Making a Match–or not!

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Creating the definition
It’s always interesting to be in a conversation about matching colors. For me, the first question is “what do you mean by match? ”

I think that ultimately it’s just about feeling that the colors work together and  are harmonious in the space where they appear. Personally I believe that a more interesting space is created when “matching” colors is not even an issue.  I’d rather see it as the best way to enhance the space while referencing qualities of art work, furniture, rugs, and other important objects in view.

Boston - South End

Dining room wall colors reference the art work and stained glass panel. Color design and photos by Barbara Jacobs

What makes a harmonious result?
It’s true that when we’re in a paint store —with literally thousands of colors at our fingertips—it’s easy to bounce from one color family to another, and even from one tiny color swatch to another. Even when we bring along fabrics, pottery, pieces of wood, or other “match-worthy” items there are seemingly infinite possibilities. As with a satisfying meal, harmony comes from combining the contrast and balance of a few key ingredients.

Dining room view into kitchen

Warm dining room transitions into the cool kitchen. From the kitchen, we also see the blues of the painting in the dining room. Note the glowing warm and cool colors of the art-glass pendants.

Kitchen color with leaded glass and granite

Kitchen wall color refers to the tones of leaded glass and granite.

On another note, here’s a problem area resolved with color. Floor tile is harder to change than paint color!

Problem area resolved - a balancing act

Problem area resolved with color balance. Color design and photos by Barbara Jacobs

Stone wall opposite painted wall

Stone wall is the inspiration for new paint colors in kitchen and adjacent family room. Color design by Barbara Jacobs

Context is Critical!
There’s just about no way a color that originates in a fabric or other material can be re-created to an exact match in paint. Even if you have a look-alike color in the paint store, on your walls it might be another story.

Here’s why

  • We perceive color as reflected light. Space lighting has a lot to do with how we see color—considering the time of day or night, and the light source.
  • Even when using the exact same paint color on different walls, color appears different when light is reflected onto surfaces at different angles.
  • Color on adjacent walls intensifies in the corners.
  • Ceilings are always in their own shadows, in a way– so using color on a ceiling will be deeper than using the same color on a wall.

We have a natural tendency to look at color chips on a horizontal plane. Always view paint color chips at the same angle as they will be used on the walls.

Surfaces and textures
Whether on a horizontal, vertical, or curved surface, texture makes a difference in both the source color and the destination color.

  • A deeper, irregular texture creates subtle shadows and might even make a pattern.
  • A smooth surface will typically be more reflective, even with a matte paint surface.
  • Colors on a high gloss surface are the most reflective and will appear brighter.

Test the new colors
View the colors in actual painted large color cards, noting how they work with your furniture and fabrics. Look  from one room to the next, and back the other way.  Look at the colors in all times of day and night, with your painted samples taped onto the various surfaces. This is my most-recommended way to really test colors in your home.

You can read more on this subject in my “Perfect Palettes: Mix and Match” article on

Thanks for reading ColorViews. You’re invited to write to me about your color experiences and project questions that I’ll consider for publishing!

9 Responses to “Making a Match–or not!”

  1. Ellen Kennon

    Beautiful & inspiring! I am going to refer a Portland, Oregon client to this post who has a home with similar stone & needs warmth in her palette!

  2. House Painting Tutorials

    To me, the most important thing when matching/coordinating colors is to get the undertones right – value and intensity can (and sometimes should) vary for a more interesting, complex and layered look.

    Please blog more often, Barbara! 🙂


  3. Kelly

    Nicely written post, Barbara. That blue tiled floor looks like it might have been a challenge to work with. Your paint solution is lovely. And I absolutely agree with you about the whole “matchy-matchy” thing. Good relationships between colors – yes. Precisely matching colors – no. Thanks for the great info.

  4. Paula Doelling-Lynn

    As I have ALWAYS been a fan of discordance in hue, this is well-written Barbara!!


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