If you do any research on how to pick paint colours, you'll learn very quickly how important it is to look at your choices on part of a wall you want to cover before you commit to the whole room. But why paint a wall when you can paint something more portable and less permanent?
This is an incredibly useful trick I learned from reading Maria Killam's blog, and buying her paint board sample packs for the most-used colours from Benjamin Moore. Maria's boards are large pieces of card stock, customized with actual paint and labeled with the colour, the number, and its undertone. These sets gave me a lot of confidence and a few of them were in constant use here until we decided to go with Farrow and Ball paints instead.
(Farrow and Ball paints don't have any odor, and the colours are beyond amazing in every light, and though they cost a little more than the Aura paint we planned to use, each can goes a little farther than a can of Aura, too.)
The thing about paint - especially Farrow and Ball paint, which has more pigments than most - is that one choice can look like any of several different colours depending on the foliage outside the window, the amount of natural and/or artificial light, the direction the room faces, and so on. Also: paint swatches from the store aren't a reliable predictor. Even opening the can and looking inside won't help you because paint dries darker than it looks when wet.
But if you paint boards - large boards that let you see how the colour looks over a serious chunk of space - it's a lot easier to determine which paint will make your curtain fabric or upholstery look its best.
Here we have Door Number One:
And now Door Number Two:
Maybe your computer won't show you what I see, but it's a no brainer in person that the first colour is the only option. And yet they both looked so perfect for this fabric when I was working from tiny chips.
At the Farrow and Ball store here in Toronto, there is a window display of samples painted on inexpensive canvases from the dollar store. I hadn't even considered this possibility and I think it's genius. The card stock boards Maria offers are very practical for interior designers who are carting entire collections to different clients' homes, but if you only need a few samples, canvases are a great option. They aren't that expensive, they're easy to paint over, you can choose the exact size you want, and when you're carrying just two or three of them they won't bend in your bag.
Because the little sample pots from Farrow and Ball cover quite a lot of ground, I painted some larger canvases for serious decision making and some smaller ones, all in the same colours, to keep in my purse for emergencies and fabric shopping trips.
They fit right into a little bag I stitched together a few years ago to hold small knitting projects and are so easy to use.
Thanks to my sample boards I didn't have to wait until the drywall was taped and primed to see what our favourite paint options look like in different rooms of the house. Which is ideal, because Farrow and Ball specifies different undercoats depending on the type of colour you're choosing (red, light, medium, dark, etc.) and we've been on the fence about what colours to use in which rooms on the main floor.
I mean sure, that particular blue is a perfect match for the blues in the painting I want to hang over one of the fireplaces, and pairing the two would be pretty spectacular....
But do we really want the drama of a dark teal blue room? (yes)
Do we want walls that will match our velvet sofa perfectly? (are you kidding me yes)
Are we confident we won't regret painting such a dark colour in an already sort of dark room? (nope)
These questions matter, because if we choose Stiffkey Blue for the living room, it will need the dark colour undercoat. If we put it into the dining room instead, then it will need that undercoat. And what about the powder room, where I really wanted something kind of dramatic? The painter is totally going to want to know before he gets started. In fact I need to know, because I'm the one who's ordering the paint, and how else can I order the right amount of each type?
There's another consideration when it comes to sample boards and that is: omigosh is it ever relaxing to paint canvases with Farrow and Ball paint.
I couldn't stop. I went back to the store four times to buy more sample pots. I have never worked with paint so pleasant to use, or that rinsed out of the brush so perfectly - it was just so, so nice to make these boards. I got paint on my fingers and it washed off quickly with nothing more than some water. The minerals they use to make this stuff make an enormous, and welcome, change from acrylic paint!
In the end we settled on a pretty simple palette that will repeat through the whole house:
We're going to use the lightest of our favourite colours, Clunch, in almost every room and hallway. In some parts of the house it looks pale green, in others creamy yellow, and in still others a pale grey-white, but it's always gorgeous. This will sound lame but a few months ago I was reading a British decorating magazine and stopped to admire the beautiful period home of a woman who rooms were "painted throughout in Clunch." I mean I have even remembered that wording all this time afterward, and the feeling I had as I thought Oh I wish I could do that, certain it would not be possible because the cost would be so far out line with common sense. I'm so grateful I happened to be walking by the Farrow and Ball store after a morning in the Sanderson fabric showroom or I would never have known it was within reach after all.
In the front hall and dining room and powder room we will use Elephant's Breath, which is sometimes a flat cold grey, sometimes a greyed lavender, and sometimes taupe or even light beige. I'm a little nervous about this one because grey is on its way out after many years of saturating the design market, but it's the perfect complement to the black floor tiles going into the front hall and main floor bathroom... and I can repaint those three rooms myself if I really have to, because there is so little painted wall to be found in them. Sometimes you just have to ignore trends and choose what's right for your own situation.
One bedroom will be Rectory Red, my favourite shade of blue-red and a natural extension of the reds in other rooms' fabrics and accents. We had a red bedroom in the old version of our house and even though that is supposed to be one of the worst colours for inducing and maintaining sleep, I always found that room to be warm and comforting. And anyway: so important to us to carry over aspects of the original house, as we did with our wood flooring.
The wildcard is Stiffkey Blue, which I'll paint into the enclosed gap over the dining room fireplace if Elephant's Breath is too horrible with our painting and we don't have another obvious choice of art to hang there. If we do that, I'll have extra, so I might use it to paint my desk... and probably some random picture frames... and maybe a few wall shelves. I have so many of those that I've picked up at different flea markets, and they look so great just hanging on random walls or standing at the back of a counter.
I might even use up the rest of the sample pots to make some custom art out of the canvases, when I don't need them for decision making any more. Why not, right? I mean anything that justifies using this paint in a meditative way has good to be a good idea... it may not be knitting, but it sure is a comfort!