Ask Maria: I Don’t Like all 4 Walls of my Painted Room, Help!

I received a great question the other day that I don’t think I’ve covered on the blog so here it is.

I was once in a house where the homeowner had painted one wall in her kitchen 11 times. This is a similar situation:

Maria, I have color problem I have not been able to solve.  I painted my walls BM Shaker Beige.  It looks great on all the walls except one.  That wall looks gold compared to the other walls because of the light differences.  I have to repaint this wall because it feels & looks so wrong, but don’t know what undertone I should look for in a new paint.  Was considering BM Bleecker Beige

Any advice for me?

Here is my answer to this question:

Yes, decorate your room.

I’m not kidding.

source

You are being overly critical because you’re staring at an empty room. You probably won’t notice it when the room is decorated.

If it really is a problem at ALL times of the day and needs to be re-painted a different colour, there is no way ANYONE would be able to correct this for you immediately just by just telling you which colour to try next.

You might be painting that wall 15 times to get it right.

Unless you had my large sample samples and could go through all the undertones to see if you might find one that could work. If you have my large colour boards, make sure you place a big white poster board behind the new colours you are considering, if you don’t, you won’t see ANYTHING. Don’t even bother trying.

If you are comparing a new colour to an old colour, it’s almost impossible to make an accurate colour choice.

Colour changes constantly in the light, that’s the nature of paint.

Related post: How Light Affects Paint Colour

source HC-45 Shaker Beige (Since the coverlet here is more green grey than pink beige, it would not have been my first choice for this white and fresh bedroom.)

What you might be reacting to more than anything else is that it feels a little dated and too dark.

No one is asking for beige right now, ESPECIALLY a mid-tone beige.  The only time I might suggest a deeper beige is if it exactly matched the tile in a bathroom for example, and it’s the ONLY colour that works, but even then, I’d probably still specify a lighter beige because lighter colours are trending right now.

Open up any shelter magazine or start gathering photos you like on Pinterest and you’ll notice what you are probably drawn to, are the fresh, light and blown out rooms.

Source (This room is Shaker Beige but there’s lots of light making it seem lighter and it’s also decorated so it’s hard to be critical about the paint colour).

It’s the reason why white is the hottest colour trending at the moment.

I am speaking to the majority here, of course this does not apply to EVERYONE, however I have not specified Shaker Beige in about 5 years or more.  So what this means is that even those of you who prefer richer, darker colours are still not painting your rooms pink beige. Which is the undertone of Shaker Beige.

So here’s what there is to get out of this post.

If you have chosen mid-tone or darker colours for clients or yourself and no one is particularly thrilled with the result? This might be the reason.

If you have a bunch of colour chips in your house and you are trying to make a decision, what you need to know is that a lighter colour will probably make you happier right now than a darker one.

Over to you my lovelies! Who is in the light and white camp? Who prefers beige?

If you have a question for my Ask Maria column, email me here. Please note, it’s rare (like this post) where I can answer a question WITHOUT photos. To qualify, please send me PHOTOS taken in good natural light, and you’ll have a better chance of it getting in a post if you CLEAN IT UP. Also a generic colour question that has been answered on this blog (like which colour countertops should I buy, or what colour paint will look good in this room) will not be considered.

Related posts:

3 Ways to Use Fresh to Sell Design

3 Ways to Choose a Fresh Paint Colour for your Tuscan House

This Colour Mistake will Make your House Look Bad

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  1. I LOVE white walls, I have for years. I worry now that it is “in”, so does that mean they will be out in a few years? Will this go the way of the gray trend?

    • No. I think white or off white walls are forever. Always have been, always will be! But maybe better in light bright rooms than darker ones.

  2. I’ve had the same problem in a small room with only one window. You’re right Maria, decorating draws attention away from paint color and no one ever noticed the difference in color in that room. Also, with lighter colors, this situation is much less noticeable.

  3. Hi Maria,
    You said something that I’ve wondered about for a long time. I see all these pictures of rooms on the internet & in magazines & of course they look great. But I don’t trust them. They’re all blown out by the photographer. It makes me think I could never achieve “the look” that seems so popular now. Good thing I’m content with my current decor.
    Back to your homeowner. If she’s happy with the color except on one wall maybe a solution would be to paint the problem wall an accent color or contrasting color. I personally am not a fan of accent walls but design is subjective & she might love it.

