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How to select the right paint colour for your interiors


Picking paint colours for your home is never black and white. You can sift through paint swatches until you're blue in the face and still be no closer to understanding what's going to look great in your living room.

"The colour scheme is one of the most transformational and least expensive tools a homeowner has," Dulux Colour and Communications manager Andrea Lucena-Orr says. "It has the power to transform your home, and your life, by creating mood, atmosphere or improving quality of living. It can help solve bad design and enhance the great design and can visually alter our perception of a space. And it all starts with a can of paint."

Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, it's a little tricky.

Andrea says colour schemes are so multifaceted that creating an ambience or atmosphere is not as easy as slapping some fresh paint on the walls and expecting magic. There are many considerations to find the right colour. Hue, tone, temperature and even the light inside your home during different times of the day are something to ponder.

Colour selection is difficult - there are so many different colours and different shades that can change the vibe of a room. The colour choice in a small room might not be the right colour choice in the dining room. Neutral colours might look good in the bedroom, but bright colours might be better for the office.

Because it's so hard, we've teamed up with the expert colour consultants at Dulux to teach you everything you need to know about choosing the right paint colour.

Understanding colour

Firstly, it's essential to understand the meaning of a few key colour phrases.

Hue: The hue refers to the dominant colour family of the specific colour you are looking at. A few examples of dominant colour families are red, blue, yellow, green, purple etc. For example, when talking about paints, red is the hue and crimson, scarlet, ruby and rose are colours.

Tint: When you add white to hues, you are making a tint. The white makes the hue less intense and creates calmer, quieter colours. Pastel colours are often an example of hues with a tint.

Tone: Adding both black and white (grey) to hues creates a tone. Tones are much more complex that tints and shades as you can balance the amount of white and black added. The hues can either be lighter or darker, depending on the grey you use.

Shade: Adding black to hues creates shade. These are richer and more intense, however, it's easy to add too much black to a hue, so it's used sparingly.

Because there are so many moving parts when it comes to the way we view colour, it can be hard to nail the look that you're after. A paint colour might look fantastic on your walls under natural light, but horrible with certain types of globes.

Understanding how a colour will look under all conditions is essential – and that's where it's important to chat to colour consultants at your paint store, Dulux, Bunnings or in our Studio M selection centre.

Tone vs temperature

The tone is arguably the aspect of the paint colour that will change its appearance the most drastically. "It is a key component in setting the mood in a space," Andrea says.

For example, if you choose a blue hue for your wall colour, navy has a darker tone and conveys power and confidence, whereas sky blue has a lighter tone and is more calming and serene.

Temperature, on the other hand, refers to the perceived warmth or coolness of a colour.

Generally, Andrea says, colours associated with sunshine are considered warm – such as reds, oranges and yellows, while those related to blue skies, grey days and the ocean are considered cool – greens, blues and purples.

"Warm colours can be seen as active or cosy depending on how the room is styled, while cool colours can appear as recessive and calming," she says.

"Most colours can have warm and cool variants to them."
As a rule, if you want to create a cosy space, choose warmer colours as the overriding scheme or, if you wish to an airier, more open and casual atmosphere, select cool colours.

Understanding undertones

An undertone is a secondary colour you can see in the paint. It can help to make the paint colour you choose seem warmer or cooler. For example, a red wall with a yellow undertone will help to make the room warmer. However, a red with a blue undertone will make it feel cooler.

If you want to make sure the primary colour and the undertone are going to match, use complementary colours. These paint colours will amplify and intensify each other and are sure to look fantastic.

"If you have a pink beige, using a green undertone will highlight the pink or, if you have purple-grey, compare it against yellow," Andrea says. "With whites, compare against the purest white you have available, such as Dulux Vivid White."

Play it safe with neutrals

If bold paint colours make you anxious, don't worry. When it comes to interiors, neutral swatches are by far the most popular category in Australia.
"Neutrals are the paint colours that don't fit into traditional colour families such as red, blue and yellow," Andrea says. "So, this would be our pure whites, greys and blacks."

These days, however, neutral is used as an umbrella term encompassing a range of unobtrusive colours. This usually refers to shades in:

  • White
  • Stone
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Beige
  • Grey
  • Earth

Many people – often incorrectly – assume that 'neutrals' are perfect colours that go with everything. With this new umbrella term, it's important to note that just because something is neutral doesn't mean it has no colour – there are often myriad undertones lurking beneath the surface. A feature wall can look wrong even when the colour palette is beige or stone.

"Neutrals can be full of colour and quite complex in their make-up," Andrea explains. "This is why they can be challenging and create unexpected outcomes. Undertones can show up when you least expect them and, if we don't understand them, they can make perfectly reasonable schemes go very wrong."

Classic colours

If you're feeling overwhelmed with choice, there are a few interior colours that are tried and true. "It's great to have a set of go-to colours in your back pocket," Andrea says. "These are colours that are versatile and tend to look great in any situation, regardless of other materials, type of light or the style of space.

"A long-term favourite of interior designers is Dulux Natural White. For a neutral white that doesn't appear to show undertones, Dulux Vivid White is a great option; it's a bright, clean white, however with softness and subtle warmth. For those headed to the dark side, Dulux Domino is a great charcoal. It is almost black, but not quite, so it is a tad softer and works both inside and out. And for those who love the grey trend, a wonderful warm grey in light to mid-tone is Dulux Flooded Gum."

Andrea's top tips for choosing colours

  • Use the most extensive colour swatches that you have available or get a Dulux Sample Pot and paint a test patch on the wall so you can see how the colour looks under different lights.
  • Don't forget to assess how the colour looks against other features such as bricks, timber floors, benchtops and furniture. The colour must work with anything that's staying in the room.
  • View colours in the right lighting conditions. For example, if the room to be painted has fluorescent lights, make sure you pick colours under your fluorescent lighting.
  • Keep undertones the same throughout scheme – your entire home should either be warm or cool.
  • Leverage complementary colours but remember proportion – too much of one colour can throw off another.
  • Avoid pairing yellow beige with pink beige as the yellow can end up appearing dirty.
  • For more interior design or style inspiration, visit one of Metricon's award-winning display homes, or check out our style gallery, where you can save and organise all your favourite Metricon home designs.

For more interior design or style inspiration, visit one of our award-winning display homes, or check out our style gallery, where you can save and organise all your favourite Metricon home designs.