no rule that says they have to be white, it’s just become a convention. In the past, internal doors, windows and skirtings were often made of dark wood or painted in a dark colour to imitate wood or marble.

Increasingly, interior decorators are choosing darker colours for these architectural details. Not only does this look different and modern, but the contrast with lighter walls make a room feel more spacious and bright.

I love choosing paint colours from the Paint and Paper Library and Little Greene for ceilings, skirtings, windows and doors; their graded colour scales make it so easy to pick out 2 or 3 shades of the same colour to use on the ceiling, walls and woodwork.

What about the ceiling?

The ceiling is increasingly being referred to as the “fifth wall” so why limit your creativity to just 4?

Gold or mirror on the ceiling may not be your cup of tea but it is making a comeback for it’s space-enhancing potential. Gold is complexion-enhancing too for those wanting a bit more radiance! Even using a shiny, gloss finish paint on the ceiling will increase reflectance value and make a space feel more spacious and light.

Sloping ceilings such as in loft conversions are usually best painted in the wall colour to make the room feel larger and to disguise awkward angles.

Space-altering tricks

It’s just not true that painting a small, dark room white will make it feel larger. Using one pale or mid-toned colour on every surface-the walls, ceiling and woodwork-will blur the boundaries of the room and make it feel larger.

Another trick in a small room is to paint the ceiling one shade darker than the walls which advances the ceiling and effectively makes the walls seem further away. Don’t try this in low-ceilinged rooms though, it works best in rooms that have higher than average ceilings.

Small dark rooms also lend themselves fantastically to dark and moody or rich, jewel-like colours, see above for more about choosing and using these paint colours in your home.

Make a long narrow hall appear shorter and wider by painting the furthest wall a darker or richer colour to the other walls. This makes the wall advance towards the viewer and effectively “shortens” the long space. For this reason, I almost never paint “accent” walls in my projects, not only does it feel half-hearted but it will make the wall advance and the room feel smaller. If you love the colour enough to use it on one wall, then why not use it on all the walls!

Adding the wow factor

Hallways are transitional spaces where you can be bold and make a real style statement. You and your guests pass through a hallway rather lingering long enough that a bold colour choice might begin to feel uncomfortable or tiresome! As hallways can be dark, especially in terraced houses, I would choose a bright, uplifting colour over a darker one, for example Yellow-Pink from Little Greene, shown above.

The same theory applies to the smallest room in the house too, the downstairs bathroom. You can be bold and experiment with colour and more extravagant or expensive materials here too, creating a real element of delight and surprise, especially if the rest of your home is calm and neutral.

I hope that goes some way to help you when choosing and using paint colours in your home. Please do contact me via my website contact page if you need any more advice.

Happy decorating!



Photo credits 1. Neptune  2/3. Farrow & Ball  4/5/6. Pinterest  7. Little Greene  With thanks