  4. BEIGE all the way! I always feel like white walls create so much work – fresh walls require fresh trim, my white doors start looking off-white, my white furniture casts a biscuit tone, etc. : )

  5. Even though I love the beige and light brown tones of many things, such as natural linen, cotton, light woods and some shells, I’ve never been a fan of painted beige walls, even when they were in style. Our current house has light taupe walls, chosen by the previous owner, and I’m counting the days (25, actually) until they are painted Benjamin Moore Oxford White, the winner after a lengthy process auditioning other whites that would work throughout our house.

    Becky H, I understand what you mean about whether white walls will feel dated once the current white-wall craze dies down, but I do feel as though white walls are either “in” or “classic,” but I don’t think they will ever be totally “out.” I guess shades of white will cycle in and out of fashion, though, with those all-important undertones being dictated by other colour elements in our homes. Many years ago, I had white walls with a slightly pink undertone. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do that today!

  6. I so happy that white is “hot” right now! I wish that white could be hot forever! I really dislike the fact that colors and decorating trends go in and out of fashion every so many years. It seems like the choice is to be stuck in a time warp or spend a great deal of money to stay up to date at least once a decade. (Hoping to find a timeless loophole).

    Also wanted to say that pink beige wall colors remind me of the way it must feel to be standing inside of a giant ballet slipper. Kind of yuck!

  7. I like white and bright. I had my Manhattan landlady remove the blue gray carpet and upholstered walls and leave the mirrors because the windows faced north and I didn’t want to be suicidal from the bleakness. When I’ve seen all the properties I’ve bought, they have had a lot of windows and I never have painted a midtone color on the walls. It’s appr

  8. I recently painted my master bedroom and bathroom the same color. The layout would have looked odd if I had another color in the bathroom. I have a window that faces west that brings out the oranges in my pretty neutral light beige room. Ya, I don’t love that one tiny sliver of color on that particular wall but it looks great everywhere else! I would never consider painting the whole room again to work with the one wall that I don’t love. I’m sorry but this seems super picky!! Lighting changes so drastically I wonder if you can overthink everything and therefore never be satisfied with the room. The beauty of color is appreciating how it changes with the light. I know this is a decorating blog but finding happiness and appreciation in what you have at the moment (even with color shifts through the day) comes with a peace and enjoyment in itself!

    • I agree. I’m pretty picky, but I think it’s nuts to start using 2 or 3 different tones on different walls in the same room. (unless of course, you are deliberately accenting a certain wall with a color vs. a neutral)

      Only once in my career have I actually suggested a different color to offset the effects of sunlight. It was on a 2-story exterior, there was a small bit of siding on the bottom right that absolutely looked an entirely different color than all the rest of the siding, especially that on the 2nd story which was in full sun. It was so far off, it looked like a mistake. So I did have them use a 60% version of their exterior color, just on that section, to balance it out. Again, once in 15 years.

    • Wise words about being content with what one has. Decor is beautiful, but decor is decor, and life is made up of so many other important meaningful things as well. I love learning more about colour and decor but I need to keep it in perspective otherwise I’d go crazy with discontentment!

  9. Love white walls! However, choosing the “right” white can be extremely difficult! For a bright clean crisp white, what do you suggest? ?

    • Judy, I chose Sherwin Williams Alabaster where I lived before (no choice of another brand). I loved it. It was “bright, clean, crisp” and made my bright colors stand out. I researched online to find a very neutral white and Alabaster got great reviews.

      Now I’m in a rental with creamy white walls with an obvious gold undertone. It’s OK, and works well with my new furniture colors, but I miss my crisp Alabaster.

    • @Judy: Farrow & Ball ‘All White #2005’ is a bright, clean, crisp contemporary white without any bluish/cold undertone. Warning though; its pricey. Hope this helps. -Brenda-

  10. Maria, your solution is spot on! Color perception is so easily influenced by what colors are seen around a particular color. Shifting your homeowner’s perception with other colors and finishes in the room should do the trick.
    I happen to think that the changes that natural light and lamp light can make on wall paint color makes the color just that much more interesting. Paint lines such as Benjamin Moore and Farrow & Ball are known for the effects light has on their unique colorants. This homeowner’s dilemma also underscores the point you continually make to use large samples of the actual paint color to make color selections. It’s the best way to get it right!

