Paint Colors: In Photos vs 'Real Life'

I've gotten lots of emails asking for paint colors used in various rooms/ specific projects.  And I've been so terrible about answering them.  (I'm sorry!!)  My first excuse is that when I don't remember them off of the top of my head, I put off going down to where our paint is stored or opening a client's file and finding the name of color.  It ends up being one of those things that just gets pushed to the end of the list of things I mean to do... 

{Justin's nursery}

One of the rooms I never mentioned a paint color for was Justin's nursery.  I didn't do this on purpose (and never purposely withhold paint colors or sources) but the truth is that we used every last drop of the paint on the walls, ditched the empty gallon, and I don't remember the name of color!!!!  It was a crazy time for us and that's really all I can say.  If I got out the deck & went & matched it, I could figure it out, but my #2 reason/excuse for not being so dilligent about supplying paint colors (and the reason it gets pushed very low on the list of things 'to do') is because paint color look different in different spaces.  Light changes everything and although it will probably look close, it might not match exactly so the "perfect navy blue" in my house might be very different from the perfect navy in your house.  

I learned this lesson first-hand when I used this color as inspiration for my family room: 



{Design by Ruthie Sommers, photo by Don Freeman for House Beautiful}

When I got out the paint chip (Blue Seafoam by Benjamin Moore) it was so much more intense than it looked in the photos and I knew that it would look way darker on my walls than it did in the Ruthie Sommers house.  Here's a sample:


It was not what I wanted and I was shocked at how dark the swatch was.  I went a couple of shades lighter with a tad more yellow (in another brand- Freshaire Choice Color: "Midwest Springs") and got a very similar-looking color for my walls & exactly what I wanted:

{Our family room}

And here's the Ruthie Sommers room again for reference:


The paint swatches look very different when compared next to one another in person, but the wall colors in the photos of the rooms look really similar.  Photography, lighting, time of day, etc. all come into play when selecting a paint color and that's one of the reasons exact paint colors aren't very important to me when trying to duplicate the look of a room.  Knowing paint colors is useful for points of reference, but in the end, the color chosen on a wall needs to be specifically chosen for that room.    (I.e., knowing a paint color will get you close/ in the ballpark, but in the end go with what works best in your space.)  I can take a photo in a room of my house- morning, noon and night - and the color will look different in each photo.

I never mind getting questions about colors so of course keep them coming but if I don't answer you, please know that I've put it on my list of colors to check!!  Hope you had a great weekend & yay for summer!!!

xoxo, Lauren

Update-  Just to clarify:  I should mention that I don't do "trial & error" painting & you can train yourself to properly visualize the colors before they go up on the walls.  (Clearly trial and error would not work for clients, and it's years of experience and knowing how colors will look once they are actually painted on a wall as opposed to how they look on a sample that will get you the right color choices...  Because I knew how the Blue Seafoam sample would look if actually painted on my wall, I knew right away it wasn't the color for me.  What was shocking to me was how it translated in the photo...  As a much lighter color. :)  Hope that makes sense!     Check out Colour Me Happy for expert color advice & prefessional training!

20 comments:

nameisgrace said...

paint is so very tricky! so true how light changes everything.hope you had a great weekend!

pve design said...

I help clients with color and I make a color chart and keep little pots of paint in one box which they love.
It helps for fast touch-ups! Love your colors and your inspirations!
pve

Jade @ Flip Flops + Pearls Design said...

Paint is definitely tricky! What looks good on a small swatch can completely change once it's up on the wall. That's why I love the sample size jars they make now! You can test it out before you make the commitment!

Roseanna said...

I had a neighbor ask for my help after her husband bought the fourth can of paint and the color still was not right. It was a certain shade of blue she was after.
I took her to the paint store and showed her the grays. Her room was very bright and every "blue" she tried looked way too intense. ( I think blues are the hardest to get right) She found a gorgeous "blue" in the gray tones and ta da, the perfect blue!

A Perfect Gray said...

you are so right! thanks for helping us keep in mind that colors in photos are are always true! I have found this out many times, the hard way...!

Kim@Chattafabulous said...

Been down that road many times. Always try to stay to the "grayer" end of the fan decks - anything else is just too intense!

Bailey said...

