The Whole-House Color Palette

Painting is often one of the first tasks people undertake when they move into a new house. It’s an easy way to make the space feel like your own, and for that reason, most people aim to do it fairly quickly. A lot of times, people get hung up on color selections because they’re not sure what to do with all the rooms.

Do a search on Pinterest for whole-house paint color palettes, and you’ll get as many results as there are paint colors that exist in the world. When looking for inspiration, this might seem like a convenient shortcut for choosing colors—someone else has already done all the work and coordinated a dozen colors that work well together! Don’t be fooled. Choosing the right paint colors depends on a ton of factors that are unique to your space—the lighting, the decor, the function of each room. What looks beautiful in one person’s home may end up looking like a total disaster in another’s.

Picking paint colors is a time-consuming task, and there’s so much more to it than looking for inspiration online. Buying and testing samples takes a lot of effort, and for many people, the thought of going through this process for every room in their house is overwhelming. There’s a lot of pressure to get the colors right, especially when you plan to hire someone to do the job. The last thing you want to do is feel as though you’ve made a mistake and wind up paying your painters twice because you’re unhappy with your initial selections. Add to this the desire to paint as soon as possible, and it’s hard to strike a balance.

Create a Color Strategy

So what’s the best thing to do when you’ve just moved and want to freshen things up with a new paint job? Consider one of these approaches to help simplify the color selection process:

Paint all the rooms in the house a single neutral color

Why people do it: This is an easy way to eliminate the stress of choosing multiple colors when you intend to paint every room at the same time. It’s also an economical approach to hiring painters. Rather than painting your first floor now and your second floor later with the intention of picking unique colors for the second floor, choosing one color and painting everything in one big job instead of two smaller jobs will cost less in the long run.

When it’s the right choice: When you’re hiring painters for a big job and want to get it done quickly and economically. When you need an efficient way to freshen up a house and create a blank canvas. When you want to take your time choosing paint colors but can’t live with the previous owner’s paint job.

Things to consider: The results can end up feeling bland. If you plan to change the paint colors in certain rooms eventually, you’ll end up paying twice to paint the same rooms a second time.

Repeat two or three neutral colors throughout the house

Why people do it: To achieve some variation in color but stay neutral in their selections. This is a good idea if you plan to add color to your rooms with your furniture, rugs, pillows, and accessories.

When it’s the right choice: When a single neutral color would be too plain but many different colors would feel chaotic. When you switch up your accessories often to update a room’s color scheme and want a background color that will go with anything.

Things to consider: Choose warm neutrals (beiges) or cool neutrals (grays), but don’t mix.

Paint every room in the house a different color

Why people do it: This approach to painting is perfect for design-savvy individuals who want a custom look and aren’t afraid to commit to color. The goal is to create a highly personalized aesthetic, and coordinating paint colors with each room’s specific decor achieves exactly that.

When it’s the right choice: When you want each room of your house to have a unique look. It’s most successful when you’re comfortable coordinating colors from room to room. Working with color tends to be trickier than working with neutrals, so it helps if you’re game for repainting in case you’re not satisfied with the end result.

Things to consider: This look can be bold or calm depending on how many colors you use. If you span the entire rainbow, your house will have a lively look. If you choose to stay within one or two color families, your house will have a calmer energy.

Decide where to use colors vs. neutrals

Once you decide how you’ll use color, the next step is deciding where you’ll use color. It’s helpful to map out a plan room by room and create a whole-house overview.

divvy up your rooms into Zones

Think of the rooms in your house as belonging to different zones—public, private, transitional, and central. How do you want to treat each zone? Will your public spaces be colorful or quiet? Do you want your transitional spaces to fade into the background or ooze personality? Is there a central room in your house that connects to all the other rooms and needs to coordinate with several colors?

I prefer using color in my main living areas (public zones)—family rooms, living rooms, dining rooms, and playrooms—because that’s where I spend most of my time and am fully able to appreciate a fantastic wall color. I also like using unexpected colors in stand-alone rooms such as powder rooms and bathrooms that aren’t directly connected to any bedrooms.