  11. Maria, you are so right in saying that white is complicated. A number of people have complimented my wall color, including the architects. Everyone is surprised when I explain that I haven’t painted yet — that they are looking at the primer. Perhaps it’s the light. There must be something for me to learn from this. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

    • I’ll bet that primer has no colorants in it. Our new (to us) home has lots of windows and natural light. I spent a solid week auditioning different whites and didn’t like any of them–too pink, too, yellow, too green either all the time or at different times of the day. Finally my paint guy suggested plain white with just half a drop of black per gallon. It was perfect!

    • What would be the downside of primer used as a wall color? Too Stark? I’m not even sure that they make wall paint (other then primer) that is truly white, with no undertones. (maybe there’s a reason for that but to me a true white with no undertones sure seem appealing in concept, at least).

      Meg, was it “paint” or “primer” that you added a 1/2 drop of black per gallon to? That sounds like a really good idea! If it was “paint” would you mind saying what brand/name/number? I guess that made it ever so slightly grey (but probably inperceivably so). It seems like grey whites and blue whites “read” as whiter than yellow whites, pink whites. beige white, am I right?

      I guess I really still don’t see what would be wrong with a truly white without underdone used as a wall color. would someone fill me in? (I’m not sure absolute white would be any better than the plain white with a 1/2 drop of black per gallon but I’d still like to know why its not done).

    • This is really interesting because my MIL is working on an addition to their new/retirement house and after painting swatch after swatch after swatch of sample colors (doing it the wrong way, not Maria’s way), she decided she liked the color of the primer best and had her top coat “paint matched” to the primer color. I thought it was a bit odd, but maybe I’ll have to re-think my assumption.

  12. Count me in the “light and white” camp! I think it also definitely helps to “freshen up” the look of wood cabinets and trim (and furniture) when you counter-balance it with very light colored walls. I once spent a few hours searching through photos on Houzz of kitchens with maple cabinets (like mine!); all the newer, well-designed ones had very, very light colored walls. When I see older photos with the heavy, dark “Tuscan” colors on the walls, I wonder, “What were we thinking back then?!!!”

    Speaking light vs dark…with wood tones, too…..I know that you have been cautioning people against installing very dark (or grey) wood floors for awhile now, Maria, and you have said that a medium-toned wood floor is the most timeless. Well, I’ve lately been noticing that the truth and wisdom in your advice can now be readily seen in what is trending on Houzz, HGTV, etc. I’m not seeing those very dark wood floors like I used to anymore, but more medium toned ones, LOL!

  13. I wouldn’t think her beige wall looks gold at all times of the day and night. I agree, decorating as she sees fit will make a world of difference in the perceptions.

  14. White is great if it’s a choice, but as a renter without the legal ability to decorate much, I wish I could paint. Maybe just one wall. Or maybe change the white to a different white. I feel like I’m trapped inside a pastry box.

    • I always thought that the white walls in my apt. was off somehow. I randomly met my maintenance guy at the grocery store. He told me that it had been years since every wall was painted at the same time. Also, the painters use whatever left over white paint they have. They’ll mix different shades of white, different brands. I guess landlords don’t pay well. So, paint your white walls a “new” white! I doubt a landlord will ever know the difference. I’m slowly painting my place a wall at a time. It feels so much cleaner.

  15. How did this person’s question turn into a rant about beige and mid toned colors? Just because you don’t like beige doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. The person never said he/she didn’t like the color. He/she just said that it was differentirely on one wall only.

    White is stark and cold and blank. It’s a cop out for those people are afraid of color.

    • Hi Desert Lover,
      This post was not intended to be a ‘rant’. Although I’m not opposed to a good rant about some things people say about colour, here’s a rant: http://www.mariakillam.com/tackyadvice/

      This post was intended to help anyone who had painted their walls a mid-toned beige and was not particularly thrilled and couldn’t figure out why.

      I have been doing this a very long time and when you’ve heard the same reaction a million times, you know the answer to the question WHY. Which is why I wrote this post.

      Hope you enjoy my real rant, haha, thanks for your comment, Maria

  16. Hates white camp here. I don’t think I will ever like it. Too sterile and here in the US it was used from many years as the “apartment wall” color. I love bolder colors but I totally agree that you need lots of light to make those work. Current home was purchased with darker walls (in every room- EEK!!) And it is like a cave because we are heavily treed property and low ceilings. I can’t paint it lighter FAST enough! Haha.

    • Let me just be clear, I am talking about ‘lighter, fresher’ which a lot of people interpret as WHITE WALLS, but white walls most certainly don’t work for the average house on the street with earthy finishes.

