Eegads! My No-Fail Paint Color Failed. What Went Wrong?

Dear Laurel,

I’m a new reader of your blog and am enjoying it a lot. If you’re looking for a topic for a blog post, I have one. It’s about my “no-fail paint color” that was anything but. Actually, it was no-fail paint colorS!


Here’s the sad story.


For way too long, I had been pondering paint chips to select wall colors for my new home. It was driving my husband crazy. Hell, it was driving me nuts too!

One day, I found this list of no-fail paint colors. I was so excited and confidently selected the colors for my no-fail paint color scheme.

We hired the painters and then went on vacation for a week.

When we arrived home, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. However, that excitement soon gave way to abject horror. The gray was baby blue, and the ivory was YELLOW. I HATE YELLOW!


One room was the wrong color altogether.


I looked at the can and saw that two numbers had inadvertently gotten switched around. It never occurred to me that was a possibility.

Laurel, it’s a horror show. It’s so bad; I have a good notion of giving that blogger a piece of my mind. But, what good will that do? My husband has been very supportive and said that it’s okay if we have to do some of it over. However, there goes the vacation to Cape Cod in August.


Pinky Beige


Oh, Pinky,

I fully understand your frustration. And yes, this is an excellent topic for a blog post. Please know that I’ve made EVERY mistake, or else it’s a situation that happened to a client; or, it was something I saw somewhere else. But, yes, most of this has happened to me.

Therefore, please learn from my mistakes!


Is there such a thing as a No-Fail Paint Color?


That would be a color that looks good anywhere you put it.

Okay, there are some colors that I think look good almost everywhere. I say, “almost,” because there can be exceptions. Plus, sometimes the failure isn’t actually a failure. We’ll get to that in a sec.

So, yes, “no-fail paint color,” is somewhat of a misnomer. Sure, it sounds great as a title for a blog post. And, I’ve written a couple of them myself.

Here are nine fantastic paint colors I’ve deemed to be no-fail paint colors. However, in the post, I do go over what one needs to do to ensure that they are the right colors for you.

And, here’s another one about some gorgeous kitchen cabinet colors.


But, here’s the thing.  Any paint color can fail if the circumstances are not favorable.


Therefore, let’s go over some of the common issues that can cause a no-fail paint color to fail.


12 Common Reasons Why Your No-Fail Paint Color Failed


1. The room itself, is the problem.


We’ve gone over this in dozens of posts.. In fact, in this recent post, you can find many of them here that talk about how to make your not be the problem. I’m talking about the architecture of the room. It’s why the rooms I posted on Sunday by the fabulous A+B Kasha are so gorgeous. 

The point here, is if the room itself is lacking in interest, then it matters not the wall color.


2. The room is very dark.


I don’t want to get into the north-facing thing too much, but yes, it’s dark and northeast, and there’s a big hill. I would probably steer you away from a dark color– unless it’s a library and the lights will be on all of the time anyway. OR, you really love the idea of a dark, moody room, and plan on illuminating it with artificial light.

For paint colors that look great in north facing rooms go here.


3. You didn’t consider the other rooms around it.


Everyone is painting their rooms in that hot new shade of teal. Last year it was orange and the year before eggplant. Each room in your home is now a different style and color. It’s going to look odd. (duh) There needs to be a logical flow, and adjacent rooms should have a thread of one color or color family for continuity.


A good example of that is the home we did a few years ago, in Bronxville.


Anna Potter Design Sponge no-fail paint color Benjamin Moore Van Courtland Blue hc-145

Via: Design Sponge

Anna Potter’s home carries through it a monochromatic green palette that I think is especially lovely.


3. The other finishes/materials in the room clash with the color.


If you have orangey-brown cabinets, you can’t paint the walls pink. Well, I wouldn’t.  When figuring out a paint color, it’s a good idea to consider what else is going in the room.

Throughout my entire career I’ve been asked to recommend paint colors without my being able to see anything. A description is the same as when you describe how you’re feeling to your doctor. He still needs to see you to make the diagnosis. I have to say that virtual doctor visits are one of the best things to come out of the Covid era.


But, Laurel, we just moved, and I have no idea what we’re going to be putting in the room.