Transitional spaces such as hallways, mudrooms, and laundry rooms are great places to use neutrals because they typically connect to more than one living area and they aren’t spaces where you spend long periods of time hanging out. There are exceptions, however—the more separated and closed off a mudroom or laundry room is, the better the opportunity to use a bold color or playful wallpaper.

For private spaces such as bedrooms and en suite bathrooms, I prefer to use a soft, warm color in one space and go neutral in the other. And for home offices, studies, and dens, I recommend rich neutrals (think chocolate brown) or colors that facilitate creativity or concentration, depending on the type of work the space is used for.

Kitchens are sort of a different animal, and they can go either way. They tend to be central gathering spaces (central zones), and with open-concept floor plans surging in popularity, a lot of homes have kitchens that are integral to the dining and living spaces. Kitchens can be customized in ways that go far beyond the paint color—the real players determining the personality are the cabinets, countertops, backsplash, and lighting. In some cases, a custom range hood or upscale appliances make a big impact on the aesthetic. A neutral color in the kitchen allows the primary design elements to stand out, but on the flip side, color can be used to accentuate interesting architecture.

Set a rhythm with color

When a house has good flow, it generally means there’s consistency from room to room. With paint, it also means that the colors relate to one another in a way that makes sense. Alternating between light and dark colors and using harmonious color schemes is the key to creating a whole-house color palette that feels cohesive.

If you’re working with a palette of beiges, grays, or a single color, aim to use a variety of shades within your chosen hue. Consider interspersing whites or off-whites in the transitional spaces to break things up. The idea is to avoid creating clusters of all dark rooms or all light rooms.

If you’re using a multicolored palette, consider what type of color scheme you want to use (for example, complimentary, which is blue/orange, red/green, yellow/purple, or analogous, which is a combination of three colors next to each other on the color wheel), and consider which paint colors will be visible from each room. Many paint companies market color collections grouped by certain time periods, architectural styles, color stories, and moods. You don’t have to choose colors from only one collection, but it helps to be aware that choosing a classic historical color for one room and a retro midcentury color or a pale pastel for the next will make your house feel disjointed and choppy.

pick the perfect palette

Selecting and testing your colors really is the fun part of this process because it’s the point where you can begin to see the possibility of transformation throughout your house. As you sift through bits of wisdom everyone you’ve ever known has given you (including tips from Martha Stewart that you found online and the random memory of the color your best friend’s neighbor used in her living room), keep these points in mind to stave off a breakdown over color confusion.

Use inspiration photos as a guide

Blogs, books, and magazines are great places to go for inspiration, and you might get lucky and find some great colors with their help. It’s pretty unusual to find a color online and have it look exactly the same in your house as it does in the photo, though. That doesn’t mean these sources aren’t useful guides; it just means that more often than not, your inspirational photos will serve as starting points for exploring color instead of being the final word in your selections.

As for using a color that you saw in your friends house, remember that context is everything. It might end up working beautifully in your home, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t. Lighting plays a huge role in how paint colors end up looking, and you can’t expect to recreate identical lighting conditions.

Know When to Fold

Forcing yourself to like a color or trying to force a color to work isn’t worth the effort. It’s tempting to go outside your comfort zone and try unusual colors in an effort to make your house look different from everyone else’s, but unless those colors are ones you naturally gravitate to, you probably won’t end up loving them. Take cues from the colors in your wardrobe as well as home accessories such as rugs and blankets. The colors that show up most often are the ones you should consider for your walls. Artwork, mirrors, pillows, picture frames, and even pieces of furniture can do the work of bringing a funky, edgy, or eclectic vibe to your house.

Choosing paint colors (even just one!) can seem like a tall order, but it is manageable. When your goal is to get it done quickly, a little bit of planning will make the process easier. Happy painting!

Modern Love: A Midcentury Gem in Dover, MA

I have a major soft spot for modern houses. Eichlers have always been a favorite of mine with their central atriums and floor-to-ceiling windows, which often span entire walls. These design elements were intended to blur the line between the indoors and out, making residents feel as though they were living within their natural environment and not completely separated from it. In addition to forging a closer connection with nature, these homes made it easier for people to embrace indoor-outdoor living. I'd love to be able to do that year round, but the weather in New England isn't exactly conducive to that lifestyle. I also think any floor-to-ceiling windows I'd have in any house of mine here would need to be quadruple glazed! Is that even possible?