      Thanks for your comment, I think I should have left out ‘white’ from the last sentence and instead left it at lighter and fresher! That is what I meant to say!

      Maria

      • I understood what you meant, Maria – lighter and fresher as opposed to darker. I definitely prefer lighter and fresher. My walls are currently painted Tawny Beige which has a yellow undertone but is definitely a lighter beige. My home gets a good amount of natural light so it reads as light and fresh and I love it.

      • White walls also don’t work so well in older colonials that do have windows (unlike many new builds!!) but which do not always have a whole lot of light.

        I do like white and bright, but my house doesn’t. (Yes, it is a colonial.) I recently stayed in a vacation home by the lake with big windows, painted a creamy yellow-ish white and it worked there. When I walked in, it was like “ahhhh,” so fresh and light. It was decorated nicely (you would approve!), as my friends have great taste. However, after just a couple days in the house, I decided it just didn’t feel warm and cozy enough for a home, and it was probably best in a vacation home by the lake.

        I enjoyed this post and it also tells me I’m doing something right. I just painted my bedroom SW Repose Gray 2 weeks ago and I keep staring at one wall (a portion really) that doesn’t have the taupe undertone everything else does. The way the light hits it, it literally looks like a different color with a slight baby blue-green undertone. After reading your blog for a while now, I looked at it for a bit while laying in bed, bugged by the difference, then said to myself, “I really need to get some pictures on that wall!” 🙂

  17. I love beige done right. I think it can be very sophisticated, as can the all white. I am just not happy living with really light walls. As others have mentioned, it’s the apartment/rental color that many of us were trapped in, without the ability to change. Funny, my first few places I owned, I also painted white because I never thought color was an option! My newest compromise is SW Aesthetic White. It’s got a hint of beige, very light and looks good with marble. I’m painting that in a home that we are rehabbing for rental currently.

  18. I loved this article! When we built an addition and remodeled our home, I chose SW Loggia. I took the same color at 30% lighter down the halls where there’s no natural light. It opened up the space tremendously. I have struggled with this color from day 1, mainly because it’s kind of a ‘chameleon’ color to me. If you pair lots of warm browns next to it, it reads more beige. If you pair cooler colors like grey furnishings, it reads more grey. It also varies so much with the day because I have south, west and east windows in the room. My point is this I guess, it’s bothered me, but as I decorate more and more, it tends to work itself out. If I want it to read lighter, I crank open all the blinds. If one section tends to read more beige, I offset it with a grey tone and it’s beautiful again. I met a blogger that had almost her entire home painted painted in this color. One day, I noticed it was a bit lighter in photos. She said she repainted everything creamy white because Loggia does not photograph well at all. I agree, it always looks different in my photos than in real life unless I alter them, and I’m a photographer. 😉 Just a real life story to share with you on adjusting your light in the room and decorating, may just make you like it. 🙂

  19. Light and bright. I have never liked beige so simply ignore the beige and brown trends. Brown wood is fine.

    It strikes me that if a paint color is wrong on one wall, it’s the wrong color and should be changed everywhere. I remember putting up samples on all four walls–if I didn’t like the look on one wall, I chose a different color until all four walls–each of which looked different–pleased me.

    Another example from my experience, supporting your point about decoration preventing you from noticing what you dislike. I hated the brown linoleum on our old kitchen floor, which was torn out when we remodeled. It was also on the stairs leading to the basement, and the walls and ceiling of the stairwell were a depressing brown. It felt like you were descending into the earth. Wanting to save money where I could, I left the linoleum on the stairs and had the entire stairwell painted a cheerful blue, with white woodwork and risers and a black railing and frames (with white mats) for all the family pictures that line both sides of the stairwell. It makes me happy every time I go up and down, and I hardly notice the brown linoleum.

  20. Great advice, Maria. That said; if it were me though I ‘might’ be concerned and/or consider the situation problematic IF one wished a continuous colour, the space was an open concept and its application was on an adjacent wall rather than if it were in a confined area as it could appear that there was an oops in the formula if the contrast was noticeably stark. (Hope that makes sense …
    but that’s just me. and I’m not an expert …. ° Û ° .) Now to answer your question; personally I prefer white and/or light colours over beige to attain an fresher interior aesthetic namely because I am sooooo very, very tired of the latter. -Brenda-

  21. all of my trim, doors, and wainscotting is Bleeker Beige and it is challenging to find wall color that I’m comfortable with it on different walls/ light also!

