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Mixing, not Matching: Contrast, Balance Produce Harmony in Composition


By Barbara Jacobs

What’s the real story behind the concept of “Mix and Match?”

What are we talking about when we use this term?

From paint color names to defining spaces, what do we mean?

Ultimately it’s just about feeling that the space is harmonious and comfortable.

Personally I believe that a more interesting space is created when “matching” colors is not even an issue. I’d rather see it as the best way to enhance the space while referencing qualities of artwork, furniture, rugs, and other important objects in view.

 The Color Exchange

 Color design and decorative finishing by Barbara Jacobs.

Glazed walls create a soft color that reflects and balances carpet and furniture colors. Adjacent dining-room wall finish, also glazed, adds interest and continues the feeling of the living room without duplicating it.

The Color Exchange

Dining room: Closeup of wall finishes that coordinate with the living room.

The Color Exchange

Dining-room wall colors reference the artwork and stained-glass panel. Incandescent lighting adds more warm tones to an already warm paint palette. The cooler colors in the artwork, furniture, pottery, and glass panel really stand out. 

What makes a harmonious result?

It's true that when we're in a paint store—with literally thousands of colors at our fingertips—it’s easy to bounce from one color family to another, and even from one tiny color swatch to another. Even when we bring along fabrics, pottery, pieces of wood, or other “match-worthy” items, there are seemingly infinite possibilities. As with a satisfying meal, harmony comes from combining the contrast and balance of a few key ingredients.

The Color Exchange

Dining room, view 2: This overall warmly colored dining room transitions into the cool kitchen. From the kitchen, we also see the blues of the painting in the dining room. Note the glowing warm and cool colors of the art-glass pendants.

The Color Exchange

Kitchen wall color refers to the tones of leaded glass and granite.

On another note, here's a problem area resolved with color. Floor tile is harder to change than paint color!

 The Color Exchange

 Color design by Barbara Jacobs

The clients disliked the blue tile floor that could not be changed. This problem area was resolved with color balance.

 The Color Exchange

 Color design by Barbara Jacobs

A stone wall is the inspiration for new paint colors in the kitchen and adjacent family room.  

Context is critical

There’s just about no way a color that originates in a fabric or other material can be recreated to an exact match in paint. Even if you have a look-alike color in the paint store, on your walls it might be another story.

Here's why:

• We perceive color as reflected light. Space lighting has a lot to do with how we see color—considering the time of day or night, and the light source.

• Even when using the exact same paint color on different walls, color appears different when light is reflected onto surfaces at different angles.

• Color on adjacent walls intensifies in the corners.

• Ceilings are always in their own shadows, in a way—so using color on a ceiling will be deeper than using the same color on a wall.

A tip

We have a natural tendency to look at color chips on a horizontal plane. It’s a good idea to always view paint color chips at the same angle as they will be used on the walls.

Surfaces and textures

Whether on a horizontal, vertical, or curved surface, texture makes a difference in both the source color and the destination color.

• A deeper, irregular texture creates subtle shadows and might even make a pattern.

• A smooth surface will typically be more reflective, even with a matte paint surface.

• Colors on a high-gloss surface are the most reflective and will appear brighter.

Test, and test again

This is one of my most-often-sung songs, but only because it’s so important. As often as needed, test your choices in the space using actual painted, large color cards. In looking from one room to the next, and back the other way, pay attention to how they work with your furniture and fabrics. Look at the colors in all times of day and night, with your painted samples taped onto the various surfaces.

In fact, skip the taping, and use the best surface to prepare your painted test boards. Use Small Wall (, a product specially made just for this purpose—a smooth surface and repositionable adhesive strip on the back that won’t damage your wall. This is my most-recommended way to really test colors in your home.

For more about the subject of “matching,” please check out my article “Perfect Palettes: Mix and Match” on

I look forward to hearing about your colorful match-making experiences! You can also email me directly, at


Barbara Jacobs

Can we talk?...about color, that is. That’s our objective with this ongoing discussion—a Color Exchange, if you will—in this Durability + Design blog. Whether we know it or not, color affects all of us, in many ways. So let’s engage in this exchange and explore this mysterious and exciting subject of color, its effects, and its applications.



Tagged categories: Color; Color + Design; Artists; Barbara Jacobs Color and Design; Color forecasts; Color guides; Color matching; Color selection; Color trends; Design; Interior design

Comment from julie boney, (11/23/2011, 11:29 PM)

Very informative & excellent advice Barbara! We're thrilled you like our product ( and hopefully together we can help others in the color selection process to get it right the first time!

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (11/28/2011, 8:47 AM)

Wow, I certainly would not want lead intentionally placed in my kitchen just to get that visual effect on the cabinet doors! I hope those cabinets are actually a lead-free "stained glass" type technique.

Comment from Barbara Jacobs, (11/28/2011, 5:02 PM)

Tom, that's an interesting point. They are fairly new, so it's possible that they are.

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