By GLEN PELOSO | Choosing the colour scheme for an entire house is a daunting task for most people. I once had a “design 911” call from a woman even as the painter was on the ladder, with half the room painted. She liked it in a friend’s house but hated it in her own.
Without going into the whole history of colour, there is a simple starting point when looking at painting a whole house. It’s what we refer to as the “public colour.” This is the colour that remains the same throughout the hallways of the house, as well as in any room where there is no natural break from the hallways. It is the colour with which all of the others must work, and that will set the tone palate for the house.
It doesn’t matter if the colours of the individual rooms co-ordinate with one another, provided they work with the public colour. For instance, we worked on a house that was serving double duty as a live/work space. The main floor was a living space and the second floor was used as offices. The owner wanted the office to have vibrant colours conducive to creative work, and the main floor to have the elegance of an older Annex house.
As a public colour we chose Benjamin Moore’s HC 172 revere pewter — a very pale grey brown. It worked well with the living room colour, as a warm, golden yellow and the office on the second floor, where we used Benjamin Moore’s 2157-10, which is an electric orange.
If that yellow/gold and orange were side by side, it would have looked like the inside of a food processor after making that special curry dip. But the two colours were never seen together.
There is no real science to choosing a public colour, but start noticing the spaces that you like — are they painted in warm tones or cool tones? (We are attracted to colours for unknown reasons, just as we are to people.)
Once you have a feel for that, either work with a professional to help or if you must, go to a paint store and look at similar colours. It is worth the little money it costs to get a ‘large chip’ and carry it throughout the main hallways of the house. Colour is greatly affected by light and each of those spaces will have a different light quality. Also when looking at colour chips hold them parallel to the wall. (ie wall colours are held vertical and ceilings and floors horizontal) The way the light hits those surfaces will also change your perception of colour.
Once you have chosen the “public” colour, you need to make a decision about sheen level. Matte tends to hide the most sins in older homes — uneven walls and plaster — but it is the least amenable to cleaning. We tend to select the Aura brand from BM because it is flat and easily cleanable.
The ceiling and trim should be kept the same throughout — it will give the feeling of flow from room to room. I don’t recommend using a real white as it contains a blue tinge hence gives all of the rooms a cold hue. Try something with a slightly creamy tone. These will still seem white in contrast to the other colours.
Always choose a matte finish for the ceilings. Trim should be an eggshell finish as it is touched so often. As a designer I say be brave with colour. It’s only paint and can easily be redone if you really don’t like it! With a bit of time spent on the process of selection, you can avoid a “design 911” call. Instead you will be calling friends and speaking about how happy you are with the house and joking about how you can “freshen up your spouse”!