How to Pick the Perfect Paint Color

Free PDF Guide: 13 Tips For Picking the Perfect Paint Color Every Time

How to Pick the Perfect Paint Color

Looking back over the years, I can admit that I have picked a lot of bad paint colors.

In my very first apartment, I thought a yellow kitchen would be bright and cheery. I had to buy a six foot ladder to reach the top of the walls, and after a very long weekend, I stood back and admired my handiwork. It was yellow all right. Bright Big Bird Yellow. I could see it glowing from the street even when my curtains were closed.

A Fresh Update for a Downtown Des Moines Loft

I just wrapped up the first phase of a fun project located in one of the downtown Des Moines loft buildings. The couple contacted me for help updating some of the finishes in the kitchen of their loft apartment. The lofts were about seven years old and featured some really great details like exposed concrete columns, wood floors and large french doors leading out to balconies with views of the river.

The cabinets in the kitchen are currently maple, which had yellowed considerably since it was installed. The clients had reconfigured a portion of the kitchen and added a new tall pantry and a drawer base cabinet that were custom made from new maple. The finishes of the old cabinets and the new cabinets didn’t match. Furthermore, the old cabinets had painted black recessed panels, which really made them look dated.

The clients wanted to create a plan to update the kitchen finishes, including new countertops and a new backsplash, that they could implement over time. They wanted to bring some color into the primarily neutral space. They also wanted to replace the white bi-fold doors in their entry with new wood doors on a sliding barn-door track to further enhance the industrial feel.

After meeting with them twice to understand their style and their wish-list for the space, I determined that they leaned towards a transitional version of industrial with some craftsman flair. I gave them some homework to create an Ideabook on Houzz with images of kitchens that they loved along with notes about which aspects of the rooms they liked best. They did a fabulous job and compiled over 75 photos. I went through each photo and came up with some common themes, which I used to guide me when creating their custom concept board.

For my first revision, I focused on one of the key themes I pulled from their inspiration photos – light maple cabinets with a contrasting dark island. Technically, their kitchen doesn’t have an island, but it did have a peninsula, where we planned to create some interest with a contrasting finish color.

I selected a turquoise glass mosaic backsplash to pull in one of the colors from their Persian rug in the adjacent living room. I specified that the new barn doors should match the dark peninsula cabinets, which would allow the polished nickel handles and stainless steel track hardware to really pop.

A white quartz countertop would provide a seamless and durable prep surface and contrast beautifully with the cabinets.

In their loft space, the ceilings are actually exposed wood planks – no drywall for recessed cans. Their kitchen was in desperate need of more task lighting, so I suggested that they switch out their current fixture, which was really more appropriate for an entryway or dining table, to this track light with positionable bulbs. I’m not normally a fan of track lighting, but I like the pretty detailing on this more sophisticated option.

This was the original concept board that I presented to them…

Transitional Loft Kitchen Concept

After we met to discuss the original concept, I incorporated some of their feedback into the final version. The clients received quotes for staining the cabinetry and ultimately felt that paint was a better option, and I totally agreed.

They already have a lot of wood elements going on in their space, so a sleek paint finish in modern green-grays will provide a nice break to all of the wood (aka brown).

After viewing the original backsplash tile in person, they decided they would like something with more variation, so we chose a mosaic glass blend of blues and greens, which also comes in a subway pattern that we discussed mounting vertically to elongate the space.


They also didn’t care for the original schoolhouse style pendant I selected, so we swapped it out for a sleek glass and chrome pendant with seeded glass and an exposed bulb. They selected a more contemporary faucet when they visited the plumbing showroom, which I thought was a great choice.

Here’s the final concept board with the new selections. I really love the way we translated “industrial” into a more transitional look that is actually very elegant.

Transitional Loft Kitchen Update

My clients relocate to the Gulf Coast for the winters (lucky them), so we plan to pick up again with this project in the Spring. I’m really excited about the direction we’re taking and think the end result is going to be really fabulous. I love when I can help clients create a whole new look for their space without subjecting them to a major remodel. If you need help redesigning a space in your home, email me at or give me a call at 515-344-3140.


How to Pick the Right Paint Color to Go with Your Honey Oak Trim and Cabinets

 I often get calls from homeowners who are struggling to pick paint colors that go with honey oak trim. Here in Des Moines, many of the houses built in the 1980s and 1990s and even 2000s prominently feature glossy, lacquered, honey oak trim. The prospect of painting all of that wood trim, whether it’s your own time and labor or paying a professional, can be daunting. (Update: We just had the oak trim painted in our new house, and it cost a small fortune, but it was so worth it!)

But, maybe you don’t want to paint the honey oak trim or cabinets. Some of my clients actually prefer the look of natural wood. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Honey oak trim can be quite beautiful.

Tip #1: Honey Oak iS Orange

The most important thing to understand about honey oak is that it has a color, and that color is orange, probably yellow-orange. When you are selecting paint colors, furniture, and accessories or, more importantly, fixed elements like countertops and tile, it’s very important to keep asking yourself: “Does this look good with yellow-orange?”

Tip #2: Go Light and Creamy

Wayne Windham Architect Cassique Residence
Wayne Windham Architect

I recently met with a couple who were totally stumped as to what paint color they should choose. They had honey oak cabinets in their kitchen and honey oak trim throughout the entire home. I recommended that they paint the walls a creamy white or pale gold, which would be a drastic improvement from the stark builder’s white that they had been living with for eight years.

For their kitchen backsplash, I suggested two options of marble subway tile, both of which included some golden veining

Tip #3: Choose a Green-Gray

Landis Architects Washington DC Craftsman Home Oak Trim Paint Colors
Landis Architects

Other paint colors that would look beautiful with honey oak wood trim are warm grays with green or bronze undertones. In bathrooms and bedrooms, blue-greens can also look lovely.

Stay far away from any beiges with cool-pink undertones and grays with true blue or violet undertones.

If you have a hard time understanding the undertone of a light neutral, look at the darkest swatch on the strip. You can usually see the base color more clearly.

Porch Front Homes Colorado Honey Oak Trim Paint Colors
Porch Front Homes

Tip #4: Hire a Professional

Many people struggle to pick paint colors with wood trim. If you are challenged by color, know that you are not alone. Paint is often touted as a quick and easy solution for all of our decorating woes, but there is still significant time and money involved in painting even one room, let alone your entire home.

This is the best time to call a professional for a color consultation. A good designer can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bad decision making.

How to Select Paint Colors for Honey Oak Trim

Do you have honey oak trim or cabinets in your home? If so, how did you embrace it?

Do you live in the Des Moines area and need help making your home feel more like you? Get in touch to schedule a consultation.

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