ORC Week 4: Choosing Paint Colors

Painting is my jam. Ask anyone who knows me and comes over to my house regularly that most rooms don’t stay the same color for long. For one thing, I get bored easily. But for another, I just loooooove experimenting with color! And I’m no stranger to choosing bold shades. In fact, one of the most revolutionary things I’ve done was go with a light, neutral gray for my living & dining rooms because my usual m.o. is to go kinda crazy. But I think I might be mellowing in my old age. I’ve finally figured out that sometimes it’s the art that needs to be the source of color rather than the walls. But I digress. I’m supposed to be talking about my den.

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Hi, I'm Zandra! If you're new here, welcome!You're in the middle of the One Room Challenge series. I highly recommend you check out the other participants as well... we're all on week 4 and getting close to the finish line!

If you’ve seen the “before” pictures, you know that the den was a deep, rich blue. Which I actually loved and wasn’t yet tired of before embarking on the ORC. However, once I realized I wanted to replace our couch, I wanted to make over the whole room. (If you give a mouse a cookie…etc, and you give a design-freak a doorknob, she’ll want a new door, new curtains, new furniture, new rug, new lamp… you know the story). And since my inspiration was to bring in the feelings I have while in Santa Fe, I knew that blue wasn’t going to work. There is a brilliant blue sky out west. But the colors that REALLY stand out are the rust colored rocks and the pops of green from the succulents and cacti.

“Heavenly Apple” fabric for my Cantrel sofa from  Jonathan Louis .

“Heavenly Apple” fabric for my Cantrel sofa from Jonathan Louis.

My new sofa will be the perfect shade of desert sage. So I thought maybe I’d go with another green for the walls… sort of a tone-on-tone kind of thing the way different plants have different shades of green in those southwestern gardens covered in pebbles with architectural-looking stems and leaves poking out of the ground. I tried several different shades.


I was having difficulty because the only greens that were working with the couch fabric were ones I didn’t like on their own. And awhile ago, I came upon the realization that the true test of whether or not a color will last longer than 6 months in my house is if it can make me happy all by itself. If it’s dependent on what “goes” with it in the rest of the room, it just feels too staged.


And then my husband made his first of two brilliant observations during this whole ORC process. He said that what’s so cool about the vegetation in the desert is how sparse it is. So that you really appreciate it. And that therefore, maybe the only green in the room should be coming from the couch, as it sprouts up in the room. And he’s so right!!! Buuuuut, if it’s not green, what should it be?

Let me remind you of what parts of the room are going to require paint: the walls below the chair rail, the chair rail itself, and the built in bookcases that take up one whole wall. The walls above the chair rail will be wallpapered.


We thought of matching the walls to either the cream or the gray that’s in the wallpaper. But white seemed boring. And grey seemed out of place. I just don’t think of grey as a color from the southwest. I love grey here in New England. But I really am committed to a different feel for this room. So what does that leave me?

You guessed it. RUST!

Wait, whaaaaat?! Rust??!!??

Yep. All of the oranges, reds and shades in between that have made such an impression on me every time I go out there.

But this choice was something that made me really nervous because actually, I’ve gone down the orange road before. And it hasn’t always been pretty. In our previous home (13 years ago), we were very influenced by our trip to Tuscany. And so we did a terra cotta in our dining room. It worked, somehow. So when we moved to our current home, we simply replicated it. But this time, our dining room was so much smaller and the color didn’t flow well into the living room (which was painted a mustard-y yellow), making the house feel like we were living inside of a Crayola box. So I vowed I’d never go back. And yet. Here we are. The walls are primed for painting and now I just have to pull the trigger.

Let me tell you why this time I’m thinking it’ll be different (even though I’m still secretly panicking that it will be awful… I feel like I won’t be 100% certain until after the wallpaper is up). My idea is that I’ll do a variety of shades that remind me of the rocks of Santa Fe (breaking up all of that orange), and the shades themselves are quite sophisticated and nuanced. We’re not talking Halloween pumpkin here. They’re gorgeous on their own. So when they’re all together, they way they play off of each other, they’re even better. And it’s actually that layered look of the different shades of rock that truly make the southwest so stunning. So here’s my version:


Then the first two colors go on. The darker color is going up to (and including) the chair rail and the bottom cabinets of the built in bookcase. The lighter color is going on the frame of the bookcase and the shelves. The next color is the pale pink that’s going inside the shelving. Finally, we need to decide what color the counter will be that runs across the entire built in. At first, I was thinking of using one of the greens we had already sampled:


But then Pete had his second brilliant observation. With the 3 colors already going on in the built-ins, adding a green was taking it into Crayola-land. Which I definitely did NOT want to revisit. He thought that the best choice would be do go with a very dark neutral—something black or grey with a very subtle hint of blue. In his mind, this would do two things. One, it would ground the wall, visually, and two, it would keep the Crayola factor at bay. Turns out, he was right again! But you’ll have to wait to see it… it’s not quite ready for the camera.

In the meantime, you can satisfy your thirst for inspiration by checking out the progress of the other OCR participants!

And as always, a big thank you to Linda Weinstein for hosting and organizing the One Room Challenge, media partner Better Homes & Gardens for their support and the Home Love Network for videos of the process!

Zandra Zuraw2 Comments