Painting is one of those things that appear to be easy – it’s just slapping a color on a flat surface! – but is, in fact, a big freaking deal. It’s not just the act of painting that’s tough, but all the preliminary choices that need to be made to even get to that point, e.g. which walls to paint, period.
None of those things happen without major internal (and, often, external) debate, due to the fact that the color of your walls will end up affecting not only the look of your place but how you’ll feel in it. No pressure. On top of sorting through endless paint chips and deciding between matte and high-gloss, there’s the technical stuff. How do you avoid permanent brushstrokes?
What do you do with all the leftover paint crowding your meager closet space? So we’ve polled industry experts, tapped top brands, and delved deep into our own archives to get intel on every step of the painting process. Here’s everything you’ll ever need to know about painting your home:
How to choose a paint color:
1. Go with the popular vote
We asked Benjamin Moore, Farrow Ball, Ralph Lauren Paint, Sherwin-Williams, and Valspar to share their bestsellers, which resulted in this list of 30 can’t-go-wrong paint colors.
Which shade is your favorite?
2. Stick with white – but not just any white
You could go warmer, you could go cooler, or you could just pick one from the top ten most popular white paints for sale right now from the country’s top brands.
3. Base your decision on the room you’re painting
These ten colors work great in bedrooms – some create a soothing retreat, others result in a space that’s going to wake you up fast. Redoing the bathroom is a whole ‘nother ball game. Try one of these colors instead.
4. Remember that the color will affect your mood
Yes, it’s true, according to the American Psychological Association.
5. If you’re totally lost, just trust Anthropologie
The brand recently curated a no-fail palette of Farrow Ball paint colors, and many are shown in an Anthro-esque space so you see the color’s greatness in a real-life setting.
6. Regardless of your choice, tone it down a few notches
“The key to creating a home that looks sophisticated enough for an actual grown-up to live in is to select your color, then look for a SUPER DESATURATED version of it,” Orlando Soria, Instagram star and author of Get It Together ($40, Prestel), told us.
7. Don’t forget the finish (yes, there are multiple)
You might be tempted to grab some eggshell paint and call it a day, but figuring out the right finish will impact a) the room’s vibe and b) how easy the walls are to clean.
How to actually paint the room:
8. Most importantly, don’t paint first!
Everyone who said you should get your whole place painted before you even move in was giving you bad advice. Painting should actually be the last thing on your to-do list.
9. For a basic paint job, follow our step-by-step guide
We broke down the painting process into 10 easy steps so you won’t drip onto your favorite sofa or leave ugly roller marks on the walls.
10. Stripes are easy if you have the right tools
Seriously, even if you can barely draw a straight line on a piece of paper, you can create crisp stripes on your walls. (A laser level will be your new best friend.)
11. Into ombré walls? Good news: They require just two paint colors
We have photographic evidence thanks to Portola Paints showing us the ropes. P.S. The process is easier than you’d think!
12. If you’re using textured paint, prep everything in advance
When Home Depot’s director of trend and design took us through the steps for applying textured paint, she made it clear it had to be a one-day-and-done project. “You want to make sure that you’re done with the texture before it dries and sets because that’s it,” she says. “It’s very hard to go back and blend.”
13. Chalk Paint looks best with a special finish at the end
The creator of Chalk Paint, Annie Sloan, gave us all the details on using her product, including the fact that applying wax is a game-changer: it’ll deepen and protect the color, and create a slight sheen.
14. It’s very possible to paint brick, as long as you deep clean it first
You’ll also need a specific kind of paint to get the job done right.
Paint tips and tricks for any and all situations:
15. Use paint to combat nonexistent architectural details
Paint a square of bold color to create a minimalist fireplace surround in minutes, or splash the bottom half of your walls with a deep hue to mimic paneling.
A sunny yellow fireplace surround (crafted using Levis paint) turns a literal hole in the wall into a relaxing destination.
16. You need to ask yourself a few questions before you paint your kitchen cabinets
Starting with: Do you really need to paint your cabinets?
17. Paint can take the place of wallpaper
“Instead of wallpaper, we stenciled all the children’s rooms, because paint is easy to change,” Ellie Cullman, founder of design firm Cullman Kravis Associates, told us.
18. Pining after pricey high-gloss paint? Think small
A little high-gloss paint on doors, ceilings, or trim goes a long way to giving you that “oiled up and sunning after a dip in the pool” feel.
19. If your stairs have seen better days (are their nicks and scratches?), paint ’em
Painting your staircase is also a hell of a lot cheaper than a renovation.
20. The right color will make you feel cooler during sweltering summer
Certain hues will “give a ‘beach-like’ vibe to the space, which will help make it feel breezy even if it’s not,” says Susana Simonpietri, creative director of design firm Chango Co.
21. You can save ugly drop-ceiling tiles with, you guessed it, paint
Design star Anne Sage used a paint-by-numbers diagram to give a makeover to her friend’s office ceiling, and we recommend you copy her.
22. Go tone-on-tone to make a room feel less cluttered
Extend the wall color to one or a few of the pieces in the room, and watch them all but disappear against the backdrop.
23. Paint your floors if you’re renovating on a budget
Replacing your floors with fancy stained hardwood is $$$. Painting cheap wood planks, on the other hand, is incredibly cost-effective. Plus, bright yellow/navy/gray floors just look awesome.
24. Dark paint colors can actually make a space feel larger
Especially in a bedroom that’s already on the gloomy side.
25. Put that half-empty can of paint to use
Make over your stair risers, the outside of your cast iron tub, a lamp shade. .. the possibilities are almost endless.
26. Get an antique-y paint finish with a single tool
Rather than cover up old paint, scrape some off for a mottled and chalky finish.
27. Leave those peeling walls alone
Styling your space right and keeping those timeworn walls as is will look like an intentional design decision rather than a forgotten project.