The do's and don'ts of paint color selection for your home's smallest rooms.
Farrow & Ball Green Smoke
Farrow u& Ball, Green Smoke
| Credit: Farrow & Ball

Picking the perfect paint color is something we all wish to do, but it just goes wrong every once in a while. With thousands of options to choose from and countless digital inspiration images at our fingertips, it can be challenging to know where to start and what to avoid. Here is where expert advice can simplify the process for us all. Designers and paint color experts from top retailers have shared advice to successfully repaint the smallest rooms in our homes—which are often the hardest to complete. With their sage advice, you're sure to design a beautiful room in no time.

Tip 1: Accept That There Are No Rules

"Color is highly subjective," says Hannah Yeo, Color Marketing and Development Manager at Benjamin Moore. "The best measure of success is when the homeowner is happy with the final result for years to come."

For some of us, this means keeping the walls light and airy, but for others, it is a bold statement. "As color is always highly personal, there is no single recommendation when it comes to paint colors for small rooms," she affirms.

Tip 2: Think Carefully About The Room's Purpose

Interior designer Roger Higgins encourages homeowners to think carefully about the room's purpose before painting. "Is it where you plan to get ready in the morning and put on your makeup? Is it a space in which you want to sit and read?" he asks. "If so, consider paint colors that are not too dark or those that will reflect poorly on your skin. We often paint powder rooms or wet bars a darker color, but you have to make sure you have the right amount and application of lighting."

Patrick O'Donnell, the International Color Curator at Farrow & Ball, agrees. "It is less about the choice of color and more about the purpose of the room and the light in the room," he says.

Tip 3: Don't Just Select White As A Default

While white can be a refreshing go-to for many, it can also keep a space from really coming to life and complementing the look and feel of the home. Particularly for small spaces like a powder bath or a home office, considering a wide range of color options can be beneficial. "Many homeowners default to an off-white paint color fearing color can make the space look smaller," says Yeo. "In fact, color can enhance the look and feel you're going for."

Tip 4: Stick To Cool Tones To Make A Room Feel Larger

"Generally speaking, cooler colors are known to recede, making the space look larger." Yeo's favorite shades? "Keep the tones light such as Constellation AF-540 or Silver Cloud 2129-70 to create an airy effect," she says.

Benjamin Moore Paint Samples
Credit: Benjamin Moore

If the goal is to make a small room feel bigger, O'Donnell says, "cooler colors recede (think soft, pale blues) and warmer colors advance (lovely smoky pinks)." While many assume white will lighten a room, if there is little natural light, the result may be a "gloomy gray space," he says. "Consider warmer tones or go dark—often the latter solution can be highly successful and play to the limitations of the space, creating a truly cozy atmosphere."

Tip 5: Bring the Outdoors In

What are Yeo's go-to shades for small rooms this season? Overwhelmingly it's the enduring color of nature, varieties of leafy, lush greens, that stand out. "Green is regaining its momentum and is great for transitional rooms such as entryway or mudrooms," she says. "Extend your outdoor space with colors like Fernwood Green 2145-40 or Lush AF-475."

O'Donnell prefers greens in small spaces, too. "A home office will take a strong color well," he says. "Think a deep, dark green such as Green Smoke, which will act as a dramatic backdrop. The color of nature is naturally soothing so it allows you to focus on work."

Farrow & Ball, Green Smoke
Farrow & Ball, Green Smoke

When designing a nursery, O'Donnell recommends a calming, frosty green like Cromarty. "Another trick is to use one color all over (in the right finish for each surface) so you won't have any distractions from a contrasting trim or where the ceiling meets the wall," he says.

Tip 6: Think Carefully About the Ceiling

If you're looking for a stand-out element, painting the ceiling can draw the eye up and add interest in cramped quarters. "Consider choosing a lighter color above your eye level," Yeo says. "Lighter colored ceilings can visually heighten walls while creating a subtle contrast that brings depth and dimension."

Tip 7: Avoid Using Too Many Paint Colors

To feel calm and enveloped in color, consider choosing a monochromatic palette. "A monochromatic color scheme makes a seamless and cohesive room, allowing the space to look larger," Yeo says. "Bring in small accent colors through accessories and decorative elements to add interest."

Higgins agrees. "I do not typically overwhelm a small space with too many paint colors," he says. "For example, I generally won't paint the ceiling, trim, and cabinets different colors in a small space. Instead, I'd most likely opt to paint the walls and millwork the same color."

Tip 8: Avoid Using High Gloss Finishes on an Imperfect Surface

If you're considering a bold, high-gloss finish for a surface in a small space, be sure it has been adequately prepped and is perfectly smooth. "Higher sheens such as satin or semi-gloss reflect more light, which helps to lighten up the room," Yeo says. "However, keep in mind that glossier paint reveals more imperfection on the walls. Eggshell is the most common sheen for walls. It reflects a bit of light and is easily cleaned."

Tip 9: Sample, Sample, Sample!

Ultimately, the best way to get paint colors right the first time is to sample top options in the space before deciding on a winning shade. Check on the samples throughout the day to observe how the changing light impacts the undertones. It may seem perfect in the morning, but too bold at night. Painting samples on movable boards (rather than the walls) is a great way to move samples around quickly.