Create Your Whole House Color Palette

Article by School of Decorating

Creating a whole house color palette, before painting a single wall, was the best thing I ever did for my home.

After six years of home ownership, I was sick of the constant trips to the paint store to stare at way too many paint chips agonizing over which one would be best.  Choosing wall colors on an as-needed basis caused extra stress and indecisiveness.  And, in my last two homes, I never achieved a cohesive look.  There was always one or two rooms that seemed disjointed from the rest.


In this home, I set out to decide on a color palette for the entire home upfront.  Since then, I have not gone to the paint store in four years to pick out a new color and I have never second-guessed a color decision in my home.  Because I did the work up front, I know I can use any color from my palette and it will fit right in with the rest of the home.

And, no, my home is anything but boring and matchy-matchy.

If anything, the restrained palette has opened up my creativity.  We use a limited palette throughout our home, but vary how we use the colors from room to room to keep it interesting.  For example, dark teal appears on the upper walls in my dining room.  I used the same color differently in my basement family room on the painted media center.  The same color reappears as an accent color in my master bedroom.

If you are ready to end the color in-decision and create a color palette that works for your home, just follow the 7 steps below.

With a whole house color palette, you will:

  • Create a home with a cohesive look that flows from room to room.

  • Make decisions upfront and never have to think of it again.

  • Feel confident in any wall color choice you make, because you already know it goes with all the other colors in your home.

Every home no matter the size or layout can benefit from a whole house color scheme.  It doesn’t matter if your home is an open floor plan or a series of separate rooms.  It seems more obvious to use coordinated colors in an open floor plan or small space, but even in a home with separate rooms you don’t want to turn the corner and have a jarring effect caused by an out of place color.

Here’s the goal: If someone were to see your home as a series of snapshots, each room a separate picture jumbled up with pictures of other people’s homes, you want them to know all of your rooms are from the same house.  You create that connection with color.

If I gave someone a stack of pictures of each room in your home right now, would they know they were all from the same home?  If not, read on and learn how to create your cohesive color palette.

1.  Understand Your Fixed Elements

Before you do anything else, you need to understand the colors you are already stuck with.  All of the fixed elements in your home automatically become part of your whole house color palette.  The fixed elements in your home include trim, cabinetry, flooring (wood, carpet, tile), wall tiles, and countertops (stone, laminate, wood).

Do not skip this step. It’s the most important, which is why I included a 30-minute lesson on Identifying Undertones in my Create a Cohesive Home with Color class.

Although most of your fixed elements are probably a neutral color, even neutrals have color undertones.  To properly choose colors to go with your fixed elements, you need to understand what undertone colors you are working with.

Make a list of all your fixed elements.  Next to each element, write the undertone.

If the person designing your house did a good job, you should see some trends in the undertones.  For example, most of the undertones of the fixed elements in my home are warm colors.  My dark wood floors have a red undertone.  My cinnamon maple cabinetry has a distinctly orange undertone.  My white trim has a yellow undertone.  Tile throughout our home has a pink undertone.  Even the slate on our fireplace has warm undertones.

Once you understand the undertones in your fixed elements, you basically have two options for building your whole house color palette:

Option A.  Match the undertones.  If your undertones are mostly warm colors (red, orange, yellow), choose a wall color palette of warm colors.  If your undertones are mostly cool colors (green, blue, purple), choose a wall color palette of cool colors.

Option B.  Contrast against the undertones.  If your undertones are mostly warm colors, choose a wall color palette of cool colors to complement the warm undertones.  If your undertones are mostly cool colors, choose a wall color palette of warm colors to complement the cool undertones.