By now I've had a decent amount of experience picking out paint colors for myself and others. But even I can get nervous and completely overwhelmed standing in front of the multiple walls of tiny paint samples in the local hardware store.
First of all how do they expect you to pick one 2x2 square of color out of thousands of options while listening to piped in music and squinting in the glare of overheard commercial lighting? Personally I find a swatch book very handy for narrowing down my options but if you don't want to employ an Interior Designer every time you want to paint a room here is a step by step guide to choosing the perfect paint color.
Step 1: Get Inspired.
Decide if you are going for a complete makeover of an existing room or if you need to match the paint sample to whats already in the room. Either way you'll need to find some inspiration. Home decor magazines, Google images, Pinterest or even a pillow, a favorite sweater or a pair of shoes can provide inspiration. A magazine image can be helpful because it could inspire not just the paint but the furniture and accessories as well. Once you find a room you like make sure you pay attention to the features in the room. Is there sunlight streaming in several large windows? Or is there an abundance of dark wood paneling. This can affect how the paint color looks in that room compared to yours. It can be helpful to find a room that has somewhat similar features to yours but not essential. If your room has a lot less windows choose a paint color that is a couple of shades lighter to make up for the lack of light. Another great item of inspiration is a fabric sample from a home decor store (I hear ChathamHome has some great fabrics...). This item can provide inspiration for the entire room if it's got a pattern with a variety of colors in it.
Hardware stores are getting better at matching paint colors to items you already have but I'm not convinced it's foolproof. Especially if the item isn't a solid color then you'll have to match the color yourself. This is not as hard as it sounds. If possible take your inspiration to the store with you and find the paint sample that closely matches it. Now pick up a bunch of other samples that are slight variations of that paint sample in both color and value (Value being how light or dark the color is). You'll want a lot of options here because once you get those paint samples home they are going to look completely different.
Step 3: Narrowing it Down
Take your paint samples home and hopefully you'll be able to instantly narrow down your choices. Once you get a reasonable amount of choices tape them to a sheet of paper and tape this sheet to your wall. Now stare at them for a few days. Seriously. See what they look like at night or during the day or with sunlight shining on them.
Step 4: Commitment
Time to choose a swatch... pick the one you're most drawn to and appeals to you in all the different lighting scenarios. Now go two shades lighter. This is the biggest mistake most people make. Unless you're confident that dark is your thing most people tend to be surprised by how much darker the color looks when painted on the wall. Two shades lighter is probably closer to what you are picturing in your head. And if it's actually too light for you once it's painted then you can always paint an accent wall in the darker shade. Or if you really think that the darker shade is what you are going to want but are still nervous you could always start with the accent wall and see what you think... then you've only committed to one wall.
Step 5: I'm Still Not Ready!
Ok, still nervous? Still can't believe anyone could make this decision based on a few tiny squares taped to a wall? Time to paint some larger samples on the wall. Most hardware stores now offer small samples that give you about a 2' square of coverage. They are a few dollars each. Narrow down the choices to 3 or 4 and paint them on the wall. Try to pick a spot that will have the most variations in light throughout the day. Make sure you do at least 2 coats because you don't want the background color influencing things. Still not sure? Get a second (or third or fourth) opinion. Eventually you'll have to just pick one... it's only paint, it can be painted over. Or you can hire someone like me and leave the fretting to someone else.