I have fun into this problem a lot lately! I needed to decide on all of the paint colors for our home in about 4.5 minutes, and didnt really want to throw up a bagillion shades of white, black, gray, green etc. until I found THE ONE. SO I hit the blogs to find out what colors had been pre-approved, threw some up? And they just didn't work. That darned light. It is fun to start with other decorators/designers tried and true faves, but they definitely don't always translate!

Plantress said...

sometimes I think that you just have to take a chance and slather it on. I notice that my green room (matched color to a nastursium leaf) changes color every few hours as the light changes-from a pale wash to an inteser shade as the light lowers. I have made many paint mistakes-some I live with but most are a do over. Just remember a while ago when everyone was using stencils...and the freehand butterflies for my daughter's room, and the sponge painted bathroom...lots to learn

Have a great week!
Plantress
http://www.plantress.blogspot.com

Laura Casey Interiors said...

I have learned that every wall and every roon takes paint differently. Good example!

L i z a said...

I have noticed that colors don't look quite the same in all computers. I was looking at the Sherwin Williams color center on my desktop computer and sent the link to my husband's laptop. The color looked completely different!
If I see a pretty wall color on a blog , I just use it as reference instead of going and buying the exact same color.

Maria Killam said...

Hey Lauren, thank you so much for the mention!! And I loved this post about colour, you are so sweet, this is why we love you!!
xo
Maria

Casa Bella said...

Lauren, if you would come to my home today, you would see 24 (no kidding!) paint samples on the wall in my bedroom! I paint quite a big rectangle of each of them (about 5 inches wide by 10 inches long). The first time I did this I was amazed at how different the colors look when juxtaposed by each other, or at different times of the day. So now this is the norm before I paint a room. Thanks for being such an inspiration. I adore your ideas.

Jill Seidner | Interior Design said...

Great post - I entirely agree. I've had people inquire about paint colors in my projects but the truth is - colors change in different settings, nevermind flow from one room to another. Best to always pick colors customized in own space/lighting/existing elements/furnishings, etc.

Jill Seidner | Interior Design said...

Great post - I entirely agree. I've had people inquire about paint colors in my projects but the truth is - colors change in different settings, nevermind flow from one room to another. Best to always pick colors customized in own space/lighting/existing elements/furnishings, etc.

Jill Seidner | Interior Design said...
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Velvet and Linen said...

Paint is so tricky! I've had blog readers ask me to help them with paint, but I think it's nearly impossible to select a color without being in the space, unless you are the amazingly talented Maria. She is such a pro!
Great post Lauren. I love the blue you selected!

xo
Brooke

Jan Jessup said...

Hi, Lauren! After a "misjudgment" about paint colors many years ago, I learned that the best way to select a paint color is to get a sample pot of paint (easily done these days) and paint up a large sheet of white foamcore or poster board. Live with it in your room for a day or two. Look at it by daylight and evening light. Move it around the room. That will tell you whether this is the right color--or whether you need to go lighter, darker, warmer, cooler and so forth.

I've also learned that the really important thing is whether your desired color should be on the COOL side of a palette or the WARM side of a palette--because just about every color has a warm and cool side. Take a cue from the art, furnishings and carpet in the room: are they cool cast? Warm cast? Let that be your guide in color selection.

Also, having done a great deal of color printing supervision for the Calico Corners stores, I know how much a photo can change on press. Most magazines don't have someone standing by the press during the print run, making the continual color adjustments that we made on the Calico catalogs. That's why you can't trust a photo in a home decorating magazine when it comes to accurately portraying a paint color. You have to use your own best judgment! Good posting!

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Kristen said...

Lauren--I love your blog and your design philosophy. I've been following it for a few months now, and have never commented.....time to start! Your comments about color are SO true. I just finished the final coat in my main level, and even after months of deliberating over what would be "just right", I'm surprised at how its come out. What shows as a pale, almost white greenish-gray on the chip (Restoration Hardware's Pale Silver) is coming off very blue in my space. I joke to my husband that we're living in Smurf-land, but its really not that bad. Fortunately, I love the color and it catches light in different ways, looks different at different times of day, and plays unexpectedly well off of our fabrics and furnishings. Lesson learned though!

SteFay said...

I'm no color aficionado, but whatever print that is in the navy nursery is b-e-a-utiful. Was that a DIY project or did you find it somewhere?