Jessie Raymond: It pays to choose colors carefully


When I’m in the mood for a home renovation project but we lack the money or time to start one, I turn to the second-best option: painting a room. My superpower is the ability to pick a good paint color on the first try.

“Superpower” might be too strong a word. I have no particular eye for color or home decor. My gift is that I’m not fussy. As long as the color is in the general range of what I want and the name does not gross me out (I’ll pass on Tepid Chowder, thank you), I’m good. And Mark does not care what I pick.

At least that’s how things used to be.

I was always baffled by people who spent weeks agonizing over paint colors, testing multiple quarts of nearly indistinguishable shades. Often, the moment the room was painted, they’d hate their choice and paint over it, sometimes several times.

“I thought Egregious Gray was the perfect color,” they’d say. “But every time I went into the room, a sense of unease came over me and I got the urge to write negative online reviews. So I had the paint store add 0.002 percent more white to it. Now I love it. ”

How silly, I’d think.

I woke up two weeks ago with the random itch to paint our hallway – downstairs and upstairs. It hadn’t been painted since before we bought the place 16 years ago. (It’s just a hallway, after all.)

I wanted to go over the existing paint, a safe but tired gray-brown, with something fresher. After studying paint chips for eight seconds, I bought a gallon of something off-white and spent all Saturday putting two coats on just the downstairs walls.

It brightened the space, but the shade was very similar to the white trim, only yellower. The hallway looked like a plate of rewarmed scrambled eggs.

Mark, a man of few words, took one look and said, “It’s too light.” This was his first-ever paint opinion, and it was correct.

I sat with this for a week. I like scrambled eggs. Could I grow to like them in the hallway, which for 16 years I had mostly ignored anyway?


I returned to the paint store the next weekend. This time, I was seeking a sort of rich gray / blue / teal that would make the fancy white trim pop. I came home with a gallon labeled Imminent Regret or Kryptonite or something equally portentous, and I painted over the scrambled eggs.

But the new color was not the right color. Not even close.

The hallway has some weird Bermuda Triangle energy that distorts colors. In the kitchen, the dribbles on the side of the paint can matched the chip. In the hallway, the color turned garish.

“It’ll look better once it dries,” I lied to myself.

Whatever opulent shade I was expecting instead ended up an aggressively cheerful baby blue. Picture Cinderella’s ball gown. Picture a cartoon sky. Picture a gender reveal party (“It’s a boy!”).

Upon seeing it, Mark offered his second-ever paint opinion: “I hate it.” We were in agreement.

Every time we came downstairs, we shuddered. There was no getting used to it, either. Even after a week, passing through the space still made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The blue had to go.

Defeated, I went back to the paint store and enlisted help. I showed the salesperson a photo of the blue disaster for reference. Unprepared, she stifled a shriek.

Once her eye stopped twitching, she steered me toward a lovely subdued teal called Hubris. This time – like the people I used to ridicule – I took home just a sample quart. I am, it turns out, a mere mortal.

Happily, the new test patch looks great in the hallway. Which means I will, for the third weekend in a row, cut in and roll the same three walls – twice – and then work my way up the stairs.

I admit it: If I had just put more thought into picking the right color from the get-go, this project would already be finished. Instead, I’ve got more work to do, and it really can not wait; this morning Mark stepped one foot into the hallway and started speaking in tongues.

I want to tell him I’ll start painting right after dinner, but I can not get a word in edgewise.

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