Finding the right sky blue for your bathroom or rosy pink for the nursery can be a daunting task, with all those little paint chips and samples to sift through. Wish you had a fairy decor godmother who could swoop down and help you pick a paint color? In the real world, there does happen to be a person who can come to the rescue on all your hue issues: a color consultant, aka colorist.
“This professional makes it easier for the ‘color-challenged’ to find and narrow down the correct shade for a space,” explains Karen Gray Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP.
While homeowners are familiar with hiring designers and decorators, consulting a colorist might seem like overkill. However, it’s more likely you just don’t really know what a colorist does, or all the hard work that goes into this profession. Here’s a deep dive into what colorists are all about.
Paint colorists aren’t as woo-woo as you might think
Think anyone who just loves color can call himself a colorist? On the contrary, this profession requires some serious study.
Debra Kling, for instance, devoted two years to the “color specialist” program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. It involved not only extensive work in art genres, but also some serious science chops learning how to “measure” color with a spectrometer and mix different types of paints.
While there is no licensing organization for color consultants, most who work for paint companies are required to have an interior design degree. Also, interior designers are often colorists themselves.
Paint color can play tricks on your mind
The psychological impact of colors is well-documented. In general, warm colors (e.g., yellow, orange, red) are energizing, while cool ones (e.g., blue, green, purple) are relaxing.
“Red can trigger hunger, while grays and yellows are known to inspire efficiency,” explains Sara Chiarilli of Artful Conceptions, in Tampa, FL.
Dark or navy blue inspires confidence, which is why it’s used in so many bank logos.
The shades you pick can also make spaces look bigger or smaller. Light colors generally make a space seem larger, dark colors smaller. And then, there are the colors the pros secretly hate.
The paint ‘color of the year’ isn’t just picked out of a hat
Whenever an institution such as Pantone or a paint company rolls out its “color of the year,” it’s picked with care. Really.
“Some people believe this color is decided with very little thought—but that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” notes Dee Schlotter, a colorist and marketing manager at PPG paints.
At Schlotter’s company, more than 20 color stylists meet to discuss trends and consumer insights to forecast this special shade.
“We analyze the fashion runway; textile, wood, and metal markets; as well as demographics and global inspirations,” says Schlotter.
At the Pantone Color Institute—renowned as a leader in this field—a team of 12 experts meets throughout the year to compile research from around the world.
“It’s a conversation, not a vote, and it’s crucial for influencing any industry with a design element,” reports Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of Pantone. Once the color is picked, you’ll quickly see it on cars, home furnishings, clothes, and even nail polish.
Top colors can even reflect current events. For example, after 9/11, the hues that emerged were soft pink and a chocolate brown, which are grounding, cocooning shades, notes Schlotter.
And the 2018 PPG Paints Color of the Year? Black Flame was chosen, in part because of today’s global unrest and the need for privacy.
“Black also represents rebirth and renewal, much the way a burned forest is charred but then comes back even stronger,” Schlotter explains.
The process of naming paint colors is even more complex
Pantone, PPG, and others pull from a wide variety of fields and sources to come up with those excellent paint names. (“Toasted Brioche,” anyone?)
“We’ll consider the feeling the color conveys,” explains Eiseman. They’ll also find inspiration in pop culture, food, or nature.
“Color names are usually a combination of physical items and emotional attributes,” continues Schlotter, whose team draws help from consumer groups—and even kids. “Kids are a great resource because they’re so quick and creative and can give a fresh perspective,” she says.
Color naming is definitely a team effort, but some of Schlotter’s faves have been created personally. “I named the PPG paint ‘Ghost Ship,’ which has an emotional resonance for me, and ‘Zombie,’ because my son loves zombies.”
While we’re not sure we’d want “Zombie” on our walls, there’s a fan for every color out there. (We’re looking at you, “Walking Dead” addicts!)
Color consultations can be free, or budget-friendly
At many paint and hardware stores, colorists are on hand to answer questions and help you select the right shades. Need a home visit and even more hands-on advice? Some paint stores have on-site and in-home color programs for a minimal fee (usually $100–$150 per visit), which are staffed by trained consultants.
Hiring a paint colorist can save you time and money
Do you love (repeatedly) driving back and forth to the hardware store? What about slapping on and taking off color and then having to repaint? Actually, these are rhetorical questions, and they’re reasons why colorists are worth their weight in gold.
“With the cost of paint, hiring a colorist can be a money saver in the long run,” notes Gray Plaisted. “You won’t be stuck painting lots of swaths on the wall, nor will there be multiple attempts at finding the correct undertone, because your colorist will have filtered your choices.”
You also won’t have to shell out for tons of paint samples.
A color consultant can also pick paint schemes that can grow with your needs, especially when it comes to kids’ rooms—so you won’t have to repaint every couple of years.
A color pro will move you beyond the same ol’ primary shades by shifting the tone slightly, says Schlotter.
“You can energize basic blue by leaning to aqua, because with green undertones, the blue becomes happier and less serious,” she explains.