If you don’t know what else is going in the room, but you need to paint, then perhaps create a plan that you can carry out later on. Even if some things change, you will be less likely to paint yourself into a… you know. :]


my scandinavian home no-fail paint color

via: My Scandinavian Home

I love this enfilade where each room plays nicely off the other. By creating your overall palette first, you’re way ahead of the game. For more gorgeous enfilades, click here.


4. Like, Pinky, you read it somewhere, maybe even here. It’s imperative to always test your paint colors!


And, just because someone else likes it, If a “no-fail” paint color doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t use it!


5. You chose the color from a photograph in a magazine,


from your computer monitor,, or someplace that was not in your home, in the room it’s going in.


no-fail paint color rose tarlow wallpaper off color in the photo on the right

Rose Tarlow – Melrose House

Here is a perfect example of why I would not recommend selecting a color from a magazine or website. It’s wallpaper, in this case, but the point is made. The wallpaper on the left is the SAME as the wallpaper on the right. The photo on the right was in a magazine but a head-on view. I’ve used this wallpaper and have admired it for over 16 years. Unfortunately, the color on the right is wrong!

Here’s more on the topic of paint colors that look different than expected.


6. You don’t yet have anything else in the room.


It’s almost definitely not going to look good. This relates to reason #1. You have to have other things in the room to make the color come alive. Look at how uplifting this very dark gray room looks with its bright accents.


the-guardian- photo-david-cleveland-no-fail-paint-color

The Guardian – Photo David Cleveland

Not sure, but the color looks to be Farrow and Ball Down Pipe


Another favorite example is Ben Pentreath’s dining room which I have been IN and posted about a number of times.


House and Garden-Ben Pentreath-Sharyn-Cairns St. Giles Blue -Benjamin Moore Bluebell

House and Garden Magazine


Notice how the addition of black and white, and that shot of red, plus the somber tones of brown wood, make this color glorious. I can guarantee however, if you walked into a room painted this deeply saturated blue, you would find it pretty intense. Here’s the post with the pic I took of this gorgeous room!


7. Because… Light is crazy.

7. I need to say that again. Light is crazy.


Remember this post where my pale gray walls look YELLOW and PINK and lots of other variations?


8. Your artificial lighting is harsh, insufficient, the wrong kind, icy, shadow producing.


cool-med-warm steve jenkins no-fail paint color

Steve Jenkins


Yes, this is the same wall color in all three shots.

This is a whole topic unto itself. Here are three different types of light. I believe they are cool LED on the left, then halogen, and third incandescent. Please, do not ever use a cool LED or so-called “daylight” bulb in your home. Please. You can still get incandescent bulbs. And some LEDs are warm and not too bright.

We have also talked in many posts about lighting and how to get it right.

9. The no-fail paint color was mixed wrong.


It’s rare, but has happened to clients, twice. Please test that the color in the can is what you are expecting. Yes, and if the color has a number and a name, it’s a good idea to give them both. Sometimes companies have names that sound similar. They shouldn’t, but they do. And, of course, it’s easy to get numbers mixed up.


10. You tested the paint incorrectly by painting it directly on one wall, and then you put up a bunch of other colors next to it. Please check out this post to learn how to test paint colors properly.


11. Your room has some weird angles.


I once worked on a home, and the eating area of the kitchen had two walls at an unusual angle. The walls had already been painted. They looked so different from each other; I swore it was two different colors. It wasn’t.


12. You took the name of the paint literally.


All-to-common, Benjamin Moore and other paint companies are notorious for using misleading paint color names. For instance, many shades of green or blue are called “gray”. Or shades of gold are called cream. For help with the best shades of Benjamin Moore paint colors click here.


Here are a bunch of beautiful shades of green that are not called green.


no-fail-paint color Benjamin Moore Hepplewhite Ivory HC- 36 colorforte (1)

Color Forte

Wall color: Benjamin Moore Hepplewhite Ivory HC-36. It’s a lovely color, but if you are expecting ivory, you might be disappointed.


And one more reason why your no-fail paint color failed which I’m sure I’ve mentioned.


13. You listened to…


your husband who insisted that the color be “halved.”

Or your mother,





Sure, go ahead and listen to them. But please do not cut your paint color in half unless you know that it is a good thing to do. At the very least, experiment first.


no-fail paint color failed

Well, there it is. There are many reasons why a no-fail paint color might not work out as you thought it would. Take your time. Make a plan. Test carefully, and remember, that paint colors are only one aspect that makes for a beautiful room.

