I recently received this question from Shelley, asking how useful it would be to custom mix a paint colour to get it right with the light in her home.
“I’ve recently used BM Manchester Tan in a pantry that has a large fluorescent light fixture, and it looks lovely — right at the happy intersection of warm and cool. But in our front entry and hallway (which are criminally devoid of any shred of natural light), Manchester Tan is looking yellow and muddy (as in actual, physical mud). It feels like being inside a brown cardboard box. And it still feels that way after we put brighter LED lights into the small overhead light fixture. (FYI, this a basic 80’s house with standard low ceilings.)So I’m trying to figure out if using a diluted version of Manchester Tan would be the solution: preserving the coordination of tones in the adjoining spaces, while feeling a tad fresher/cleaner.My key question is whether this can be done with neutrals — such as your recommended green-beiges and green-grays — and what kind of color effect you might end up with.
Is trying [a] lightening technique splitting hairs [and] too much in the effort to find the perfect wall color?I’m presuming that the undertones would remain the same, but are there ways in which such a technique could go wrong?” Shelley F.
This is a great question, and it reminds me of a similar situation that happened to me in my last house. I painted my kitchen and breakfast room (below) BM Montgomery White, a creamy, yellow-beige with a slight orange undertone. I chose this colour because it coordinated with the existing linoleum flooring and I liked the idea of a yellow kitchen instead of a gray one.
I had the tiny pass-through hallway to the kitchen painted the same colour. It had four doorways including a set of double closet doors to the laundry room and a door to the powder room, so there wasn’t much wall space. This small hall area had a standard flush mount ceiling light fixture, like this one:
Montgomery White turned a sickly fluorescent-looking yellow in this space and since it wasn’t a long hallway leading into the kitchen, I decided not to worry about trying to make it look the same. Instead I painted it with black chalkboard paint for a little hit of drama and to provide a space for me to write inspirational quotes or whatever moved me.
Could I have tried experimenting with different light bulbs too? Sure, but it was more fun to experiment with chalkboard paint, so that’s what I did.
Anyway, my reader’s dilemma and mine are really the ONLY times you should start fooling around trying to create a custom colour. And even then, I would say you should only try this fix as a last resort.
I would start by looking for the lighter shade of the colour in question (Manchester Tan in our example) since it’s not always on the same strip of colours. If I couldn’t find it on my own, I would ask the paint store which one was lighter. And Shelley, 953 Feather Down is the lighter version of Manchester Tan, so I would try this before trying to get a custom colour!
In another example, if you painted your family room a creamy yellow that turns green because you have a forest of trees outside your window, could you add more orange to the colour to eliminate the green? Well, sure you could try that option, but then you’d have a peach room the rest of the time. It would be better to go with a slightly darker colour. Because of all the trees, you won’t have enough natural light to pull off a pale colour and keep it from looking dingy or keep it from picking up the reflecting greens from outside.
During my paint store consulting days, I watched designer after designer walk into the store asking for their paint colours to be tweaked. Even back then I knew it was because they just didn’t understand how to find the right colour in the first place.
Right around this same time was when I started painting large colour boards to use when choosing colour for clients. Using the large colour boards made it easy for me and my client to see when the colour we were looking at was the right one.
There is no formula in the world that anyone can create (in advance, before you test or paint the walls) that will solve lighting problems and have a home owner or a professional be able to predict what any given colour will do 100% of the time.
Imagine, for a moment, what this formula could potentially look like:
Three trees + an east-facing exposure = the right magical colour/s.
Can you see how this could never work?
In the first colour training that I ever attended, the colourist, a woman with 30+ years of experience told the class a story of how she once chose an orange wall colour for a guest room situated on the water and overlooking a lake. Well, when the sun started to set, the light bounced off the water and into this room, turning it into a blazing inferno.
Did she realize that would happen prior to the room being painted?
So back to the paint store, she went, to change the colour of the room.
The ONLY way to remotely even begin to be able to predict, IN ADVANCE, what a paint colour will do in your interior is to use large colour boards. This will instantly give you and your client confidence. This tool, along with your knowledge of undertones from my How to Choose Paint Colours eBook will immediately increase the number of times your advice will be correct instead of just your best guess, based on tiny little paint chips. These experts say the same thing.
As designers, we automatically think we should be born with the ability to predict what the light or the trees or light bulbs will do to a paint colour. But unless you’ve been in a very similar predicament in a previous house, there’s just no way to know in advance without using the right tools in the first place.
I asked my True Colour Experts,™ who all use my large colour samples, how often they need to start experimenting with custom colours in order to get the right colour, and here is what they said:
“I did it once (before my True Colour Expert™ Training) only because the sample on the wall was “too bright” and in my ignorance thought that half strength would fix the problem. Of course it didn’t, I just didn’t understand how paint color worked.”“I did this only twice before the True Colour Expert™ course, but not since. I easily find the right colour now, never second guess or feel the colour I choose needs to be altered.”“Never. Actually I refuse to do this for customers because it is a total crap shoot.”“I have done it occasionally, but the outcome is unpredictable. Definitely not an ideal solution.”“I used to, [sometimes] ordering 1/2 or even 3/4 [strength] formula! It was mostly because the color was too clean and I thought lightening it would be the solution. I also just didn’t know the colors or what they looked like up, so if I wanted say a light cream I would order 1/2 strength of something like Pale Almond instead of just getting Ivory White. The big samples help immensely! I haven’t asked for anything custom like that in a long time.”“I own a Benjamin Moore store and whenever someone asks for 50% lighter or whatever, I always try to talk them out of it. While the ratio of colourant going in is the same you really don’t know what you’re going to get.”
“I tried to do it recently but it didn’t work out. I needed a lighter version of Coventry Gray for part of a Victorian exterior so we tried a half tint of it — didn’t work. It was still too dark and the undertone shifted so I abandoned the idea. Will likely try to stay away from customizing colors as much as possible.”
Does this sound like a big commercial for my colour boards? It surely does, but that’s not the reason I’m writing this post. Really. It doesn’t matter if you paint them up for yourselves or buy them from me — just do whatever it takes to get to get yourself large painted samples.
What I’m really trying to do in this post is to dispel the myth that ANYONE can accurately predict what a colour will do in any given space when you add in a set of particulars like water, Eastern light, Southern light, four trees, the overhang from a deck, etc, etc.
And don’t miss this part — your large colour samples must be painted, not printed. It’s paint, after all, that’s going on your wall. To use a large printed sample would be similar to expecting the colour of a vinyl siding sample to look identical to a paint sample. These are two different surfaces and they will show the same colour differently. Printer’s ink will never look the same as actual paint.
If you have decided that buying my large colour samples is cheaper (because it is) than painting them up yourself, get the Core Collection first, which give you all the neutrals you’ll use 80% of the time.
If you already have my first collection of samples, you might want to invest in my VIP Collection of 50 samples which includes more greiges as well as darks so you can show your client, using a black large sample, what her fireplace surround would look like if, for example, she painted it or changed it to black granite. Then there’s a pile of the best greens and blues because those are the colours you’ll specify first before the others.
If you’re not a design professional but you just need to choose a white or a greige, my 25 Sherwin-Williams samples are designed specifically for you. You can get them here.
So stop worrying that you need to be a magician or a chemist in order to get colour right. What you need is the right tools to help you get there 99 times out of 100.
And then, you’ll be well on your way to gaining the confidence you need ASAP!