Anyway, I get so excited when I see modern Eichler-esque houses for sale around here. There tend to be a lot of modern houses in and around Lincoln, MA, and many of them are enormous and fancy beyond anything that would ever resemble a modest, no-frills Eichler. That's one reason why I was drawn to this listing in Dover—at 2,800 square feet, it's relatively modest in size, yet it boasts a spacious open floor plan with a truly picturesque view of the Charles River. The clerestory windows let in tons of natural light, and the materials used throughout the interior include stone, wood, and concrete. These elements are echoed outdoors on the house's wooded lot with pebble walkways, a bluestone patio, and stone walls. Did I mention it's nestled on a very private 6 acres of land? 

The driveway winds through the trees and delivers you to this view. I am in love with the little bridge that leads to the front yard. Out of view is the river to the left and a three-car garage to the right.

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This view is why I love modern houses with floor-to-ceiling windows. The glow from the interior lights at nighttime is so welcoming. Think about how festive the outdoor space would look with an expanded patio, fire pit, and some string lights. 

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A different view of the house and its wooded lot. It vaguely reminds me of the property around Fallingwater. 

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This patio sits beneath the trees and would make a great spot for relaxing with a book, enjoying a cocktail, and admiring the scenic property.

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Inside, there's abundant natural light. Vertical beams stand in place of solid walls to create a modern, open-concept layout that's typical of houses built in this style.

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A large fireplace with a stone facade punctuates the center of the living room. The high ceilings and wall of glass make the space feel large and airy. The sliding door opens onto the shaded patio previously pictured.

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A set of Shoji doors separates these two areas. I'm not sure what their intended use is—a hallway and second living area? It's also hard to tell from the photo what material was used on the floor, and while it could be terrazzo, the seams make me think it's a type of vinyl. 

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Look at this bedroom! Wouldn't this be an amazing place to wake up every day? I tend to require a completely dark room for sleeping, so I would need to come up with some light-blocking solutions for this room, but the views outside are so calming and restful. 

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Below, a different bedroom has ample windows and wonderful views of the yard. Again, it's hard to tell from the photo, but this floor might be polished concrete. 

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Don't you want to move in right now? I know I do! I'd also love to decorate a house like this. The windows and ceilings and beams are perfect, but I think I'd soften the stone details and warm up the flooring as much as possible.

I collected a few photos of similarly modern homes that embrace their natural surroundings, sloped interior ceilings, and large floor-to-ceiling and clerestory windows. Bright white walls, rich wood tones, and a mix of antique and new furnishings all seem just right for decorating a modern house in the woods.

How would you decorate this home if you had the chance?

To learn more about this unique modern house in Dover, MA, visit the listing page. All photos of the house are from the listing. Click through the inspiration photos for sources.

Fixer-Upper Infatuation: A Concord Colonial

At some point over the past five years, most of us have probably asked ourselves if we have the guts to take on a fixer-upper (I know you've seen at least one episode of that show!). My answer, at least in my imagination (and not if my husband is asking), is a resounding yes. I love a good before-and-after, and the idea of living in a house that I reimagined and designed to my specifications sounds exciting.

That's what drew me to this old house in Concord, MA. The listing says it needs "a complete renovation."

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The outside is rather deceiving—it looks pretty perfect just the way it is, with the lavender-hued front door, stone walkway, and cute little fence, all of which look well-maintained and cared for. Then I scrolled through the interior photos, and sure enough, it's in need of some TLC. There are some really special details still intact, such as the millwork, the beamed ceilings, and the huge turned newel post. It remains a blank canvas, however, and just needs someone with a good imagination to breathe some life back into its walls.

How would I freshen this place up if it were my fixer-upper? Let's take a look.

THE EXTERIOR: FRONT EXPOSURE

I wouldn't change too much about the outside of the house. The simplicity of the side gabled roof and white clapboards speaks to the house's Shaker-style architecture, which focused on simplicity, neatness, and function. It was common for these houses not to have shutters. I think the lack of shutters actually increases the aesthetic appeal, so I wouldn't add any. That beautiful lavender color on the door would stay.

