Christine Neil
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Confidence with Colour

Avoid paint paralysis with the handy Resene 8-step colour guide

Colour is a truly magical property. It can transform an environment, create a style, set a mood and alter perceptions. Colour is very personal and an expression of our creativity.  This 8- step guide will help you find your way to just the right colours for your project.

1 Get Inspired

Even if you already know what colours and styles you like, start a file of photos that catch your eye. Don’t over-think it, just collect what appeals. When you have a decent-sized collection, look for common elements. You could also collect photos of things you really dislike to help you avoid those in your new scheme.

Visit your local Resene ColorShop and pick out the cards from the Multi-finish and Whites & Neutrals collections that you’re instinctively drawn to. Together with your collected images, you’ll soon see a pattern emerge. It might be that your choices are all light and casual, or all luxe and moody. You need to love it. There’s no point painting your home in jewel tones if no-one in the family likes jade, ruby or amethyst. The best homes are decorated with the owner’s personality in mind.

Use a grey paint colour viewfinder (get one free from your Resene ColorShop) to isolate colour on the paint chart you are viewing. If you look at all the colours together, the colours will affect one another and you won’t get a true feeling of each individual colour.

Top tip

With all the decorating styles and choices available it’s easy to be overwhelmed and lose direction. A simple but effective way to stay on course is to choose a few words that describe how you want your home to be and feel. Emotive words, like welcoming, decadent or casual. Use five words maximum. Then with every decision and purchase, ask yourself if it fits the words. That way, you won’t end up with ‘orphans’ in your scheme.

2 Use a Starting Point

A starting point can mean a few things. The first is to start with the most limited or most expensive material. So in a kitchen, choose the benchtop first, then the flooring. Finally, choose the Resene paint colour for the cabinetry and walls that best ties together all these elements. Few of us have the luxury of starting from scratch, so figure out what will be staying – the flooring, the sofa, the kitchen? Or outside, it may be the roof and joinery.

Another kick-starter is to use a favourite painting, wallpaper, curtain fabric or a recently purchased cushion as the starting point for a scheme. You can already see that the colours work together so draw them out and use them on the walls and trims. Note the proportions the colours are used in, and mimic that in your colour scheme. An artwork or fabric is usually seen at a distance so rather than get microscopic about the colours within the piece, stand back for an impression of the colour. You might use the style of your home or the setting, whether it’s rural, urban or coastal to influence your decorative choices.

Top tip

If you love the colours in a fabric or artwork, load a photo of it into the online Resene Colour Palette Generator and it will suggest some Resene colours for you to help get you started. See

3 Be Room-appropriate

When selecting colours consider lighting, what the room is used for, who spends the most time using the room, adjacent room colour schemes, whether you want to change perceptions of the room shape or size, what kind of mood you want to create, and any existing furniture or furnishings that will be part of the finished colour scheme.

If you have already selected other room furnishings, bring samples with you when choosing your paint colour.

You may even wish to follow the fabric pattern to balance the colour palette for the room. There should be some relationship between that and the newly decorated room to provide continuity.

Always keep in mind when developing a colour scheme who will be using the space the most.

4 The Right Proportions

When you’re using a number of colours together, vary the proportions. Using them in equal proportions will give the room an unsettled feel and make the colours feel far too intense.

Use the 60:30:10 principle – 60 is the main colour (for most of the walls, and perhaps some furniture and a rug), 30 is the secondary colour that supports the main colour (for example, a feature wall, drapes and linens) and 10 is the accent colour (cushions, lamps and accessories; it could also be a bold paint colour used on a splashback).

If you’re opting for a neutral colour scheme, choose a colour family and then vary the strength from full to double, and quarter to half strength. This will help to add extra interest to the colour scheme. The Resene Whites & Neutrals collection has up to six strengths of each colour and is an easy way to get started on a neutral colour scheme.

No matter which colours you like, successful colour schemes have one thing in common – balance. Try to use no more than two to three principal colours with touches of other accent colours to lift the scheme.

Sometimes it pays to start with a simple scheme of two colours and an accent, then introduce other colours into the room as you gain confidence.

