Colors experts share strategies for talking color with customers

by Amanda Haar

One of the trickiest challenges pros face is helping customers make color choices. Overwhelmed with walls of options at their local store, customers often hope their paint professional will help narrow their favorite 30-plus options down to just a few. Here are four color professionals’ proven strategies to help guide color selection expeditiously.


Erika Woelfel, Behr’s VP of color and creative services likes to begin with questions that reveal what the customer is looking to achieve and what the parameters of the space are. Her go-to questions include:

  • What is the mood/feeling you are trying to create in the space?
  • What decor items are staying in the room (e.g., furniture, carpet, cabinetry)?
  • What type of lighting (natural, incandescent, fluorescent) is in the area? (This will affect color.)


Hannah Yeo, a Benjamin Moore color & design expert, takes a similar approach but also likes to dive a little deeper by asking how the space will be used.

She notes, “One simple, but basic, trick is to make sure your customer truly understands their project before discussing color. Ask questions like which room(s)/surface(s) will be painted? Who will use the space the most and when? Identifying the main function of the room can instantly eliminate some of the color choices. For example, a master bedroom might inspire a different color palette than a kid’s playroom.”


Adrian Padilla, a professional color advisor at Dunn-Edwards, agrees that understanding the vision and purpose of the space is important to the color selection process. Helping a customer gain clarity on what they’re trying to achieve will automatically start to narrow down the color options. With this understanding, she advises presenting only three or four options to consider. Initially, start with a small selection; it’s “ideal because it can provide diversity without overwhelming them,” she notes.


For large projects, Dee Schlotter, PPG’s senior color marketing manager, advises, “Keep in mind that colors should flow as you go from space to space. Begin by selecting their ideal hue for the largest and most centrally located space, most likely the living room or building lobby, and coordinate additional colors from there.” She suggests placing preferred color pairings next to each other so customers can visualize how wall and trim colors will work together in the space and with fixed elements.


Padilla cautioned against providing too many options, as to not confuse the customer and slow down the process; the other three color experts also touched on problems with overloading the customer with information as well.

To avoid information overload, Woelfel advises against pulling out a color wheel at selection time. She notes, “Color wheels are helpful for educating consumers on general color theory or showing how schemes can be created, but are not necessarily helpful for narrowing on a specific paint color.”

Woelfel and Yeo also strongly encourage pros to allow customers to ‘test drive’ color choices. Yeo says, “Bright midday sun will wash out most pale hues, while artificial light will add a warm glow to the wall color. It is extremely important to allow customers to view the color in the room you intend to paint. Let them test drive the color on the wall and view it throughout the day. Better yet, let them live with it for a few days and see how they like it.”

However, Schlotter also notes that it’s important not to let a customer’s love of a color override the purpose of the space. “You want to make sure that your customer’s final selection aligns with the previously established purpose of the space. Even if the color they prefer is red, they may want to avoid painting a bedroom red, as this hue creates a stimulating atmosphere as opposed to a serene escape.”

Finally, Padilla advises paint pros to avoid pushing their own personal preferences or current trends if they don’t align with their customers’ needs. She adds, “Never make your customer feel badly for seeing a color differently than you. If they see the blue you’re recommending as green, adjust your selections accordingly. The key is making sure they land on the color they truly want.”

For more articles on color-selection tips, visit

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