We're Moms and Design Experts: Here's How to Pick the Best Paint Color for Your Family Home
Specialists in the design world have long leaned into an in-the-know guideline to brighten various rooms: It's called the 60-30-10 rule, and you don't have to be a decorating professional to work its magic. The idea, in short, is to land on a trio of colors, with 60 percent as the dominant hue, usually the walls. A second color accounts for 30 percent, from furniture, bedding, or a rug (or even a painted accent wall). Your final 10 percent comes from pillows, art, or other little touches. Like any décor "rule," this one is not hard-and-fast. You might think of 60-30-10 as a helpful starting point that can go in many different directions.
Peek at a Color Wheel
If you need inspiration while choosing three colors, you might start by googling "color wheel" for some can't-fail combinations (this is color theory at work!). Any colors that are neighbors on the wheel (say, red and purple) go together automatically, as do colors that are opposite one another (like blue and orange). You also have the freedom to lighten or darken the shades, maximizing the possibilities. Julia Marcum, a mom of three in North Carolina and half of the couple behind the blog Chris Loves Julia, riffed on oranges and blues for her daughter's room, with navy wallpaper, a lighter blue ceiling, and apricot drapes.
Check Out Nature
Another helpful way to decide on a combo: Picture the shades of the sunset if, say, you're craving pinks and oranges. Sky and forest colors—blues, greens, and browns—make as good partners indoors as they do out. (Browns are earthy and neutral and can pair with almost anything.) Green and most bright colors jibe well too—think leaves and petals.
If You Love One Color, You Can Still Go All In
"You don't need to select three completely different colors for the 60-30-10 rule to work," Marcum points out. If your kid adores purple, you can use light, medium, and dark tones in their room. A monochromatic look is often more interesting this way.
Designers share their go-to combos using the 60-30-10 rule. (Feel free to mix each trio up, making your favorite of the shades the star.)
Pink + gold + white
"My 4-year-old's room is small, but it feels so happy that it's one of my favorites in the house." Pink walls celebrate the child's favorite color and provide a perfect backdrop for white and yellow flowers.
—Laura Gummerman, mom of one in Pittsburgh, contributor at the lifestyle company A Beautiful Mess, @gummergal
Ivory + violet + emerald
This straight-from-the-garden combo is all about Zen vibes. Start with the cloud white, then segue to the darker shades: "The blue-violet reminds me of hydrangeas. When you toss in a few green accents, they have the calming quality of leaves."
—Cara Fox, mom of five in Holladay, Utah, owner and lead designer of The Fox Group
Teal + aqua + navy
"Using a dark blue on walls can be dramatic, but we knew that it would make this grown-up bedroom feel sophisticated. We then layered on other blues with the headboard and the bedding. The result is cocoon-like, comforting, and chic!"
—Joy Cho, mom of two in Los Angeles, founder of Oh Joy!
Stone + turquoise + rust
Gray has remained a popular wall color for its homey feel and not-quite-white utility. It also sets off a gem tone, such as a turquoise couch or rug, beautifully. "I've used a variation of this palette in living rooms. Adding rust accents—throw pillows or a blanket—makes the room feel invigorating and happy."
—Shamika Lynch, mom of two in Jersey City, New Jersey, and founder of Maximizing Tiny, a small-space design service
Pale gray + slate blue + sage
If you want to keep a heavily trafficked room like the kitchen, bathroom, or living room looking clean, consider these simple hues, which manage to be muted but not boring. "Together, they make a really fun, vintage, cool trio. Your room's lighting will bring out the undertones of the gray in different ways, so testing the color in the space is a must."
—Shaolin Low, of Studio Shaolin, mom of twins and a designer in Honolulu
Green + coral + tan
Pink and green are opposites on the color wheel, so they pair flawlessly. Any variations on the shades work, but these earthy tones, teamed with tan, feel grown-up yet still fun. "This unexpected combo looks amazing in a living or dining room or a study space."
—Ginger Curtis, mom of five in Richland Hills, Texas, and principal designer of Urbanology Designs
Paint-your-walls refresher course
Click here for back-to-basics tips, from primer to last coat.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's November 2021 issue as "Pick Colors Like a Pro." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here