Room Painting: Balancing Tradition and Creativity

Repainting a room in your home can be an exciting time to flex your creativity, but sorting through the thousands of available colors to find just the right combination can be maddening. There are certain traditional color schemes for different rooms of the house, and sticking with tradition can save you the trouble of repainting entire rooms if you ever put your home up for sale.

As a guideline, you should paint large rooms in dark, warm colors (oranges and reds) to pull the walls in and paint small rooms in light, cool colors to make the room feel larger. The exact colors you choose depend on what mood you want a particular room to have.

Room Painting: Balancing Tradition and Creativity

Master Bedrooms

Wall color in the master bedroom needs to match the furniture — a bed, armoires, chests of drawers, chifforobes. Wood furniture pairs well with earth tones, especially rich greens and reds. Modern minimalistic furniture — think black metal and chrome — should be matched with minimalist walls: white, black or gray. Violet-colored bedroom walls are becoming more popular, too, because of the color’s link to romance.

A good trick to decorating the master bedroom is to stick mainly with neutral colors and white but to choose a single color (pick your favorite) or pattern as an accent for chairs, curtains, lampshades, rugs and so on.

Children’s Bedrooms

The pink girl’s room and blue boy’s room are decorating clichés whose time has come — especially if you might be selling your home in the near future. Light, muted colors and pastels are classy and classic for young children’s rooms, but they need not be linked to a child’s gender.

As children mature enough to have artistic opinions about their rooms, they will likely lead toward the incorporation of patterns — from basic plaids and animal prints to Pollock-esque streaks of color. You can certainly guide them toward certain styles and colors, but it’s best to just let them express themselves through their own decorating and then repaint only when it’s time to sell the home.

The walls may very well disappear behind posters and magazine cut-outs anyway.


With the exception of the brief popularity—in the ‘60s and ‘70s—of an eye-boggling pink and olive green color scheme, full bathrooms usually revolve around whiteness — white toilet, white sink, white tub and so on. Around those white fixtures (and usually white trim), color choice is all yours — though muted hues are perhaps more common than vibrant ones.

Half-baths are a different animal. Because they’re usually small, paint them in light, cool colors (blues and greens) and neutrals to make them feel larger.


Like with the master bedroom, a prime motivator of kitchen color is the “furniture” — in this case, the cabinets, tables, chairs and countertops. Generally, though, you want a kitchen to have a clean look, which means avoiding complicated patterns and shades of brown. Modern kitchens are open and welcoming, and you can encourage this feeling with pale yellows, light greens and blues and neutral browns. Dark colors are generally reserved for accents and avoided on large areas.


The classic den has a professorial look, which means dark, warm colors: dark-wood shelves and a desk and dark-colored plush chairs lit by individual reading lights. Warm green, brown or dark red walls give the room vibrancy without reflecting extraneous, distracting light around the space, allowing you to focus on whatever work is under the spotlight at the moment—whether you’re reading, drafting or playing Angry Birds on your laptop.

Of course, not all dens are so stereotypical. If you prefer a “home office” to a den, you’ll probably be among the many homeowners who are drawn toward the same types of colors you’ll find in office buildings: clean, light gray, beige or off-white with utilitarian steel and wood amenities. The look can be pulled off artistically in a home, but not without meticulous planning.

Should you Paint the Ceiling?

It’s odd that the single largest flat space in any room is often overlooked, at least in terms of color, during a remodel. A budding Michelangelo could certainly set up a platform and illustrate the ceiling, but that might not be the best idea if you’re ever planning on selling the place. Usually, you just want the ceiling to work with the colors and textures in the rest of the room.

These ceiling-painting considerations can add the finishing touches to your room design:

  • Light colors make the ceiling feel farther away; darker colors draw it down. Avoid dark colors if the room has low ceilings.
  • Unless you’re painting a very high ceiling that you’re trying to pull down, don’t paint it a darker color than the walls.
  • If a room doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, painting a ceiling white can raise the perceived amount of light in the room.
  • A pale blue ceiling creates the feeling of open sky, which is great if you want an open, airy feel for the room.
  • Flat ceilings don’t get a lot of sunlight, if you want your ceiling to match the color of the walls, cut the color strength in half for the ceiling.

Tradition and color theory both have a lot to say about how to put room colors together in a pleasing way. Ultimately, though, the color scheme needs to match your own tastes. Nontraditional paint jobs can still be beautiful, but understand that home buyers aren’t always thrilled with the nontraditional.