Choosing Color

California Paints Active Neutral Passive color sample
California Paints fandeck
California Paints monochromatic scale
California Paints neutral colors
California Paints neutral colors

Which Color(s) Should I Choose? 

With a little paint and a lot of imagination, you can easily change the look and feel of a room.  But with so many colors to choose from, choosing the right colors can feel a little overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • “Passive” colors like blue, green and purple, create a calming effect and help small spaces seem more spacious. They are ideal for bedrooms. 

  • “Active” colors like yellow and red invigorate a room and make large rooms feel warmer. They are a great choice for an office or kitchen. 

  • “Neutral” colors, such as browns, beiges, grays, whites and blacks, create natural harmony in a space. They work well for living rooms, hallways, and bathrooms, and help to create overall balance so the colors in your home don’t create a carnival effect. 


A color wheel can help you create a color scheme for your room. Here's how to utilize a color wheel: 

  • Red, yellow and blue are the “primary” colors on the color wheel at 12:00, 4:00 and 8:00 respectively. Combining any of these will give you a secondary color (i.e. purple, orange). 

  •  Colors near each other on the color wheel such as blue and purple are analogous to each other and will allow one color to stand out more.  

  • Colors opposite each other on the color wheel such as green and red are complementary to one another and will nicely play off each other.  

  • Staying within the same shade of color (i.e. shades of green) will give you a subtle and soothing look.  

  • Painting with cool colors such as blues, greens and purples makes small rooms appear larger and more airy, while warm colors such as reds, yellows and oranges will give a room a more vibrant appearance. 

  •  You can vary the warmth of a reds and yellows by choosing muted shades of those colors such as pink, peach or a buttery yellow. Warm colors are complimented by cool colors while cool colors are complemented by warm ones. 

  • “Shades” of color can be pure or vibrant, muted (which are less intense than their vibrant counterparts) or shaded (the darker colors in the same color scheme). Painting with different shades of color can change the mood of a room. 


Some Things to Think About: 

  • To create a subtle and soothing look, stay within the same shade and use a monochromatic approach. Choose a color, then select a darker shade of it for the wall, and then a lighter shade for the trim. Your curtains, towels or other accessories, such as lampshades and candles, can be varying shades within the same scheme.  

  • Light color choices such as blues, lavenders, pinks and soft yellows evoke a romantic feeling of tranquility and restfulness in a room. If you want your bedroom to radiate a calm ambiance, choose lighter shades of either cool or warm colors.  

  • Muted hues reflecting nature, such as sage, can create a feeling of comfort. Shades of buttery yellows in a kitchen conjures up the feeling that baked goodies brings. Soft sky blue and earthy neutrals also tend to yield feelings of tranquility. 

  • Historic colors are in a class of their own; be sure to check out our page on California Paint Historic Colors.


Painting with Neutrals 

  • To create an elegant look, remember that neutral colors offer elegance and flexibility within a room. Neutral colors are not simply white or beige, but include shades of almond, taupe, and gray, and a plethora of warm cozy browns. You can turn a simple living room into one of elegance by selecting varying shades of neutral colors and then adding splashes of color throughout the room with a color throw, pillow or vase carefully placed to offset the subtle neutral tones in the room.  

  • Other ways to introduce color 

  • Go nuts with colorful accessories. Neutral colors allow you more flexibility in quickly changing the feel to a room by adding different colored accessories or painting the trim a new color. The lighter color you go, the more spacious the room will appear; and darker shades make a large room feel more. Varying shades of rust, mahogany or garnet will offer instant elegance and a feeling of earthiness and richness. 

  •  For a vibrant look, choose vibrant colors and their respective shades such as oranges and gold, reds and dark purples. You can complement these colors by selecting a two next to each other such as gold and orange and one from the opposite side of the color wheel such as purple. Choose two colors next to each other on the color wheel for a visual contrast as one will stand out from the other. 



You can visually lower a high ceiling by painting it a shade darker than the walls. You can also expand a room by selecting a light color for your ceiling. Don’t be afraid to add a tint of color to your ceiling paint for a subtle but pulled together look.  

Putting it All Together

Once you've narrowed your paint choices down, it's important to see how it looks in your home in both natural light and indoor lighting. The easiest way to do this is to get sample cans and paint “test strips” of your color. Here’s how: 

  • Paint very large squares of the sample color directly on your wall or on a poster board. 

  • Make sure your test strips are eye level and you can see them from a distance.  

  • If the space you’re painting is very large, paint test strips on two walls to see how the color works in all areas of the space.

  • Consider how the room's hardware (light fixtures, door knobs and hinges, etc.) will work with your new color. Consider updating hardware and lighting for a fresh new look.


Now that you've picked your color, it's time to select the right sheen.


One last note: For a smooth transition between spaces, try choosing a color for one room and paint the adjacent space two shades away, lighter or darker, using tones from the same color chip. For more color inspiration, visit California Paint’s virtual fan deck by clicking here

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