A fresh coat of paint is the easiest way to bring new color to your home. But if you’re planning a major remodel, you have an opportunity to retool the entire palette, and that can have a dramatic impact on the look and feel of your home. It’s important to establish the palette early in the process, because various products and materials will contribute to the overall color scheme. 

"The countertops, the flooring, the cabinets—they all have to look good together," Ayeshah Morin, owner of Designer Kitchens, Inc., in Tustin, Calif., told me earlier in the year during my reporting of the article Kitchen Makeovers Made Easy.

I took those words to heart during the planning phase of the renovation of my brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y. Way before the demo phase kicked things off, my wife and I had collected dozens of paint chips, fabric swatches, flooring and countertop samples, and inspirational photos to piece together the palette for our home. There will be some slight tweaks once our contractor gets into the finish work, but we’ll hue closely to the basic color scheme. And that should create a soothing vibe throughout the house.

Here are the key lessons from Consumer Reports that I’ve applied to the process.

A Neutral Backdrop Equals Long-Term Livability

Though we’ll add pops of color to the color scheme through furnishings, artwork, and small appliances (I dig these small appliance suites from Smeg and Wolf), the walls, cabinets, and trim throughout the main floor will stay neutral: a calming pale gray for the kitchen and dining room walls; a warmer green-gray for the cabinets and front hallway; and beige for the living room.

Our home is sure to evolve a lot over the years as the kids get older and the interior spaces take on different purposes. This muted palette will provide a clean backdrop for those changes. And if for some reason we have to sell the house, the neutral palette will allow prospective buyers to imagine themselves in the home more easily.                

Light Has a Big Impact on Color

That’s especially true for our kitchen, which will be framed on one side by an expanse of glass wall. Given all the light flooding into the room, we’ve been extra mindful of how colors will look at various times of the day. As I’ve heard time and again from Consumer Reports’ paint experts, the best way to preview paints is to actually apply them to the wall in 2-square-foot sections and consider them against each other.    

Flooring Is Like the Fifth Wall of the Room

Many designers actually settle on the flooring first, because it sets the tone for the room in such a big way. Hardwood flooring has become a design favorite because it helps tie spaces together in an open floor plan. Lighter species like maple and white oak create an airy feel, and darker species like walnut and cherry offer more elegance.

We have a little flexibility with this decision because we’re planning to refinish the existing floors, and that always happens last in the project. If we were putting in new flooring, I would definitely go for a factory finish, because those finishes are the most durable in Consumer Reports' flooring tests. In that case, we would have needed to pull the trigger by now, given the fairly long lead time.

Appliances Add Color, Too

There are a lot of interesting things happening with appliance finishes, including black stainless steel and bright hues with a retro feel from brands such as Viking and Big Chill. Call me boring, but I still prefer the neutral look of traditional stainless steel—though with two young kids I know I’m going to be fighting the fingerprints pretty much nonstop.

The Countertop Can Make a Statement—or Not

Exotic stone countertops can really personalize a kitchen, because no two slabs look alike. We considered that option, with Carrara marble and Quartzite being the two all-natural contenders. But both would have required a lot of care and upkeep. So we’re going for quartz, which is the top-rated material in our current countertop ratings

This is another decision we don’t have to finalize just yet, because countertops can’t be ordered until the base cabinets are installed or you won’t get a perfect fit. But we’re leaning toward a creamy white. Got any favorites? I’d love to hear about them, especially as we fine-tune the plan for the kitchen and dining area. Stay tuned for details on that.

If you want to follow along, here are the other stories from my Home Renovation Survival Guide.

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