• amyshirlawinteriors

Paint - Where to Apply Colour

So you’ve got an idea what colour you want to use and considered the light, mood and tone for the room it’s going in. Great! If not, you need to go back and read this post about choosing colour.

*Disclaimer* I am not a professional decorator so I won’t try and give specific advice more pointing out the order in which to notice and address potential issues – if any of it sounds like more hassle than your time is worth – that’s exactly when to bring in the professionals. Half finished/arsed jobs will annoy you until you finally just got someone in to fix it and the minute they finish you will kick yourself for not getting them in sooner.

If you are going to do the paint work yourself, I’d like to quickly say that boringly the prepping of surfaces, taping of edges, cleaning up and respecting of drying times are important and will increase the amount of time it takes to do it. The actual application of paint upon the wall is only about 50% of the job…

Now we need to think about the type of paint you need to use.

Let’s have a look at where it’s going, literally. Look at your walls.

Are they:

  • Exposed brick/stonework

  • Wooden panels

  • Freshly plastered

  • Smooth with paint on it

  • Bit battered, ie it has a few cracks or dodgy wallpaper

  • Walls ok but woodwork has nicks, peels and cracks in it


These different surfaces will require different prep, tools, quantities and application. Noticing this before you crack the tin of paint will make for a better job at the end. There are lots of more informed resources than I who can guide you on what those differing surfaces require – so please do your due diligence and research (i.e. google it).

Types of Paint

It’s important to think about type of paint you are going to use as this informs the physical finish and if it’s suitable for the wall type and use of the space.

The four main types of domestic paint:


a flat, solid colour that will absorb the light and provide the flattest looking finish, hides imperfections the best but not wipeable and shows greasiness/handprints/spills easily.


has a slight sheen that will gently bounce light back, it will show imperfections more than a matt finish but you can wipe it.


is halfway between matt and satin and the name literally refers to the surface of egg shells – so it’s not so ‘bouncy of lighty’ but does have a tougher quality that makes it good for messy/high traffic areas


it’s super tough but will also expose any flaws in the surface so the surface will need to be in great condition for it to look it’s best. It’s mostly used on woodwork as it’s so tough and it’s tricky to get right on a large scale on walls but when it’s used right, it’s glamorous and luxe.

Two thoughts on uneven walls…

Paint choices do depend on the light in the space (small electric light will glow in place and not highlight imperfections as much as bright morning light streaming directly at the wall) so if you only use the room in the evening, with electric light….

If you have the patience, skill and £££ then you might want to look at textured or an embossed pattern wallpaper. I could talk a lot about wallpaper so that’ll have to be another blog post!

How to choose?

Who is going to be doing the decorating and how much time do you have?

Paints have differing application and drying times so if you need the walls to be finished quickly you should probably go for standard emulsion. Also consider who is doing the painting in the household.

Need to think about the space you are wanting to paint. Do they need to be wipeable/robust to handle a little bit of the rough and tumble of life?

Is the living room the catch all room for the household or just for the grown ups? Are your children likely to attempt a Banksy on the walls and if they do are you likely to want to keep it up?

Not to keep going on about light but…the light. How much light does the room get and what time of day do you use the room, all the time, in the morning light, or just in the evening with electric light.

What is the room for? Cooking and eating brings splatter and mess potential. Kitchens need to be wipeable and bathrooms need protection from humidity.

Look for products that specifically say that are for bathrooms and kitchens.

Painting beyond the walls

This is apt point to introduce the idea of contrast/tension. Contrast in interior design is very important, it helps create depth, interest and allows for personality and this is what excites and delights the brain. This contrast is sometimes referred to as creating tension. The tension is what makes for good design and is achieved through layering textures, pattern, colours, heights and materials. It’s not all of those elements at the same time, and does not need or require lots and lots of stuff. It’s about balance and adding enough for your taste and wants.

For example, a great neutrally coloured scheme would add the variety through texture, height and material to create the perfect tension. As I’m writing this, I realise it’s a longer blog post to explain….so I’ll stick to paint contrasts for now.


Contrast = good


Contrast does not = stark opposites


Contrast can be achieved with one colour but using different finishes

Bearing that mind. Where to paint? The wall right? Well, sure if you want. But what part of the wall, all of it?

Paint can create zones, helping you to slice up the space, if you want to define a dining table nook or sleeping area – painting in areas is an interesting and easy way to divvy up without furniture or fixing stuff to the wall.

