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Interior & Exterior Color Selection Resources, Advice & Tips PDF Print E-mail


Having trouble choosing interior or exterior colors for your home?
Paint manufacturer websites often provide great resources for assisting with color selection.

Sherwin Williams paint color guide: Sherwin Williams Color Tools
Benjamin Moore paint color guide: Benjamin Moore Color Tools

Interior Information

What about finishes; how do I know which one(s) will work best for me?
Are you unclear about what type of paint finish is best suited for your environment? Most homeowners struggle with choosing the right color(s) for interior painting. The most commonly over looked component is what type of sheen should be used. Here are the fundamental differences regarding sheens. Keep in mind that different manufacturer sheen levels vary from one another. Before committing to a specific product’s sheen we recommend that you to stop by your local paint retailer and view their samples or simply ask us!  

a.    Flat finishes have no shine, making them ideal for hiding minor surface imperfections. While traditional flat finishes are not usually stain-resistant, newer products such as Duration Home from Sherwin Williams and Aura from Benjamin Moore are.
b.    Eg-shel finishes work in just about any room. They are easier to clean than flat finishes and offer a soft glow that warms up any room. The down-side to consider with an eg-shel finish is if you are working with surfaces that are in poor condition the imperfections are magnified.
c.    Satin or semi-gloss finishes are easy to clean and are good for highlighting architectural details. They work well in kitchens, baths, as well as doors and trim.
d.    Gloss finishes are shiny and washable, so they are perfect for doors, trim as well as specialty uses. 

Commonly asked questions about interior color selection

What is the best way to decide which color is best for my room?
The first step is determining your color scheme is to examine your existing furniture, window treatments, and other accessories (or shop for these items first). Choose your favorite colors in these items and visit your local paint store to get coordinating color chips. Look at the color chips in the daylight and at night so you will see how lighting will affect your color choices. 

My room has a chair rail and I am using two colors. Which one goes where?
If you want an open, airy look, always paint the portion of the wall below the chair rail with the darker color. This allows the lighter color to dominate.

Will the paint I chose look lighter or darker on the wall than the sample I have?
Over a larger surface area, most colors appear darker. It’s a good idea to choose colors a shade or two lighter than what you want. Clean, bright colors can appear either lighter or darker depending on the surrounding colors and lighting in the room.

How do colors affect a room’s size?
Generally, strong, warm colors like reds, oranges and yellows tend to close a space. These colors are known as advancing colors because they jump out and meet the eye. Conversely, receding colors like blue, green and violet tend to make a room look larger because they “stand back” visually. However, the darkest values of the receding colors, like navy blue or hunter green, also tend to have a diminishing effect on a room’s size. Small rooms are best made to appear larger by painting them white or a light neutral color.

What color should I paint my ceiling?
It is customary to paint ceilings white or off-white. This creates the illusion of higher ceilings and a more open space. Medium to dark colors will create the illusion of lowering the ceiling, which can create a cozy look if the ceiling is higher than usual. With normal height ceilings, medium and dark colors could close in the area too much creating a cave-like appearance.

I have found several colors that I like, what’s the best way to narrow them down to a final decision?
We understand that choosing and finalizing paint colors for both interior and exterior projects can be challenging; often homeowners can narrow down their choices to a few colors but still feel uncertainty about making a “final” choice. Progressive Painting will gladly apply up to five sample colors at no charge to assist in the final color selection process. Sample application request must be received no later than 15 days prior to your tentative project start date. 

Exterior color selection tips

A well-chosen selection of contrasting trim and accent colors can draw attention to architectural details and disguise design flaws. A poor selection can make a house seem flat and featureless, or so garish that the color overwhelms the architecture. But, how do you decide?
The simpler your house, the fewer colors you'll need. For example, if your home is a rambler, three colors is average (body, trim, and shutters/door). However, if your home is an elaborate Victorian, plan to use four to six colors to accent the architectural details. 
Light colors will make your house seem larger. Dark colors or bands of trim will make your house seem smaller, but will draw more attention to details. 
For some accents, consider using darker or lighter shades instead of changing color.

Here are a few things to keep in mind during your color selection process: 

Historic Authenticity

If you are planning to paint an older home, you have three options.


  • You can hire a pro to analyze old paint chips and recreate the original color.
  • You can refer to historic color charts and select shades that might have been used at the time your home was built.
  • Or, you can fly in the face of history and choose bright modern colors to dramatize architectural details.

The third option can produce startling and exciting results, but before you buy 10 gallons of bubblegum pink, it's a good idea to look at what your neighbors are doing.

Neighborhood Context 

A fluorescent colored Victorian that looks splendid in San Francisco will seem wildly out of place in more conservative neighborhoods. Even if you are opting for a more subtle scheme, you'll want to make sure that your colors are compatible with the houses next door.

Existing Colors

Your house is your canvas, but it is not blank. Some colors are already established. What color is your roof? Is there mortar or other siding that will not be painted? Will doors and railings remain their existing colors?


  • New paint does not need to match existing colors, but it should harmonize.
  • Here are some other suggestions to keep in mind:
  • Begin with colors suggested by your roof and masonry.
  • Consider the color schemes used inside your home. Exterior colors should harmonize with the interior.
  • Don't clash with your neighbors! Choose colors that coordinate with the buildings around you.
  • Large surfaces make paint look lighter. Consider selecting darker shades.
  • Remember that very bright or very deep colors will fade.
  • To emphasize architectural details, outline them with an accent color that contrasts with the background.
  • Use darker colors to emphasize shadows and lighter colors to show projections.
  • Avoid extreme contrasts. Choose colors that are related.
  • Study color samples outside, but never in direct sunlight. Bright sun will distort the color.
  • Photocopy a sketch or photograph of your house. Use watercolors or colored pencils to try color combinations.
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