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What I would change about the house is the roof—a cedar shake roof, as shown in the top two photos below, would look incredible. I'd also spruce up the fence, give the house a new paint job in white, and add some minimal landscaping that wouldn't obscure the structure. 

THE ENTRYWAY

The foyer and staircase show off the house's good bones. That turned newel post is such a fantastic detail.

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To make this area feel warm and welcoming, I'd freshen everything up with a warm white paint, install a runner on the stairs, put down area rugs in rich and vibrant colors, set up a console table with a lamp or two, and maybe even add a bench to create a small seating area. I'd also hang a mirror to reflect light and make the space appear brighter. 

THE KITCHEN

The kitchen needs a total overhaul, but I would save the beams and work them into the new design. I'd love to see a combination of warm wood, white paint, and taupe or gray trim used in this space. 

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I would keep the bones of the kitchen looking traditional in style, but I'd probably add a few contemporary touches here and there. Wood accents would play a big part in the design scheme, and a butcher block island countertop or wood-framed work table would make great accents.

THE DINING ROOM

This next room is probably the dining room since it has built-in china hutches. How great are those window seats?

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I could see this room looking fabulous in high-gloss, peacock-green paint. It would certainly feel cozy with dark paint, low ceilings, and a huge fireplace. But seeing as I've gone light and bright in other areas of the house, I would bring that look into this room and soften all those hard wooden edges with super plush cushions in the window seats, woven window shades, sconces or pendant lights, and a warm white color on the walls with a taupe or gray color on the millwork. 

The same room from a different angle, showing the fireplace:

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Light walls and a warm, gray trim color are in keeping with the traditional look but would make the space feel updated and on pace with today's trends. Traditional does not have to look dated!

THE LIVING ROOM

The interior architecture of this room provides a lot of woodwork to work around.

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I would consider adding more millwork to the space, as shown in the photo below. I would add some non-structural beams to the ceiling and build out the wall to include panels of painted woodwork in a soft taupe or gray. A cute dog is definitely the best finishing touch!

THE MASTER BEDROOM

This looks like a good-sized master bedroom with a straightforward layout that would be relatively easy to work with.

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I'd lighten everything up with fresh paint, add floor-length drapes on the windows, and layer lots of textured linens in soft blues, chocolate browns, and creamy whites. A soft wool rug underfoot would feel luxurious.

UPSTAIRS ROOM #1 WITH SLOPED CEILINGS

Given the sloped ceilings, this room is most likely on the third floor of the house. I could imagine transforming the space below into a light-filled bathroom that uses the sloped ceilings to its advantage.

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Ambitious? Perhaps. This space makes excellent use of the knee walls, though, and the chimney stack could most likely be camouflaged by being incorporated into the built-in storage.

UPSTAIRS ROOM #2 WITH SLOPED CEILINGS

Here's another awkward little room with sloped ceilings. These spaces are always tricky to plan when you have low, slanted ceilings to contend with, as well as something like a brick chimney stack located in the middle of the floor. On the plus side, the chimney stack offers a unique architectural detail to work into the design. It's just too bad that it's in such a weird spot.

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I would try to work around it by creating a sleeping nook or daybed/reading nook in this area. Sleeping and reading are two activities that don't require much in the way of overhead clearance (unless you tend to sleep standing up or read while jumping on a trampoline). These cozy little corners make great use of this awkward space.

THE EXTERIOR: SIDE EXPOSURE

Much like the front of the house, this exterior exposure is in pretty good shape. I'd insert more windows in the breezeway and gussy up the barn/garage structure.

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A trellis over the garage door would be a simple but stunning addition. Another lovely detail would be a brick or pea gravel walkway lined with some nicely-edged garden beds full of boxwoods or hydrangeas.

Any fixer-upper requires a lot of work and a ton of decision-making. Having a vision for the finished product and knowing what you want is half the battle. I think I'm off to a pretty good start here!

What would you change about this house? What details would you keep or add?

To learn more about this historic colonial house in Concord, MA, visit the listing page. All photos of the house are from the listing. Click through the inspiration photos for sources.