ask the experts8 min read

How do you pick the right colour for your room?

Dark bedroom via Unsplash

WordsLyndall Fernie


Choosing the right colour for a space can sometimes be the easiest thing in the world - but on other occasions, it can be frustratingly hard to make a decision. And quite right too - the feel of the rooms we spend the most time in can be a huge factor in how much we enjoy them, so it’s important to make the right choice - but specifically, the right choice for you. 

With that in mind, consider these six questions you should ask yourself when picking a new colour for a room.

1. What is the overall style?

Starting point number one has to be the mood and look that you are wanting to achieve. It is very important that this is established from the outset as most people tend to have at least two different styles in their head that they are wanting to combine… and often they are completely different looks. Choose one, and stick with it. This is probably the hardest choice to make and if it has to be a joint decision with another person then this makes it doubly hard as their likes and dislikes need to be considered too. Once you have that style, this can then help limit and define the colour palette that’ll work.

2. Think about the space

To first work out what colours might or might not work in the space, have a proper think of the architecture and type of room you’re tackling. Considering the architecture of a room will be instrumental in your choice of mood. The architect or the building will lend itself to work with a certain style and will be less successful with others. For example: if you want a grand interior with lots of decorative pieces this would look amazing in a period property that has high ceilings, but would not work in a low-ceilinged modern space.

And the same applies to different types of rooms too. 

Kitchens tend to be clean and practical spaces. They are rather expensive spaces so people are very keen not to get this room wrong. We are moving away from the stark modern gloss kitchen look into a slightly more relaxed vibe of hand-crafted and painted kitchens, and the mixing of colours between lower cabinets and high-level cabinets is very popular too. Sitting rooms however are our most commonly used rooms, and because of that need to reflect our personalities - or at least how we want others to perceive us. As bathrooms can be a very practical room in the morning, but also an escape room to relax in during the evening - it’s sometimes best to take a dual approach. Anyone with kids will testify to the importance of a relaxing bathroom.  So this room needs to be bright and light in the morning and soothing and relaxing during the evening. Find the best paint colours for your perfect bathroom vibe.

3. When will you most use the room?

Confirming the purpose of the room is important to consider when renovating. Why? Because we require different things from different spaces at various points throughout the day.

What time of the day is the room being predominantly used? Is it a daytime or an evening room? Humans prefer to be in light coloured rooms during the daytime and in darker cosier rooms in the evenings. This is a psychological need which is subtly preparing us for sleep and is ingrained into our psyche. If the room is used mostly during the day, then I suggest that the room should be a lighter colour, and if it is an evening room then it can be darker and cosier.

4. How about natural light?

The colour of paints or wallpaper can appear starkly different in rooms with varying natural light - so considering that is vital when choosing a new colour. First, find out how to tell if your room is north, east, south, or west-facing.

If you have large windows and the room is south facing then it will be lovely and bright but if it is north facing then it will be darker. With a light room subtle colours will be less noticeable (ie. They will appear to be lighter than the colour swatch), as the light will reflect off the walls. In really light rooms the colour can actually look nearly white. The opposite is true of north-facing rooms where colours will appear darker than the sample swatch because of the lack of light. 

A word of warning though. In the past, we were so concerned about the resale value of our properties that people were too terrified to use strong or dark colours in their homes. But all that has changed now and people are embracing what it is that makes them happy and realising that if they like it then there is a good chance that someone else will like it too. People are becoming much braver with their interior design choices and we are less led by trends. Thank god! But painting a room dark is not for the faint-hearted (read how to brighten up a dark room here). It is one of the most terrifying things I have done as a designer. Luckily the end result was stunning but the emotional journey during the process can be terrifying. The moral of the story though - if you like it, go for it!

5. Have you considered ‘colour theory’?

Finding complementary colours or a hue that bolsters a room’s natural light is great - but you’re the one spending the time in the space, and the colours we surround ourselves with can have a monumental impact on our mood (read more about how to create a complementary colour scheme in your home).

Colours change our mood. Stepping into a room with a different colour will immediately change how we feel. This is powerful and can be used to enhance or reduce how comfortable one feels in a space. Commercial environments put a lot of emphasis on colour theory to produce the desired effect and we should adopt the same principles for our homes. For example, blue is a calming colour that will enhance intellectual thought so it is great for studies, while red is energising and (at times) aggressive, so perfect for casinos but not generally used in large quantities in our homes. 

Wellbeing is important. It could be an idea to also think about what you feel is missing from your life and create a room that gives you that. For example, people who have very stressful working lives tend to gravitate towards calm organised spaces, and people who are more conservative in other areas of their lives are looking for spaces that are exciting and edgy. You will find that people’s wants and likes will change over time. A new job, a new relationship, etc. will find them yearning for something else. This is human nature - so embrace it.

6. What else are you working with?

If you’re working around the furniture you already have or a statement piece of art - don’t ignore that. Your colour choice on the walls is just as important as the colour of the contents within the space itself.

A common occurrence when renovating is to start with one piece that you want to use in the room, and then pull the other colours in around that one piece. Many designers will do this with art, as art tends to be a focal point in the room. All rooms need one focal point that your eye is naturally drawn to and everything else should be in tune with that piece. Nothing should be fighting it or trying to outdo it visually. 

If you are working with existing furniture, make sure that the furniture itself all works together first. If you are trying to work with pieces that are not natural bedfellows then think carefully about changing the finish of a piece to suit. Furniture can be reupholstered and a lot of timber furniture can be repainted - don’t be afraid of this. This is especially fun to work with layers of colours within a room by painting the furniture a shade or two darker than the walls for a truly integrated design.


Lyndall Fernie is a renowned Interior Designer with more than 25 years of experience in high-end design. She is currently a tutor at the Chelsea College of Arts.

Feeling inspired? Check out the best colour for your bedroom and the best paint for dark rooms.