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Create a Color Plan for Interior Decorating

Originally published in Latina Style magazine, Su Casa home decor column, by Cristina Acosta

Dear Cristina,

I want to redecorate my home, but I’m confused over how to start. I began researching ideas; saving some pictures of rooms I like from magazines and collecting some color chips from the local paint store. Now I have a big folder of ideas, but no real sense of what to do next.
G. Montoya
You have some great ideas – now you need a plan.

A good plan divides your large project into smaller segments that take manageable chunks of time. Create your plan by prioritizing your projects starting with what I call your foundation choices. These choices can vary with the scope of your project but will always include a master color palette. A master color palette is a collection of the dominant colors that are part of the project. Your project may be a small room, an entire home or something in between. No matter how small or big your project is, create a master color palette early in your planning process and the rest of your decisions will be much easier.

When I guide clients to set up their master palette, they often bring choices they’ve already made to the table. In a new home or remodel, these choices range from things they love like a great recycled wood floor or prized painting to things the clients are stuck with because the expense of replacing it is too high. The master color palette can include the colors of the walls, cabinetry, floors, trims, fixtures and any important décor pieces such as art, furniture and textiles.

Sometimes a client is very resistant to including the color of something they don’t like in their master palette. No matter how much a client may dislike the color of something, if they have to live with it, I encourage them to embrace the color instead of ignoring it. Ignoring a color and trying to “work around it” has the curious result of emphasizing it — usually because the color is left out of the overall palette so obviously that it sticks out as a misfit.Loft Project: Kennel.jpg

The key to color success is to consciously acknowledge and work with every color in the environment so that the result is a harmonious palette. The only way to develop your skills with color is to explore. Getting some help figuring out a color palette is just a few mouse clicks away.  “Take the guess work out of coordinating colors,” advises Sheri Thompson, director of Sherwin Williams Color Marketing and Design Department. “Visit our website and play with our color visualizer, you’ll be able to look at over one thousand color combinations including the hottest trends in color.”

A collection of paint swatches is the easiest way to explore color and to create your palette. But don’t insist on starting with just one version of the colors you love. Make sure that the colors you choose coordinate well with products that may be available in limited color choices such as wood floors or metal fixtures. As you refine your palette, save samples in your file. If you have to rethink a choice in the future, you’ll be able to quickly see how a change will affect the master color palette.

Sometimes your explorations result in a choice that doesn’t fit with your home. Rather than considering a misfit choice a failure, I view it as a challenge. Figuring out exactly why something doesn’t work often gives me ideas that will lead me to a solution that is even more interesting than I could have initially imagined.

Whatever the size of your new project, a good plan will help you to relax and enjoy the process as much as you can. Remember you are the one who ultimately decides which colors you do and don’t like together. Stay happy and have fun!

Get it Together

A portable file of everything pertaining to your project keeps everything in one place for the term of the project. Knowing exactly where to find your samples, notes and receipts when you need them makes everything easier.

  •  Accordion file with file folders or ample slots. Ziploc bags for loose samples.
  •  Calendar page(s) (for the term of the project) to staple to the front of the file
  •  A rough time-line (Write this in pencil!) mounted next to the calendar.
  •  Pouch with mini office supplies: Pencil, Pen, Stapler, Measuring tape


Living Room Photo: My clients’ love of the natural world inspired their choice of colors for this Pacific Northwest home. The foundation palette of their home is mostly natural hues of gold, green and blue-gray. An energizing counterpart to those soft tones is the vibrant tomato red in the dining area. The warmth of the red echoes the warm golden tones and complements the sage green colors. Stairwell detail Kennel.jpg
Dining Room Photo Detail: This detail of the dining area shows how the red and gold wall colors enhance the warm orangey undertones in the wood floor. Mix red and yellow paint together and you’ll get orange. By using two colors that imply the third color, the red and yellow wall colors coordinate with the wood floor without having to match the wood color.