If you're feeling overwhelmed by the paint color selection process, you're in good company! Given that there are so many paint color choices available--over 1,500 in the current Sherwin Williams fan deck alone—it's not surprising that I regularly receive emails that say, “Help! I'm drowning in paint chips! How do I choose my paint colors?!"

Before you give up in despair (or worse, crowdsource your paint color decisions on your local Facebook group), allow me to instantly reduce your paint color options by 50% with a single blog post.

(Please check out my other blog posts related to paint color selection for more tips, as apparently I have a lot to say on the subject!)

The "Safe Zone" vs. "Clown College"

The photo above illustrates the tongue-in-cheek way that I like to break down the Sherwin Williams fan deck when I'm in consultations with my interior decorating clients. The “Neutrals” section of the fan is what I call the "Safe Zone", while I jokingly refer to the “Color” section of the fan deck as “Clown College”.

Though there are exceptions to this general rule—which I’ll discuss below—the majority of my clients in the US tend to find that wall paint colors chosen from the neutral section of the fan deck are just easier to live with on their walls over the long term.

If you rule out the “Color” section of the fan when you're making your wall color selections, you’ll have ruled out over 700 colors, and as I always say, ruling things out is merciful!

"Neutral" Doesn't Need to Mean "Gray"!

Selecting your wall colors from the "Neutrals" section of the fan doesn’t mean that all of your walls need to be painted “Beigey Blah” or “Glum Gray”!

The paint colors in the neutral section of the fan deck offer a range of interesting color undertones, though sometimes it can take a trained eye to tease them out when you only see them on teeny-tiny paint chips (that's where my 8.5"x11" large paint swatches come in handy).

The paint chips above illustrate how a given color—in this case, aqua—can be found in both the neutral section of the fan as well as the color section.

Though both pages feature pretty colors, can you see how the page on the left might be easier to live with on your walls over the long term, while the page on the right might feel just the tiniest bit like you live in a frozen yogurt shop?

An Outlier Hidden in the Neutrals Section

One exception within “The Safe Zone” of the Sherwin Williams fan deck is the "Historic" section, which does include a couple of wilder “outlier” colors, so be forewarned!

Some Exceptions to the "Stay Neutral" Rule

While “stay neutral” is sound wall color advice for many rooms and many homes, there are a number of colorful exceptions!

Exception #1: Kids' Rooms

Kids’ bedrooms are often an exception to the general wall paint rule of “keep it neutral”. First of all, kids tend to love color--and lots of it--so sometimes neutral walls are a tough sell for the juice box crowd. Second, I always advise selecting fabrics and inspiration pieces before selecting wall color, and bedding and artwork designed for kids tends to be bold and bright (ie: it will not play nicely with many gray and beige wall colors, or even with the more colorful neutrals)!

Compare the two photos below to see how the bright paint colors in the first photo look right at home with the bright bedding, while the neutral paint colors in the second photo—though they have the same range of undertones—look like they flew in from another planet:

I'm a big believer in allowing kids to personalize their rooms, even if it might involve a Disney-inspired wall paint color. However, if you want to offer your child a chance to choose a fun color but don’t want to repaint the whole room every couple of years as your child's color preferences change, you might consider allowing them to choose a color to paint a single accent wall (the headboard wall is the best candidate), and then paint the remaining walls white or another neutral. That way, as your child's tastes change, the accent wall can be repainted in an afternoon.

Another benefit of this approach is that a single bold wall is easier to live with and doesn’t create quite the same intense “immersive” experience as painting all four walls can, especially if the color is either very bright or very dark!

This is especially important for kids who struggle to focus and might feel overly stimulated by a bright red room or neon yellow walls.

Exception #2: Beach Houses

As I said in regards to kids’ rooms, I always advise selecting fabrics before selecting wall paint colors. If your home is in a fun beachfront or tropical location, or if your fabrics and artwork feature primarily bright, bold, "clean" colors, you may find that many of the paint colors in the neutral section of the fan will fall flat next to your fabrics (as demonstrated in the example photo above in the discussion on kids’ rooms).

In this case, white wall colors offer a great “main neutral” option (as discussed in this blog post), or you can explore—with caution and much paint sampling—incorporating a couple of wall colors from the “Clown College” section of the paint fan deck.

Just avoid the temptation to paint each room a different color, or you’ll create a disjointed look that designer Betsy Helmuth calls “The Skittles Effect”! Remember that less is more when it comes to paint colors, as discussed in this post!

Exception #3: Accent Colors

As I've said before, there are many ways to introduce color in your home without painting it on the walls. The colors in the “Clown College” section of the fan can make wonderful accent colors! Just think of them as seasoning rather than the main course. Just like a dusting of black pepper on your salad makes it interesting, but you probably wouldn’t gobble up an entire bowl of black pepper, these colors are great as accents even if they would feel like “too much” for many people on all of the walls.

Painting furniture with these colors is one way to introduce a pop of color without covering all of the walls. The primary bedroom photo below shows a headboard painted using this homemade chalk paint recipe prepared with a sample jar of Sherwin Williams' "Wondrous Blue". (The walls in the photo are painted with Benjamin Moore's "Cotton Balls".)

I worked with another client who wanted a pop of color in her kitchen but couldn’t find a paint color for her island that complemented her island’s stone countertop. I suggested incorporating bold navy blue stools at the island instead to offer the "pop" that she sought.

What do you think? Are you sold on the idea of sticking to neutral wall paint colors for your home, or will brighter, bolder wall colors forever have your heart?