Here are my all-time 16 favorite Benjamin Moore paint colors!

And if you love Farrow and Ball (I do too!) but can’t get it or can’t afford it, here is a guide to matching up the colors with Benjamin Moore.


If you can afford Farrow & Ball but can’t find it, you can now purchase it online!



PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!

If interested in getting the Laurel Home curated Paint and Palette Collection of 144 fantastic colors and 40 complete palettes, please go here to find out more.


24 Responses

  1. Laurel, you blogging genius, you! I always ask myself if I were going to write about this topic, what would I say? And I must pat you on the back for this list. All of these are things I consider and do, but DIDN’T REALIZE IT! So, you have me beat hands down for pulling apart the itty bitty deets in your noggin’ and sharing them. Not sure at all I would have come up with more than half of these bullet points.

  2. Of course, one must listen, but there was a client whose husband insisted that a color a professional interior designer with two decades of experience, specified be “halved.” The result was not desirable. That’s the problem.

  3. Since this was an original build, I had to pick colors prior to moving in. No WAY I’d ever ever go monochrome. I looked at some Sherwin Williams color palates, and went with one of hose. I have to say, I am totally happy, having now lived here 3.5 years, with my color choices. (Yes, I would have changed some actual other choices, but not color…)

  4. It’s really worth hiring a color consultant, especially if doing a whole house, usually the cost for the consultation is applied toward the paint. Also have the painter quote the WORK only and buy the paint yourself otherwise you end up with matched paint. I personally fared better with F&B paints, every single color is so well thought out, so well tested that it never failed no matter where I put it (have tried 6-7 so far), while with BM you really have to have the eye of an artist to be able to pick the perfect hue from the gazillion colors they carry. My biggest mistake was with BM Feather Down, a greige that I studied a lot and was supposed to work ‘everywhere’, I did a LR, adjacent study, DR and hallway with it, huge, huge mistake, it’s lifeless and muddy. I put F&B Slipper Satin in the master BR, it’s actually fairly close to BM Feather Down, now, I adore Slipper Satin in the BR, it just radiates, changes color in different lights and all hues are beautiful, wish I’d put it everywhere, it just works, no matter the time of the day, while Feather Down looks flat and dead and only lives a few hrs a day when full sun. Many lessons learned.

  5. Also experienced this! Contrary to some other posts here my mistake was Accessible Beige. Popular color right?. Lots of people have it Had a painter paint LR DR and kitchen while we were away on vacation . I’d add this as #13. Never leave a painter and go away. He painted exactly what I asked but if I had seen the Accessible Beige on one full wall I would have stopped him there even thought I did test paint Had to repaint. Used White Dove. Beautiful but that doesn’t mean it would work in your home. Our rooms go from NE to SW exposure.

  6. Just want to say “ditto” to what Maggie S said about painting a large board and putting a true white boarder around it. Also, Maria Killam has several blog posts about how to choose paint colors. Very valuable information, Laurel!

  7. This post reminds me of what I’ve dubbed my “Sheraton Beige Fiasco”. I pondered and pondered and in a fit of impulsivity — without testing it on the wall — I chose Sheraton Beige for all walls. OMG. No. No.

    I tried living with it to see if somehow the addition of furniture would make it better but alas it did not. One phone call to the painter and payment for a whole new paint job fixed the problem. Now I always buy a sample/pint of the proposed color and paint it right on the wall in a big area. Yes it costs more upfront but saves a lot of angst.

  8. Been a homeowner for 53 years, and bought my first house at age 24 ( do the math). Having owned 12 houses, my numerous “paint fails” are but a grim reminder of how one’s good intentions are oft time laid asunder.

    My current house/cottage has been spared the drama…. BM Simply White throughout. I’m finally at peace with the earth.

  9. Great post. I have several friends that use Accessible Beige and love it. It seems to work with anything. Not too dark and not too light. I also think that you should hold up your paint samples to were they meet in the corner of a room because the color changes in the corners of each room. You may like the color on the wall that receives more light than the the adjoining wall.