One of the simplest ways of carrying a theme throughout your home is to use a common colour palette. Choose a selection of colours for the entire home and then use different combinations of those colours in each room. The commonality of the colours will link the entire scheme together.

Understanding Colour

When choosing colours keep three things in mind: 

Colours look different when

  • In different types of light
  • Next to different colours
  • Depending how much there is of the colour

Muted colours are easier to live with but that doesn’t mean everything has to be pale. A deep charcoal blue can add drama but it’s a very easy colour to use and accessorise.

The mistake most of us make is to not go ‘grey’ enough. What you thought was going to be a smoky blue turns out icy blue on your wall. Check the examples below and you’ll see that Resene Duck Egg Blue is quite grey, compared to Resene Quarter Frozen.

Most decorators find pale neutrals or pastels easy to use – colours that have quite a bit of white in them. So instead of grass green, you would have soft sage. Instead of brown, it would be beige. The common element, white, means that you can successfully combine any pastels into a colour scheme. The addition of clean white also means that most pastels appear soft and fresh.

If you think a colour you are looking at on a Resene colour chart may be too dark for your interior, choose a lighter colour. Colours will look more intense when they are painted onto a large indoor area. How much there is of a colour affects how you see it. When used in large quantities or in a small room, strong colours will appear even stronger and more intense. If in doubt use a shade lighter than your original choice.

When painting outside, the opposite rule applies – if in doubt, choose a darker Resene colour as the sun will make the colour seem lighter.

6 Gloss or Matt?

The gloss level of the paint will affect how it looks. Matt surfaces absorb light and will appear darker than glossy reflective surfaces. Dark colours look velvety and rich in a matt finish – try Resene SpaceCote Flat. 

Light colours and glossy finishes help make a room appear larger, while darker colours, heavier textures and matt finishes help make the room seem cosier.

Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen or Resene Zylone Sheen are normally recommended for walls while Resene Lustacryl gives a good tough, semi-gloss finish for trims. For more of a gloss contrast you can use Resene Enamacryl on trims.

Like gloss level, the colour paint you use will also show surface defects to varying degrees. Darker colours accentuate surface imperfections, while lighter colours soften the effects of any surface irregularities by absorbing less light. Special paint effects or wallpaper can be used to hide minor surface defects.

If you have painted a wall with paint and find the sheen level is too flat or glossy, you can apply Resene SpaceCote Clear (low sheen) or Resene Concrete Clear flat, satin or gloss to adjust the sheen level.

7 Lighting

Check and select colour under the actual lighting conditions of the space to be painted to avoid disappointment. Colours may look different under natural and artificial light. 

Consider when you use the room the most and select your colour under those lighting conditions. Colour will also look darker on a ceiling surface than on the wall. Likewise, window walls will appear darker as they don’t receive direct light. 

White and off-white paint colours are usually the safest as they distort less under various types of light.

Test, Test and Test Again

Once you have narrowed down your colour choices, use Resene testpots to confirm your scheme – the cost is minimal compared to the time and money you will waste if you have to repaint a wall you don’t like. 

Using your Resene testpot apply two coats onto a piece of A2 card, leaving a border around it so the colour isn’t influenced by anything else. When the paint is dry, pin your colour to the wall and view it in daylight and artificial light, moving it around different areas of the room and folding it into the corner of the room for a true feel of the finished effect. Check how it looks in lighter areas as well as shadowy spots. You can also roll the card with the painted surface on the inside, then look down into the tube to get the effect of the colour as it might appear on all of the walls.

For exterior schemes, move the painted card around different walls, checking it in sun and shade.


Choosing the colour is only half of the job. You also need to choose the right Resene paint so your colour works well and looks good for many years to come.

Paint is your most versatile medium and may be easily changed when you feel the need for a new look. Once you have decided and applied your colour scheme, make sure you take a note of the colours used for future reference.

Never rush into a colour scheme, as you will only regret hasty choices later. Give yourself time to learn about your colour likes and dislikes and develop these into a personalised scheme.

As with everything in life, the more colour schemes you create over your lifetime of decorating, the more confident you will become. And, if worse comes to worse and you just can’t stand your new colour scheme, you can always paint over it!

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