Call it paint-chip paranoia. You have been burnt before; your confidence has been shaken.
How many times have you taken these tiny samples home and tried to match them to fabric or a color in a painting? Even when you take a fabric or picture into the store for computer matching, the color rarely turns out the way you envisioned.
The paint looks too dark or too light. The terra cotta that appeared sensational in a small chip looks disgusting on a big wall.
So how can those chic decorating magazines and designer show houses use unusual colors that work perfectly?
What's their secret?
Selecting the right paint is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface. A recent daylong seminar for interior designers showed that the way a finished paint job looks can be affected by the preparation of the wall, quality of product, how it is applied and how much light is in the room at different times of the day.
The event was co-sponsored by the American Society of Interior Designers Industry Foundation and Benjamin Moore & Co.
"There is no such thing as bad color, just bad taste," said Ken Charbonneau, director of color marketing for Benjamin Moore.
Simple enough. But the difference between what works and what doesn't can be separated by a hairline crack that many of us can't see.
Charbonneau illustrated his point with a watercolor sketch of a dramatic New York City tearoom -- bright blue walls, purple draperies and wood trim painted gold.
"Why can't you do the same thing in your living room?" he asked. "First of all, you will only be sitting in the tearoom for a short time. You have to live in your living room. You can't live with something like this unless you are a very special person like Diana Vreeland [former editor of Vogue], who loved red walls. And you have to know exactly what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing and step over the line, it's disastrous."
If you don't have professional design expertise, it's better to limit those vibrant colors -- red, cobalt, purple and periwinkle -- to accent colors, Charbonneau said.
Sometimes, he said, no color is the best color. But neutral doesn't have to mean white paint. Charbonneau redefined neutral as "any country, person or color that sits there and minds its own business." That means colors like rose, peach or celadon can be neutrals. They are soft and pleasing to the eye.
Because there are so many variables that affect how paint looks, Charbonneau suggests buying three quarts of varying shades. Go to that forbidding color chart and select three colors in the same range. Start with what you think the color should be and pick others above or below it or to the left and right on the chart.
Color is only part of the paint equation. Type and quality also make a difference.
Oil or latex?
First, decide whether you want to use a latex or oil-based paint resin. Today's so-called oil-based resins are often actually alkyd-based. They are more water-resistant, faster-drying, more durable, more abrasion-resistant and more glossy than unmodified oils. But oils are being phased out because they are more harmful to the environment than latex. Charbonneau said they are used most often today as a primer on raw, unfinished wood.
Latex paints are easier to apply and clean up, have less odor and dry faster. They are resistant to yellowing. The one exception is styrene butadiene latex, one of the first commercial latex paints, which is now limited to interior primers and sealers.
"Mildew thrives on oil, especially the linseed oil in paint," said Ed Thomas, a South Florida sales representative for Benjamin Moore. "If you are worried about mildew, latex is a better choice."
Sometimes, though, this general rule can be broken.
"Twenty years ago, we put only oil over oil and latex over latex," Charbonneau said. "Today, paint has improved. Latex can go over oil and vice versa. Oil has a better chance of sticking than latex, but these days latex is almost on par with oil."
A 100-percent latex will adhere to oil, he said; just be sure to sand the old oil paint before repainting.
Because oil-based paint is slightly more yellow than latex, be careful of improper matches when you use latex on the walls and oil-based paint for the trim in the same color.
And there's one place you should never use oil-based paint -- on acoustical tile. Oil is more likely to fill in the holes in the tile that allow the sound to be absorbed. "Give the tiles one quick kiss coat of a flat paint and get out," Charbonneau suggested.
The most important part of the paint job -- the primer -- is often skipped by both amateurs and professionals. Many do-it-yourselfers think primer is a waste of money, but Charbonneau showed examples of how a good primer can change the entire look of the paint job.
"The primer seals the surfaces and gives the paint an even sheen," said Dale Tocci, a Benjamin Moore representative. "If you don't use primer, the differences in color will be absorbed into the Sheetrock [wallboard]."