Originally published in STIR®

Kelly dares readers to surprise themselves ⎯ and their clients ⎯ by finding color and design inspiration in unexpected, everyday places.


After more than 10 years of doing color consultations, I’m still amazed at how many homeowners hire a painter before deciding on the colors they want. These are my most challenging and fascinating clients — the ones who want me to show up and immediately choose the perfect colors for them, without having any background information. I suppose there’s something to be said for this type of creative freedom, but when it comes to color, this approach is rarely a winning one. As I often tell homeowners, “I can choose the colors for you on the spot, but I don’t have to live here. I’ll go home to the colors I carefully, thoughtfully and meticulously selected, and you may be left with something you don’t really like.”

As a color professional, I view the ideal client as someone who has some idea what they want. They don’t have to be 100 percent sure —- after all, that’s why they’re consulting a color professional — but they’re willing to delve deeper to discover just what their preferences truly are.

I try to encourage this discovery prior to meeting with clients by asking them to look for inspiration. Aside from the typical places to look — magazines, nature, artwork, vacation photos, fabric — they’re often surprised when I suggest they also look for color ideas in everyday household items: the can of air freshener in the bathroom, the bottle of lotion in the cupboard, the box of tissues on the dresser, the cereal boxes and juice cartons in the kitchen, the boutique gift bags saved from purchases at the mall. Packaging can be an especially powerful source of inspiration, and can speak volumes — often subconsciously — about the colors we prefer. Many manufacturers have engaged in extensive research to determine what colors attract consumers to their particular product, so it’s safe to say that people buy certain products, in part, due to the colors on the packaging.

Packaging can be an especially powerful source of inspiration, and can speak volumes — often subconsciously — about the colors we prefer.

I also find packaging can be very useful in helping clients visualize how different colors work together. Product packaging is often a goldmine for unexpected color combinations; thereby helping change entrenched perspectives about colors that supposedly “clash.” Even for clients looking for that one “signature” color for a room or accent wall, there’s plenty of proof that packaging and branding play influential roles in what’s considered “fashionable.” High-profile hues — think Tiffany blue, Starbucks green, Christian Louboutin red and Victoria’s Secret pink — all play a role in today’s popular culture and provide inspiration for those clients who want on-trend colors.

If you think your client is too busy or just not inclined to look for inspiration in the usual places, direct them to the electronic devices they already use every day. With so many high-tech gadgets and apps out there to aid in color selection, clients can simply use their smartphones, laptops, tablets and e-readers to capture color and design ideas, and then just as quickly and easily identify corresponding paint colors.

For example, Sherwin-Williams offers the free ColorSnap® app for iPhone® and Android™. This super convenient app enables you to match colors from more than 1,500 Sherwin-Williams paint colors for any image in your phone’s library — whether it’s one you’ve stored or one you just snapped. In addition to matching, adjusting and saving the colors, you can also share your palettes via email or Facebook, and even find your nearest Sherwin-Williams store.

Sherwin-Williams offers another free and fun interactive tool that’s great for color inspiration: Chip It!™. Simply download the applet, then use it to scroll over any inspiring online image. Chip It! instantly creates a brilliant electronic color palette, complete with the names of up to 10 Sherwin-Williams paint colors, that corresponds to the colors in your image.

Finding color inspiration is easier and closer than ever before. As color and design professionals, we should encourage our clients to not only think outside the box, but to look closely at the box! Then, we can help them package it all up by creating a palette that truly reflects what they like.