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When it comes to finding inspiration for colour there is no strict set of rules. However, the more knowledge you have about colour and its influence on your living environment, the better placed you will be to choose colours that will be right for you. Colours generally work best when related to their surroundings, with the final result of a successful colour scheme being one of harmony, visual order and a feeling of continuity.

Choosing a precise paint colour from postage stamp sized printed samples has always been difficult. The colour looks okay in a small swatch but what will it look like once the entire room is painted? Subtle differences that may seem unimportant on colour charts are glaringly obvious once the colour is painted onto a wall.

Many people who are confident and assured about most aspects of their lives lose all confidence when trying to mix and match colours. You should always follow your own instincts. Decide what appeals to you and what you feel good about and use this as your starting point.

There are no fixed rules about colour. It pays to forget all those old adages, such as blue is cold, red and orange clash, blue and green should never be seen and so on. The finished look is affected not just by the colour, but by the shape, texture and amount of colour used, as well as the amount and type of lighting.

Humans respond psychologically to colour. While we associate yellow with happy faces, smiles and cheerfulness and white as neutral and restful, black is liable to depress the spirits. By manipulating the colours in a scheme, we can change a room from a happy welcoming room into a clinical, cold room. Think of the cosy dining room of a local café painted in rich colours to create a feeling of warmth and trigger a desire to eat. Contrast this with the hallways of most hospitals, traditionally painted stark white, a neutral colour often considered clean and clinical. When developing a colour scheme, think about what the room will be used for and the emotions you would like to encourage. For example, restful colours in a bedroom to encourage sleeping, or bright reds and yellows in a children’s rumpus room to energise and lift spirits. Each colour scheme is appropriate in the right place.

There is generally some existing feature that either dictates or can be used as an inspiration for the basis of a colour scheme. This may be a view from a window, a work of art, nature, carpets, soft furnishings, stained glass, art books and magazines, a fashion trend or Resene colour charts. Unless you have the luxury of decorating from scratch, your starting point for a colour scheme is likely to come from something you already own – a sofa, curtains or even a favourite painting.

When selecting colours consider lighting, what the room is used for, who spends the most time using the room, adjacent room colour schemes, whether you want to change perceptions of the room shape or size, what kind of mood you want to create, and any existing furniture or furnishings that will be part of the finished colour scheme. When developing a colour scheme, collect pictures of rooms that you find appealing and a good range of samples. Experiment with them to determine your final selection and the accent colour that brings your scheme to life.

Most colour schemes are improved by the addition of accents, the final touches of colour that can make a room come to life. Avoid using the same accent colour in too many places or too many accent colours in one room – sometimes subtlety gives the best result.

How much there is of a colour affects how you see it with colours tending to look darker than they appear on colour charts. When used in large quantities or in a small room, strong colours will appear even stronger and more intense. If in doubt use a shade lighter than your original choice.

Surface textures also change the way you perceive colour. Smooth surfaces reflect light and heavily textured surfaces absorb light. Therefore, the same colour painted in a gloss acrylic paint on a wall will look lighter than the same colour in a heavy woven carpet.

One of the simplest ways of carrying a theme throughout your home is to use a common colour palette. Choose a selection of colours for the entire home and then use different combinations of those colours in each room. The commonality of the colours will link the entire scheme together.

Changing space

Different colours affect the way we view a room. Warm colours such as yellows and reds tend to advance and make the walls seem closer. They are therefore a good choice for large, uninviting rooms you want to make more intimate and welcoming. Cool colours such as green and blue tend to recede and make the walls seem further away. This makes them a good choice for small, narrow rooms that you want to seem more spacious.

The way you combine colours can also significantly alter your perception of a room. For example 

  • Paint a pale, cool colour on the end wall of a room to make the space appear longer.
  • Paint a high ceiling a darker colour than the walls to make the ceiling seem lower. 
  • Paint a low ceiling in a lighter colour than the walls to make the ceiling seem higher.


Check and select colour under the actual lighting conditions of the space to be painted to avoid disappointment as the same colour can look very different when compared under artificial and natural lighting. Consider when you use the room most and select your colour scheme using those lighting conditions.

Colour also behaves entirely differently on a ceiling surface than on a wall surface. Colours painted on a ceiling look darker than the same colour on a wall. Likewise window walls will appear darker as they do not receive direct light.

White and off-whites are usually the safest colours to use as they distort less under various types of light, however they will reflect other colours in the room. If you have a bright green carpet, you can expect your white walls to reflect the carpet colour and look light green.