    • You certainly don’t have a lot of options when your trim is a mid-toned green beige. Pale or super dark is all you have. Maria

  22. I guess I am all about the space and what is needed to make the room the way I want it to be…I use that as my criteria.

  23. Well, as Maria tells us, we need to start with the “givens”, and my almost-new house has Tuscan fever. Plus, my big furniture items are dark wood and dark brown leather. Yes, I love the appearance of lighter and brighter rooms… but I can’t go there right now, I have to make the best of what I have. The beige colors, carefully chosen to coordinate with my hard finishes, provide a nice contrast to the creamy accents I introduce as part of the lightening effort. Keeping the wall and furniture values a little closer helps unify my space, and avoid making my furniture look like isolated dark portals to the undercroft. About painting one wall a slightly different color – my Mom, a farmhouse gal born in 1924 with a keen sense of color, had a similar problem in our house out in the country – big picture windows drenched the two opposing walls in blue-white light rendering any of her creamy color selections a sickly green. She carefully selected a corrected color for two of the walls. We kids were fascinated that you could not see the difference until you stood with your nose about a foot from the corner (we had to do that fairly often). You are correct that large color boards are essential for this – Mom used half-sheets of drywall left over from construction. In my own house, I’m going to try using a colored table cover on the table in front of the window; that way, maybe I can offset the color of the light reflected into the room, correcting for the light bouncing up from my vivid green lawn outside.

  24. Maybe I am afraid of color, but I do love white as a background for all the things that come and go from my home, and it is a great background for art. As an artist, I like choosing the art I love without worrying if it will match my sofa first.
    My walls were painted DE Peal White by the builder, and 30 years later, I am finally getting the white of my choice, but it is based on what the true color expert, Maria, recommended to go with my hard finishes. Choosing white is complicated, but like all design decisions can be easily narrowed down by specific parameters, otherwise one could go crazy looking at color chips all day long, which is what happened to me before I got professional help.

    My kitchen is beautiful in OC-9 White Dove with OC-17 Simply White cabinets and trims, and the rest of the house will too. I don’t care if they are “in” or not, or that others also have my whites, they won’t have my unique treasures and furnishings, which are the focal point.
    Color can come and go with the seasons as permanent art (I rotate my art) and collectables. And having key elements to work around, I was able to choose my gorgeous new area rug to marry with the paint colors and the hard surface undertones. I didn’t know any of this before your blog, your books and design services. Thank you Maria.

  25. Still traumatized by the various Navajo White, read beige, apartments I lived in as a student. Years later I still prefer white or color or both in the same room. Something a little more bohemian dramatic. But then I’m old enough to remember when it came around the first time…40s, 50s, 60s, 70, and more.

  26. I’m in neither camp. I lived in several countries, all very different, thus I know that every location, with its unique light, climate, flora, historical context etc will dictate certain things to a house that’s standing there.
    so I lived for years with walls full of colors and patterns, and then with white-as in an art gallery white-walls, and then with walls painted deeper warmer tones, and it all was just fine because it all worked.
    i love many colors; it’s the question of place and time, both the house’s and personally yours, of which dialogue you create. But to create that dialogue, one should listen to his house first. Houses have their say too.

  27. Hmm, i like white walls but dont plan to have any. Magazines depict lovely designs which would not work for my house or me, i like beige!

  28. Cannot go wrong with classics and ‘white’ is a classic (along with subway tiles and black interior doors). Now everyone needs to read Maria’s e-book on the subject of ‘white.’ Personally, I always use and recommend to clients, BM ‘Cloud White.’ It’s warm, it changes colour and exudes textures. It always brings to mind a Woody Allen, Manhattan apartment, the way it wraps itself around you and the room. Comforted and confident, is how I feel in a room painted Cloud White.

  29. I have a personal dilemma re: white paint. Sometimes it’s harder to do my own house than my clients! I have a dated 70’s house, want to paint the paneled family room, but prefer to keep the distressed brick fireplace as is. I know people are painting them out or whitewashing them, but I like the warmth and texture even if the brick is orange-y. I’ve been making myself crazy looking at creamy whites, but am afraid to choose because I want to paint the walls, ceiling, and beams all the same color. The room faces south, and gets lots of light. So, I don’t want the white to appear too bright and clean against the brick, but don’t want the ceiling to appear dingy. Hence, I keep agonizing over it 😉