Picking paint colours

By Michelle Kelly »Michelle Kelly

January 18th, 2011



A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of my dining room, all set for Christmas dinner. In the comments section of that post, loyal reader Maggie asked about the paint colours in the room. She brought to mind something that I’ve been meaning to share with you for a while: How we went about choosing paint colours for our house. I’m often getting e-mails from readers who are seeking advice on what colour to paint their cottages. I know from my recent painting adventures (the first thing we did to our new house was paint every inch of the interior) is that picking a colour and tone is much harder than it first appears.

When we bought our place, the walls were painted a very lacklustre shade of yellow that provided little drama and did nothing to highlight any of the home’s architectural features. I knew that I wanted to bring out the mouldings, which are wide and mostly original, but I was nervous about doing anything too daring lest it look too dark. So I thought I’d just paint all the trim white, and then choose a colour for the walls from there. Rude awakening for me when I hit the paint store: Picking a shade of white is like picking the best sunset of the summer. That is to say, nearly impossible. There are so many shades of white—fan decks full—to choose from, and each one is appropriate for something. Problem for me is that I hadn’t a clue which shade was appropriate for our place.

My solution was to call in an expert. Like many of you cottagers out there, I was a touch DIY proud when it came to fixing up the new digs, and I had hoped to do it all myself. But painting this place would be neither cheap nor fast, and the last thing I wanted was to invest time and money into the project only to hate the result. Spending a little bit more on the front end helped ensure that we’d be happy with the finished product. And were we ever happy! Here’s the before shot of our fireplace, as an example:

Fireplace Before

And after…

Fireplace After

Had I not had professional help, I never would have chosen this shade of gray for the walls, but I love the drama it creates when contrasted against the white and the hardwood floor. Before we painted, the fireplace faded into the corner of the room, now it really stands out (if only I’d remembered to have a fire on when I took this shot!).

When choosing a colour for your cottage, I highly recommend getting some advice from the pros. Ideally, you’d have someone come to assess the place themselves. That way, they can take the changing light into account, as well as the natural environment. This is doubly true if you’re painting the exterior of the building—a much more costly and time-consuming venture. If you can’t find someone to make the trek to your place, try taking photos to them. Or think about visiting a paint website for suggestions on complimentary colour combinations; that will at least get some ideas flowing.

Oh, and to Maggie: As you can see, the walls are a dark grey and the ceilings are an even darker shade of same. The trim, of course, is white. At first I wanted to do a light colour (yellow, to be specific) on the ceiling because I was afraid that something dark would look heavy. But the ceilings are very high so could hold something dark. And it looks great, if I do say so myself!


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Jan. 24, 2011

5:19 pm

So what colour is the grey?


Jan. 19, 2011

4:20 pm

yes yellow is not an easy colour....interesting that pantone's colour for 2011 is honeysuckle.....not sure exactly what this looks like yet....apparently yellow with pink tones?


Jan. 19, 2011

4:01 pm

Thanks, Maggie! I had yellow walls in my bedroom for a while, when I was at university. I remember loving it at the time but looking back on it now...not so much. It was rather like the colour of a school bus! Perhaps yellow is tricky not only because of how it works with the light, but also because it can look dated pretty quickly. I'm hoping that won't happen with the gray (because it's WAY too big a job to repaint it anytime soon!).


Jan. 19, 2011

9:36 am

absolutely lovely Michelle .....well done. The new Country Living does a special on choosing white this month...with designers such as Rachel Ashwell the shabby chic gal.... for me with white I always like a warm one so I just ask the paint seller to tell me what bits of colour are in the mix....some people like a cool blue white or a soft pinkish hue....for me it's a warm creamy so I have to have a little yellow and brown in the mix. Your woodwork really shines now..... speaking of lacklustre yellow I think I've tried yellow walls at home at least 4 or 5 times and I have never been happy but at the cottage with all that extra summer light the yellow just sings.....I think you will be happy with your soft grays in the city for a long time..very sophisticated my dear girl....nothing but fancy cocktail and dinner parties in your future.....:) :) have a hug..... mags

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