Color matters | A thousand possibilities for redecorating

Above, a new coat of paint makes this room look fresh and new with very little expense. Right, swatches of paint are spread across a table to show the variety of colors available to consumers. Painting is relatively simple and cost-effective. - Chad Coleman/ Mercer Island Reporter
Above, a new coat of paint makes this room look fresh and new with very little expense. Right, swatches of paint are spread across a table to show the variety of colors available to consumers. Painting is relatively simple and cost-effective.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/ Mercer Island Reporter

They say that the easiest and most inexpensive way to redecorate is with a can of paint. While that may be true, the challenging part comes when you actually have to select the color that you’re going to redecorate with. For years, willing yet unsuspecting do-it-yourselfers were at the mercy of paint fan decks sporting an average of 150 color lines, each with their own seven shades from dark to light. If you do the math, that comes out to 1,050 different color possibilities for you to consider.

Once the selection got narrowed down to three or four, the next step would be to buy quarts of each color to try out on the walls. (This was also the point where the home improvement enthusiast would mistakenly believe that she was almost home free.) The individual color samples would be applied on the walls with hope and purpose, allowed to dry, and then sadly reveal their nasty little secret: they didn’t look anything like the samples! Why not? Because the samples were not real paint, but only color approximations of paint colors printed on paper. The real paint always looked different, and rarely better than you had imagined.

This step has broken even the strongest of hearts and caused projects to be put on hold, or worse yet, just completed out of frustration. Many a living room with the original intention of becoming a “Dusty Sage Green” somehow emerged as “Mint Julep.” A great quote by comedian Steven Wright sums it up; “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” Well, you certainly wouldn’t want to have to select the colors for it.

The good news is that the paint manufacturers have finally heard our cries of agony and felt our pain. Not only have they developed fabulous user-friendly sampling tools, but they have also invested in color research to show current trends and how to use them in your own home. The different sampling tools vary from company to company as much as the prices, but the help is invaluable in saving hours of time and trouble. Here are some of the different manufacturers and their offerings:


It is sold locally here on the Island at Six Walls. Developed by colorist Gretchen Schauffler of Lake Oswego, Ore., and made by Miller Paint, it is a great product with a narrowed down color selection that makes choosing a breeze. Their “Trend-Proof” color palettes are divided up into delicious groups with names such as Espresso Blends, Pacific Trail and Valley Vineyard and Spices. “Well-Traveled” has French Casino and Birds of Paradise in its palette. There are no fan decks in this line, but 8½-by-11-inch cards with actual paint smudges. Schauffler says “the paint goes on like yogurt and spoils you rotten.” For sampling, they sell real paint “sheets” for $3 and small sample paint pouches for $5. Some of their most popular colors are Almond, Sumatra and Filbert; all really rich neutrals that have been “grayed down” for our Northwest climate. The average cost per gallon is $41.


This company puts a lot of money and resources into color forecasting. Their Color Pulse 2009 theme is “Simplicity,” quoting Leonardo da Vinci describing it as “the ultimate sophistication.” The Affinity colors are unique in that there are 144 different hues designed to harmonize with each other. In theory, you can take any three colors in this color line, and they will work together. I have tried this, and it works. Sample chips are individual 2-by-1-inch cards, and color sample jars are available for purchase. The line is more expensive than the standard Regal at $46.92 per gallon, but Benjamin Moore claims one-coat coverage (with the exception of reds and yellows, and in these cases never more than two coats), and it dries within one hour. The Affinity Aura paints sell for $56.99 per gallon. Surprisingly enough, it is Benjamin Moore’s current bestseller among homeowners. The reason is that while everyone can afford a can or two of paint right now, they may not be able to afford a painter. If they are doing the painting themselves, people are opting for a foolproof product that requires less coats. Some of the forecasted 2009 colors are Vellum (yellow), Hodley Red (reddish-brown) and Brookside Moss (green). The company also carries the Pottery Barn colors.


Their flagship paint is C2, which is part of an international paint consortium that joins together to produce this line. They have one of the most dramatic sampling tools in the “ultimate paint chip,” which is 17-by-25 inches and actually consists of two coats of real paint; each sample sells for $7.63. C2 also offers 2-by-4-inch free samples of all of their colors, which are also made with real paint. Sample pints cost $9.95 each. Their cost per gallon ranges from $44.95 for an interior flat paint to $50.95 for a semi-gloss. One of their classically popular colors is Chai (muted gold), and current bestsellers are Pilot (beige), Kalahari (another beige) and Wildwood (rich brownish green). The third-generation owner, Robin Daly, says that the C2 colors cannot be matched because of the number of different pigments that are used to create each color.


This company features their Inspiration Line with color chips on 4-by-6-inch cards. Samples quarts are $4.99 each and a gallon is $35-$45, depending upon the finish. Their Web site allows you to experiment with different wall and trim colors in their sample rooms, which can really help you visualize how their colors are going to work together.


Based out of Tacoma, they offer good value at $29.80 per gallon for their Satin Glo product and up to $39.37 for the eggshell finish. Their commercial line is significantly less at $23.40 per gallon. Paint chips are nice and big at 3-by-4 inches, with a disclaimer that states, “Color shown approximates the dry paint color ... actual color will vary depending on type, gloss, application, thickness and light source.” Parker has some very nice ColorLife brochures with suggestions on using individual colors from neutral brown to red, neutral cream, and schemes such as “Clean & Simple” and “Comfort & Charm.”

RODDA PAINT – Based in Portland, Ore., Rodda offers another good value line. Their promotional pieces on “warm” and “cool” color selections are simple and straightforward. Rodda also carries the Laura Ashley line of paint, with palettes called Seaside, Cottage Whites and Kid’s Room, to name a few.

Virtually all of the paint companies now offer a low VOC or no VOC formulas. VOC refers to “Volatile Organic Compound,” defined as an organic chemical compound with high enough vapor pressure under normal conditions to significantly vaporize and enter the atmosphere. In layman’s terms, it means that it is a “green” environmentally friendly product.

The collective report is that coffeehouse colors remain popular. Look for yellow to come on strong as the new “it” color. Whatever color you’re dreaming of, there is a lot of help available along the way to get you there.

Lori Matzke Ehrig is an interior designer and freelance writer who can be reached at (206) 271-5550 or

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