Aside from the zonal benefits I’d like to invite you to consider some other places and ways to take the paint brush to for fun decorative and visual trickery purposes.

  • Doors, including frames and side

  • Skirting boards

  • Cornicing

  • Ceiling

  • Half walls

  • Picture rails

  • Dado Rails (create a dado rail in paint!)

  • Furniture & Fixtures, particularly shelving

Here are some examples but I’ve pinned lots more here - and all sources for the images here are on those Pinterest links.

Some more specific notes on how to treat features in your room...

Period Features = cornicing/moulding/ceiling roses/picture rails/dado rails

If you’re lucky to have these points of interest in your space then don’t automatically default to brilliant white. For a really contemporary look you can incorporate them into the wall colour or try a contrasting colour. This doesn’t necessarily mean bright and bold. Tonal contrasts are beautiful and don’t require much risk - imagine the Dulux paint card of six tones – two/three of those colours for walls, cornicing and ceiling.

Painting in certain places provides visual trickery that can confuse the eyeballs into seeing something different to reality.

Painting the ceiling and top portion of the wall (for example above picture rail height or cornicing) the same colour will make the ceiling appear lower and shorten the height of the room.

This works in reverse, painting the cornicing/moulding/picture rail, etc the same colour as the wall will make it appear taller. For full heightened marks – paint the ceiling the same colour as the wall.

A favourite of mine is to paint the period feature in a contrasting colour to highlight and accentuate it.

Don’t forget that your radiators and doors are also part of the wall and can (mostly) take a lick of paint. Painting them the same colour as your wall acts like camouflage and makes them less obvious, and allows the room to be seen as a whole rather than a series of rectangles and lines.

For your woodwork – as mentioned above before defaulted to brilliant white consider it as part of the décor. The three ways to approach woodwork:

1) The default option is not without merit, painting your woodwork in a crisp white contrasts nicely with wall colour and gives a feeling of freshness (as long as maintained white and chip free!).

2) Going in the opposite direction, painting your woodwork darker than the wall colour actually enhances the feeling of space on the walls and has a more contemporary feel to it.

3) Painting the woodwork the same colour as the walls creates a harmonious, calm feeling – and is the ultimate space enhancer as there are no lines or disruptive elements to stop you from ‘reading’ the room as a whole.

Painting different surfaces doesn’t necessarily mean lots of colours, small areas of contrast such as a matt wall with gloss woodwork in the same colour can’t create that perfect amount of contrast that makes for a well balanced scheme.

How much paint to buy

Quick guide, but again, a decorator or DIY store calculator will be able to tell you more accurately but as a general rule of thumb:

If you’re going dark to light – 3 coats

Light to dark – 2 coats

However there are many, many variables to this.

The main one being the brand of paint you buy – generally speaking the ‘fancier’ paints are a better mixture and will require less coats and are actually a bit dreamier to use but they are £££. Cheaper paints can be mixed to the ‘fancy’ paints colours and are more affordable but less reliable and if you don’t order enough first time – the next mix might be slightly off if you are getting a dupe colour.

It’s all about balancing your time versus your budget. I’ve gone both routes with great results that suited my situation at the time.



Note this approach can be used as the backdrop for scandi and minimalist interiors, what will make it into those style decorations is the shape, form and styling of the furniture and accessories.

So an easy(ish) way to approach a heavenly balanced neutral:

Need to vary the colour even if they all read as ‘white/cream’ to you. Once they are in place and sitting next to each other you will gratefully notice the difference. Further info to notice is the undertone and whether it’s blue/grey or red/yellow – and stay to the same type of undertone.

1 x wall colour

1 x ceiling colour

1 x woodwork colour

Some black - iron legs on a coffee table, artwork, curtain rail

Some wooden/natural elements – floorboards, chair, side tables, cane, rattan, seagrass etc

Some metallic pieces – furniture, picture frames, lamps

Textural touches – tassels and tactile designs on cushions and throws AND vary the fabric choices; velvet, boucle, cotton, linen, wool.



And if this has totally overwhelmed you – I apologise, don’t worry, you don’t need to paint to bring colour in, you can always hang up some colourful prints, change up your shelves – adding a vase with flowers, displaying lovely items and don’t forget about the many beneficial properties to having houseplants!

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