Hue Name It: How to Pick the Right Paint Color

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This year, Olympic and Sherwin-Williams point to gray and purple as hot colors. Pantone's color of the year is mimosa because, says color consultant Leatrice Eiseman, "yellow is the color of hope and change and enlightenment, and it's also very warm and inviting."

Say you want to paint your bedroom green. You might be tempted by Benjamin Moore's Return to Paradise. Or Mermaid's Tail, by Olympic (not to be confused with Mermaid's Song, by Valspar). Something sportier? How about Par Four Green, by Behr, or Dutch Boy's Ol' Swimmin' Hole?

We could go on, but you get the picture. There are thousands of paint colors, and each needs a name. At Benjamin Moore, that task falls to senior interior designer Sonu Mathew—not that she works alone. When a new color palette is created, she enlists fellow employees, from workers at the plant to the CEO. Hence Marry Me, a soft pink named by a worker for the blush of his bride-to-be. "It's the idea of telling a story," says Mathew, who notes that the best names are rooted in memory (Old Pickup Blue), drawn from the real world (Orange Sherbet), or just fun (Feel the Energy).

In addition to evoking a special feeling, names can be easy to remember. "Lily White is infinitely better than White-937," says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, which creates palettes for the home, fashion and graphic arts industries. Not everyone agrees. Donald Kaufman, whose collection of 104 paints caters to high-end designers, says numbers "give more latitude to how a color can be used architecturally without pigeonholing it the way a name can do."

Pick a paint that pleases

Whatever the paint's name (or number), you'll need to focus on the color:

  • Don't choose until you've developed the room's overall scheme. It's harder to find fabric, carpeting and furniture you like than it is to find the perfect paint color, and paint can be cheaper and easier to change.
  • Narrow your choice with online color-selection tools, which are offered by major manufacturers.
  • When you shop, bring colors from fabrics you're trying to match.
  • Look at paint-sample strips with a range that includes your choice; that way you'll see whether you're in the right color family.
  • Consider whether you want a "warm" color (yellow undertones) or a "cool" one (blue undertones). Each lends a different feel.
  • Buy sample jars, apply the paint, let it dry and see how it looks in different light.
  • Choose a high-quality paint. Coverage, gloss type and resistance to fading are factors to consider. Behr paints (available at Home Depot), Valspar (at Lowe's) and Kilz (at Wal-Mart) are among those that did well in our past tests of interior paints.
  • Don't let a nice name turn your head. Convivial Red or Spellbound might or might not have that effect on your walls.

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