  10. This is a perfect message! We have moved multiple times and renovated a LOT! I paint poster board size samples and take them around the house in different lights/times of day, hold them up to the trim, etc. We had one dining room where no matter what kind of “beige” we tried, it still looked lavender in half of the room. Finally after SIXTEEN paint sample cans later we started mixing the samples and came up with just the right color. That was our worst case ever but my point is sometimes painting a 1 foot spot on the wall gives you NO information. Try painting poster boards from the dollar store with sample cans of paint – it works great – you can transport them to every area of the room and tape them up, take them all over the house if you think you’ll use the same color in multiple rooms, etc. A bit of work to do it but helps eliminate big, costly mistakes!

  11. This reason was a new one on me! I went to the Benjamin Moore store and bought a sample of Lancaster Whitewash, one of the HC colors. Their samples are only available in one type of paint. It looked great in my powder room, which was being renovated. So my guy went back to the store and bought a gallon in a slightly different BM line of paint, but the same eggshell finish. Not the same color AT ALL, much darker. He took it back to the store, and they said something about the formula differing for different paints (?!?) and made an exchange to the correct color. Next time I go in to buy some testers, I’m going to inquire further. This is the first time in decades of using BM paints that this has happened.

  12. Ugh.l feel your pain.Sherwin Williams is an excellent paint.If you had a better painter he would have requested a paint match by colour not name.l have had them matching colours for twenty years for clients and they have failed once.They paid for the paint and labor to correct the problem.

  13. Glynda,Painting swatches on a wall is a common mistake –to see how a color will REALLY look, paint 11X14 (or bigger) poster board and mount that on a larger white poster board (so that there will be a white edge) and move it around your room at different times. Painting swatches on the wall doesn’t show you how the color looks on every wall (or next to your woodwork) and the existing color also effects how the sample looks! There is also a company (Samplize) that you can now order large paint samples from – Good luck with the new color!!

  14. Hi Laurel,
    Great post! I’ve been going back & reading a lot of your posts regarding paint colors. I’m moving this year & need to be prepared. I’m hoping your advice & suggestions will make the move less stressful.

  15. I wholeheartedly agree with you Diana. I am in the window covering business and recommend this to customers all the time. It’s easier to find a paint colour to match/compliment everything else, than the other way around.

  16. Another reason – you spec Benjamin Moore paint colors and your painter turns around and tries to match them with the closest Sherman Williams instead. I’d picked BM Brittany Blue (a light blue) and ended up with SW Brittania Blue instead – a very moody dark blue. At that point we were already running months late on the renovation and I told him to just finish the room and get on to the next thing. But it caused a cascading change in decor, etc.

    Also – we’d really liked this team if painters (in spite of the mistake) so when they begged us to pay them the second half of what was due directly out of pocket instead of waiting for the GC to pay them from the draw, we did. And have they ever come back to finish painting the front door and outside door surround? No, they have not.

  17. Best blog post on wall color ever! You nailed it on why colors look different in different situations. And yes, THERE IS NO PERFECT COLOR that works in all spaces for everyone.
    The cruel truth is that paint color should be chosen last, not first. It’s easier to select from thousands of paint colors to work with the other items in the room than the other way around. If I need to paint first, I always choose white and then change it later on.

  18. My latest no-fail failure has been painting my foyer, stair well, and upstairs hallway BM Cotton Balls! Only after it was painted did I realize the trim color (which was already there and extensively used throughout the house) has a lavender/gray cast and looks muddy against the Cotton Balls and Cotton Balls looks a sickly yellow. I did get a small can of it and painted big patches in two areas, looking at them at different times of day and night, apparently the wrong areas and times. It would be too expensive to repaint all the trim so will have to have those walls repainted.

  19. I built my house in 2016. A friend suggested “accessible beige” for the interior…Then, my decorator suggested the same! I love it. It looks the same in every room, regardless of light. Contractor brought clients by to see my house. The first thing they asked was the paint color. I have 2 friends who painted theirs the same after seeing mine!
    I LOVE your articles!!! I have several friends now who have subscribed!!!

  20. Spot on! And don’t forget to think about what’s on the exterior of your home especially if you have a lot of windows. If lots of green trees and landscaping are outside of your room, a green tint will be picked up on your walls. We once lived next to a neighbor with a deep red house; when we painted the dining room on that side, BM’s white dove looked pink! Our walls only looked close to the chip when the drapes were drawn.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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