Choosing kitchen paint colors in this land o’ plenty

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Apr• 02•08

I had to try out my new colors. What's more difficult: Trying out colors on a patch of wall? Repainting a whole kitchen? Or worse, living with the wrong color for the next decade?I promised myself I’d be super careful when choosing my kitchen colors. Why? These events:

First and foremost, and my daily reminder, is the garish green that got painted onto my exterior trim when I asked the budget painter guy to match colors on a house I’d seen. There I was, the morning the crew arrived, in my driveway, trying to figure out if the green he brought was the right green. It was so not the right green, but I don’t make my best design decisions in the heat of the moment, so I let the paint go on, figuring I’d repaint the trim later (but will I?). I need time to contemplate.

Then, providence brought into my orbit some role models: two women who took extraordinary care in choosing their kitchen colors. Kristina Johnson actually bought several pints of green to try out on her Glassell Park kitchen walls. (She ended up painting her kitchen three different greens, so that’s the hazard if you like a lot of them.) Bethany Orlemann taped paint chips on her Eagle Rock kitchen ceiling and studied them carefully to decide on the exact off-white she would love.

By the time my own selection process began, I had decided to paint my kitchen walls a pale olive green and my cabinets an ivory white. Then I spread out a color fan from ICI on the table. Did you know there are more than 140 off-whites in a fan like this? This is why people hire decorators and designers. The choices are daunting.

For my green, I was truly lost. There are greens with a lot of yellow, lots of blue, some gray. Dark, light, pale, bright, garish (been there), subtle.

So I picked one and headed off to OSH. Bill was out of town and seemed disappointed that I didn’t go to the local paint store where professional painters and contractors go. But at the OSH paint counter there is young woman named Robyn with a lot of tattoos and died black hair and an understated yet seemingly deep knowledge about paint and colors and brushes and such. And I wanted to do business with her.

Robyn referred me to the only no-VOC (nontoxic) paint the store carries, and then matched the green I’d chosen perfectly (of course it was the computer that gave her the exact recipe). This store didn’t carry pints of no-VOC paint, so I couldn’t buy just a pint. Heck, I thought, I love this color, I’ll get a gallon and press on.

At home, I painted a small patch of primer on my kitchen wall, let it dry, then followed it with the green. I immediately knew it was all wrong. It looked like mint toothpaste.

That’s when I recalled a house I’d written about in Silver Lake about 10 years ago. One of the owners, artist Susan McDonnell-Wakil, painted her kitchen an amazing milky green I recall to this day. She said green is a very hard color to get right, and she had to repaint her kitchen several times, and finally had a custom color made.

I ran to my files and yes! I had a photo of that kitchen, which you can see here. And yes! That’s the green I want.

Turning to my color fan again, I found a green that matched Susan’s and headed back to the paint store with my gallon of Crest. My tattoo girl was there and I explained my predicament. Robyn showed the computer’s eye the new color and printed out the recipe. It turns out my new color had the exact same pigments as the old color, but in different percentages, and she needed to add just a bit more black and yellow. And then, amazingly, the gallon of toothpaste turned into the lovely Silver Lake kitchen.

I painted the new color over the first green and am living with it for a few days. I think I love it.

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