The need to repaint creeps up on you like a sneaky cold. All of a sudden the walls are dark and faded. Handprints form a mosaic around the doorjambs. Scuffs and scrapes parade across the baseboards.
Experts say most home interiors need to be repainted about every 5 years--more frequently if children and pets are around. But the question of when to repaint is probably the easiest decision in any painting project.
The hardest is choosing the right colors--a decision that should wait until all furniture selections are made, as well as accessories, art, floor coverings and window treatments, says Dorian Hunter of Dorian Hunter Interiors in Fullerton.
A member of the American Society of Interior Designers, Hunter says once the furnishings have been chosen, it is easier to determine colors for walls. Sometimes the wall color will accent one in a rug or painting; other times the walls may need to match a floor covering.
Paint chips should be matched against swatches and samples of furnishings planned for any particular room, always taking into account the amount of natural light a room gets, the traffic pattern and the effect one wants to achieve. Remember that paint looks different in different light, so don't scrutinize samples in the middle of the store unless you plan to move there.
"You're looking at samples of things--wallpaper, tiles, couches, swatches, then you match the paint to the samples," Hunter says. "It's a subjective judgment you make after all the information is in; all the other elements give you clues."
Colors are also determined by the times. Like clothing styles, hues go in and out of fashion and can give a room a dated look. Right now decorators are predicting a more colorful decade, with white on the way out. The forecast calls for deeper, more intense colors on walls as well as on accents against pale walls.
"I think we will see a lot more color because I think people are bored with Navajo White," says Abby Menhenett of Design Associates West in Corona del Mar. She was referring to a paint color--manufactured by most companies--that has been widely popular during the past decade.
"People have been in a period of visual deprivation," agrees Carlton Wagner, director of the Wagner Institute for Color Research in Santa Barbara. "We're seeing more adornments on furniture, more moldings on walls, more textures; it gives us great opportunity to use color in these areas."
Most people have heard that light-colored walls make rooms look larger, but Hunter says white walls are not the only way to expand space.
"Ninety-nine percent of the homes in Orange County are tract homes and the builders want to make all the interiors look large so they use white," says Hunter. "But people should realize there are different options, that if you repeat deep tones from one room to the next it will tend to expand the space also."
Hunter prefers red and other dark, intense tones that add drama. "I don't mean bright, but deep, like deep rose and deep teal.
"If you look at design magazines like Southern California Home & Garden and Designers West, you'll see that designers are using really intense color," she adds. "But maybe you haven't recognized that it's the paint color that makes the rooms look so good."
It's not only the builders who have promoted white as a room-enlarger; homeowners have been conditioned to think tract homes require white or near-white walls.
"The general public feels safe with the white walls because they know everything goes with white," says Betty Hyde of Ultimate Designs, Interiors in Tustin. "But it doesn't cost any more to choose a soft, interesting color and it is more welcoming."
Hyde says adding a touch of pastel to white paint for walls or ceilings is a good, safe way to add drama for those afraid to go too colorful.
"If you add a little yellow to the white, it's almost undetectable," she says, "so a person almost feels like he has walked into a warm white room."
Colors can cool down or heat up a room. Hyde says cool colors should be avoided when painting a room with a cool, northern exposure, and warm tones should be avoided when painting a room with a western exposure.
"If you have a bright western exposure you should stay away from the warmer colors because the effect would be too warm," she says. "You also have to look at what's next to you. If you have a bright vibrant building next to you, the color will bounce color right into your room and distort your effect."
The purpose of the room should also be taken into account. Certain colors convey certain moods. The cooler colors are good choices for serene, traditional environments, while the warmer, yellow-based colors are better choices for friendly, exciting backgrounds.
Surfaces also affect the way color will work in a room. As Menhenett points out, shiny surfaces magnify more flaws than flat paint, and dark colors show more flaws than lighter paints. So if you have flawed walls, a good choice is a flat light-colored paint.