Furniture, pictures and ornaments absorb and reflect colour in different ways affecting the final colour you see. It is always best to view colours in a fully furnished room to get a true picture of how the finished scheme will look. If you are forced to develop a colour scheme using an empty painted room as a base, start by determining how much of the wall surface will be visible after furnishings are added to the room.

Paint effects

If you want something a little out of the ordinary, different paint techniques can be used to create a wonderful variety of textured effects and they offer an exciting alternative to plain, painted walls or wallpaper.

There are four basic techniques:


Colourwashing produces a soft dappled effect, which is achieved by a two-step process. A coloured base coat is washed (brushed) over with a premixed coat of diluted colour. The end result can provide striking contrasts depending on the combination of colours you choose.


Sponging creates a gentle, mottled or cloud-like effect with multicolour finishes, either stimulating or restful, depending on your colours. The number of effects you can achieve depends on the type of sponge, the way you use it and your choice of colours, making this technique ideal for co-ordinating furnishings and fabrics.

Limewash effects

The washed out fresco and the soft patinated look associated with Mediterranean and adobe architecture can be reproduced by using the Resene Limewash Effect. The Limewash Effect is achieved by using a two step process similar to Colourwashing. The mood and image created lends itself particularly well to slightly textured surfaces where an aged or traditional look is desired.

Rag rolling

Rag Rolling can replicate the appearance of suede or crushed velvet, creating the subtle or rich finishes normally associated with the most expensive wallcoverings. Distinctive effects can be obtained by rag rolling with successive colours. These may be either ragged on or ragged off. The effect is obtained by using a bunched rag, which is rolled or dabbed over the surface.

If paint effects sounds like too much work, you may prefer to select a shimmering metallic or special effect finish from the Resene Metallics and Special Effects Chart - you can order your copy free from the Resene website.

Put your colour to the test


No matter how you select your colours, always use testpots to confirm your choices in the area you are planning to paint. Either paint two coats directly onto the surface or onto a large piece of white card leaving a small white border around all edges so that the colour does not 'pick up' from the existing colour. Remember that paint always dries darker, so if the testpot colour looks wrong, wait until it has dried to see the true colour.

Colour perception is affected by the background on which the colour is viewed, lighting and surface texture. Once you have used a testpot to paint an area, check it at different times of the day to see what it looks like under different lighting - you may like it during the day in bright natural light but not at night due to the effect of artificial light.

Most Resene testpots are available in a satin acrylic, so if you are planning to use a lower sheen the final colour will look duller and flatter than the testpot colour. Or if you are planning to use a higher sheen the final colour will look richer, brighter and more intense than the testpot colour. Resene testpots give you the assurance that the colours you choose are the colours that are right for your home.

Resene testpots are available from your local Resene ColorShop or you can order them online from the Resene website.

'See' the finish

Virtual painting with Resene EzyPaint allows you to visualise the entire colour scheme before the redecorating even starts. Developing a virtual colour scheme is simple - choose the image you wish to paint, click on specific areas such as the roof or wall and choose the Resene colour you would like to use for that area. Repeat the process for each area of the image until you have created your own colour scheme. You can also paint your own image. Simply import the picture into EzyPath, path all areas you wish to paint using the instructions, then virtually paint using Resene paint colours. Unlike real painting, if you don't like the colour, it only takes a few clicks to choose another. Keep trying new colour combinations until you create a colour scheme that is right for you.

Free inspiration

Keen to decorate but stuck for ideas? Resene know just how you feel. Our staff meet hundreds of customers everyday looking for inspiration for their project.

Inspiration for decorating can come from anywhere and anything. The hardest part is finding something you like that you can mould into your own plans.

To make getting inspired easier, Resene have gathered together a collection of projects from DIY families to help all decorators become inspired. Clicking through the galleries of photos, you'll soon start to understand your preferences for colours and styles.

Showcasing everything from bedrooms to exteriors and all the rooms in between, the Resene decorating inspiration gallery is a great way to get free ideas for your next project. The Decorating inspiration gallery features real homes owned by real people with real budgets. Print the projects that inspire you and take them when you are selecting decorating materials. They'll help shop staff understand your vision and also keep your decorating choices on track.

Once you've finished decorating, send your Resene paint finished project into Resene for inclusion in the gallery and see your handiwork become an inspiration for someone else. The Resene decorating inspiration gallery is available free to view online.

For more colour ideas and inspiration, visit the Resene online Using Colour section.




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