It happens all the time: You buy a shirt or dress, thinking that it’s black-and-white striped, only to come home and realize that it’s actually blue-and-white striped. Why does this happen?

It’s called metamerism, and it has to do with the way different colours reflect light. Blue and black reflect and transmit different types of light in different ways, but the human eye can’t always process the subtle differences. The result is that in some lighting conditions, we perceive some shades as identical, but in other lighting conditions, we can see they’re different.

Metamerism is why the paint colour that looked so great on the paint chip in the store wasn’t nearly as appealing when you got it on your living room walls, or why the paint you chose for your bedroom looks terrific in the natural light of early morning but takes on an unattractive cast in the evenings when you turn on your bedside lamp.

So what can you do?

  • Don’t rely on paint chips to make your decision. Even the paper the paint chips are printed on can affect the way the light will hit the colour you choose. Ask for paint samples you can actually put on your wall
  • Observe your sample paint at different times of day. Try putting it on your wall in the early morning, and then see how you like it as the light changes in the room over the course of a day
  • Give some thought to the kind of lighting most often used in the room. Is it a window-filled room that is typically lit by daylight? Or a lower-level room that is typically illuminated by artificial light?
  • Consider what times of day you most often use the room. If your bedroom is mostly deserted during the way, but is the place you frequently watch tv at night, then it’s more important that your paint colour works well when it’s dark outside and you’re using low lighting
  • Furniture (especially big pieces) can change the way light and shadow play across the room. Give some thought to how that big wardrobe in the corner might affect the overall look of the room
  • Window coverings can also make a big difference. A translucent Roman shade will result in far different lighting than blackout drapes. If you’re not liking your paint colour but don’t want to re-paint, try changing the curtains or blinds.

The bottom line? Don’t try to choose paint colours too quickly – give yourself the time you need to think about lighting and you’ll love your rooms longer.