Color is a function of light. Just think of a movie theater screen, which you know is white (ish) but your eyes perceive a myriad of colors based on the color of the light shining at it. The screen is white so that it bounces all of the light back in order to be as accurate as possible, this is why light colored walls will be more affected by the color of the light in the room than dark colored walls. Complex neutrals, such as beige, taupe, grey or cream will be difficult to predict because they have many colors in them which can be highlighted or muted depending on the color of the light in the room. Pure colors, such as a deep red or a bold blue, are easier to predict because they are so heavily “off balance” that it is hard to throw them off one way or the other. Often a color will look good in natural light but not so good under artificial light. In general, artificial light is yellower and will make you color look yellower and natural light will make your color appear more blue. I’ve even experienced a color that looked totally different on one side of the room than the other because of the position of the windows. If you find it surprisingly difficult to get just the right shade of beige, you’re not alone. There are a few things you can do to make choosing easier…
1) Choose a color that is a bit duller than you think it should be. When the whole wall is done it will be more intense.
2) Don’t put a sample on the wall because the surrounding wall color may throw off your perception. Instead put a sample on a card, a big one, and compare it with things that will still be in the room after painting, such as floors, furniture and drapes.
3) Pay more attention to hue than to shade. “Shade” refers to how light or dark a color is, this is not nearly as important as the hue. Hue refers to how yellow, blue, red, etc. a color is. (“Tone” is used by different people alternately to mean hue or shade, so I avoid that term)
4) Look at the current color of your walls in different lights and at different times of day to get to know how the light in your home affects the color of your walls. Notice how some appear lighter or darker, more grey or more green, etc. The same things will be happening to your new color.
5) If you find a color you like but it is too dark then you have two options: a) have the painter get the color in “half-strength” (i.e. use half the tint in the same proportions) or b) get brighter light fixtures in your room.
6) If your trim color is going to be white, remember that there are many different whites. Pure white looks to stark to many people, so off whites are more common. I use Oxford white for greys and neutrals, and cloud white for warmer tones. If the wall color is darker, you can actually put quite a lot of color into your trim color and it will still look white, provided the hue is close to your wall color.