Floors, backsplash, countertops: The right paint will tie them together

It’s tempting to think of the walls as ‘setting the tone’, colour-wise, for the rest of the room. But in most cases – especially in kitchens and bathrooms – there’s a lot of square footage being taken up by other flat surfaces: The floor, the countertops, the cabinetry and backsplash can be huge elements in a room. Choosing the right paint colour can bring all these elements together (even if they aren’t a perfect match); the wrong colour can create a jarring effect that’ll turn even the most beautiful marble countertop into an apparent design disaster.

So how do you make sure you choose the right colour for your room?

Here are our 5 tips:

1. Make sure you consider the light

Earlier this month, we discussed how light can change the colour and even the tone of paint. This is especially true when you’re trying to match a variety of different surfaces: You may have a matte-finish countertop and extra-shiny countertops, and both will reflect light differently. And different rooms will have different sources of light: Your kitchen may be extra-bright in the morning, but reliant on task lighting when it’s dark; your bedroom may have limited light all day; your bathroom may have a combination of overhead lights and wall-mounted lights – all of these will change the way all the finishes look.

When choosing a paint colour, observe how the different surfaces reflect or absorb light, under both natural and artificial light. A room with highly reflective surfaces may do well with a dark wall colour; a room with matte surfaces may need a lighter wall colour.

2. Determine the dominant element in the room

Do you have an unusually-coloured countertop or a large floor area with a super-dramatic finish? Is there a loud pattern in your backsplash? Your dominant element will inform the rest of the room. (Some experts will tell you that the countertop is always the dominant element in a kitchen. This is only true if you have a lot of counter space or if your countertop is a really loud colour/pattern.)

Now take stock of the dominant element: Is it warm or cool in tone? Does it have several colours or just one? Does it seem to ‘match’ the other elements in the room or does it need some help to pull it all together? Do you want to showcase this dominant element or would you like it to recede into the background a bit?

Assessing the dominant element will help you narrow down your options.

3. Consider any ‘statement furniture’ you have or plan to buy

Do you have – or plan to buy – a piece of furniture that will become the focal point of the room? If this piece of furniture is likely to be – or if you want it to be – the dominant element in the room, then you should probably put it in place before you choose a paint colour. (Most interior designers recommend that you position all your furniture in the room before choosing a paint colour: Once that giant sofa is in place, you may find it’s a slightly different tone than you remembered, and that will affect your paint choices.)

4. Do you want monochrome or ‘pops of colour’?

Some people are happiest with a room in which all the surfaces sort of blend together and disappear; other people prefer a room with a single big dramatic element; and others love a room with visual stimulation everywhere you look. Knowing which kind of room you want will help you decide whether to choose a paint colour that matches the other elements so closely that it fades into the background, or whether you want to find a bright colour that turns the walls into the dominant element.

5. Don’t just try the paint chips on the wall

When you’ve got a variety of competing elements in a room, you can’t just post a couple of paint chips on the wall, because you may end up with a colour that looks great next to the countertop but clashes with the floor. You need to look at the paint chips next to all the elements: Down near the floor, beside the backsplash, next to the countertops – tape up a few paint chips in different places and take a good look.

Once you’re down to, say, the top 3, consider getting sample-size cans of paint. Apply all 3 colours in different places in your room, and then observe them for the next couple of days. As the paint dries and you have the opportunity to see the different colours in different lights, you’ll see which works best with the other elements.