Janet Silver Ghent examines her many paint color choices.
Janet Silver Ghent examines her many paint color choices.

If you want to live in a Smurf house, I can help with colors

I love to play with colors, creating lively, unexpected schemes for clothing, flowers and home décor. When I find the perfect shade, it’s mine for life. As soon as I enter my nail salon, the manicurist pulls out Hi-Voltage, a glorious magenta that garners compliments even when I’m on a gurney.

My closet is filled with go-to-black, accented with fuchsia, electric blue and red, but when it comes to house paint colors, I’ve learned to play it safe. My art teacher used to say, “When in doubt, choose gray.”

After our last remodel, I tested eight shades of gray on the living room walls, checking the paint day and night before settling on Dim Sum. A subtle blue with a hint of gray, Dim Sum has a HEX code (red-green-blue formulation) of D7DFE0 and an LRV (light reflectance value) of 72.75 percent. It bears no resemblance to anything you would want to eat. Who comes up with these names, anyway? Many don’t even include the name of the color, namely Footie Pajamas (bluish pink) or Happy Yipee (golden yellow).

While choosing an interior color is tricky enough, exterior colors present another layer of complications. In sunshine and in shadow, they must work with the roofing, the driveway, the landscape and even the neighborhood.

Over the years, the wrong colors have put a hex on our homes, impeding our ability to unload them. When I lived in Walnut Creek, I chose a lovely shade called Redwood, transforming our house into the neighborhood IHOP. The turquoise shutters peeking through the bedroom window didn’t help. Before selling the IHOP, we removed the shutters and repainted the interior Relocation Beige. Then I visited Dutch Boy and chose a delicious shade of blue for the exterior. Or so I thought, until my son, then a teenager, phoned me at work.

“Mom, this house looks like a Smurf village!” he hollered.

Janet Silver Ghent's house ended up with purple shutters and blue-gray walls.
Janet Silver Ghent’s house ended up with purple shutters and blue-gray walls.

Amplified under sunlight, that stunning blue on the sample square metamorphosed into a cartoonish calamity. To make it work, we’d have to wear goofy Phrygian caps. There goes the neighborhood. Instead, we took the paint cans back to Dutch Boy, where they were poured into an enormous vat and mixed with a couple of quarts of inky black — at considerable expense.

Well, after those experiences with the IHOP and Smurf village, I had learned my lesson. In 2002, before the exterior of our house was last painted, I visited Home Depot, which offered paint-by-numbers palettes. After testing several combinations, we came up with a winning trio that we decided to replicate this year: cool gray with a hint of lavender for the stucco, charcoal gray for the trim and muted purple for the shutters, which happens to go splendidly with my nails.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the old paint cans, and Home Depot no longer had the combo cards from 2002. On a whim, I clicked on Google Lens and took a picture of the house. At first, what came up was dead bed bugs. Then a closeup unveiled Cement Mortar Texture and Rough Gypsum. Not too much help.

Since the painter we hired uses Kelly-Moore, I visited the paint store and borrowed an 11-inch-long, 2½-inch-thick color fan containing 1,600 shades. Then I ventured online and played with electronic palettes (kellymoore.com/mycolorstudio) until I was dizzy. Take the Plunge (a lavender-gray), Natural Pumice and the politically incorrect Gypsy Jewels create a striking palette. So do Breathless (another lavender-gray), Kettleman (charcoal gray) and Vintage Wine. I also couldn’t resist Kundalini Bliss. How many samples should I test at $10 a quart?

I asked my husband for his input, but he wasn’t about to duke it out with me over 1,600 possible colors. “Just choose one or two favorites and give me veto power. Oh, by the way, check out the paint cans that I put on the back steps.”

The labels are gone, but they look like the exact shades we used in 2002. Should we ask the paint store to replicate them, or should I continue playing with palettes? After all, I’m having too much fun.

Time to take a Leap of Faith and lose myself in Blissful Meditation? But it’s late, and these sleepy shades of gray are making me yawn. Do I dare take a risk? A jolt of Hi-Voltage magenta would certainly enliven this subdued suburban street. Flashing my nails, I relay my decision to my husband.

“Yes,” he says emphatically. “With chartreuse accents.”

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is writing a memoir on her late-life romance. She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].