Toddler room makeover: Yellow paint case study

by Jessie K on September 5, 2012

After an initial push from The Home Depot, I’m determined to continue my campaign to redecorate June’s room even if it kills me. You know how it goes: There is never any time. When I have time to tidy and reorder her bedroom, she needs to sleep in it. When I have time to paint, she needs me to hold the giant ball of floss she just emptied from its dispenser.

But I finally made time to cover up the former ketchup walls (see the photo above; her room used to be my office) with two coats of bluish primer in preparation for what I’ve decided will be her yellow bedroom.

Yellow is such a positive, energetic color that happens to go great with June’s fair complexion. But yellow is tricky because it is also the color of insanity (remember Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper?). Sitting in an excessively yellow room for long can literally make you feel fidgety and crazy.

I also want to be careful because her room is northward facing, and according to the bit of research of done, northward facing rooms are tricky to paint because they have the least amount of light. Bright colors can look dull and muddled, strong colors can become tomb-like. Farrow & Ball says yellow based colors are actually ideal for northward facing rooms in that they bounce around the most amount of light…provided it’s the right yellow. So how to pick the right yellow?

I’ve been playing with yellows and here are two options I’ve come up with. Though very similar, the yellow up top is Friendly Yellow and the bottom — a bit more saturated — is Optimistic Yellow, both by Sherwin-Williams. Both images were taken on a relatively overcast day at about mid-day.

I like them both a lot but wonder if they’re almost too subdued in a northward facing room. Thoughts? Suggestions? What do you think?

(See my previous paint case study here.)

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcia September 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm


Check out Pale Moon by Benjamin Moore — it’s a great soft yellow– kind of like the inside of a banana.

Jessie K September 6, 2012 at 9:41 am


Thanks, Marcia, I will!

Gayle September 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm


When we moved into this house my daughter was one and I painted her room yellow. She’s nine now and I still love it. We’re thinking of redoing her room and I may leave it yellow. If I can find the can, I’ll give you the numbers. It’s a beautiful (and not crazy inducing) yellow.

GinnyN September 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm


I like friendly yellow better – easier on the eyes. Yellow is a great room color!

Sarina September 6, 2012 at 8:32 am


I just bought a new quilt for the bed in a nice sunny yellow. We don’t have any light in our room.. and it is adding a much needed brightness. My only problem is worrying about a certain someone who likes to sit on the bed in work clothes.. not a good match for a light My room was a pale yellow when I was about 12-13 years old.. and I really like it because it can match so many other colors.. blues.. greens.. rose.. even orange..and black if you don’t mind it looking all bumble bee.

Courtney September 6, 2012 at 9:42 am


Hmmm. In the close-up picture I like the color on the bottom more because it actually looks yellow, while the top color looks more like tan. I had the same problem when I was painting my kitchen: north facing, very little light (and someone had painted it hunter green?! previously). I went with a deeper yellow, which works but I don’t totally love. I should have known better; I always choose my paint colors too deep … so in the end, perhaps go with the tan :-)

Chelsie September 6, 2012 at 10:16 am


I like the Optimistic Yellow if you are going for a true yellow room it is more vibrant. The Friendly Yellow reads more like old parchment in that light.

Rebecca September 6, 2012 at 10:55 am


I just painted a hall and stairway in Friendly Yellow. For a bedroom leading off the hall and stairway I chose Full Moon, a shade lighter from SW.

Catherine September 6, 2012 at 11:22 am


Hi Jesse,
Choosing the right paint color can be tough, even for professionals! I’m an interior designer, and sometimes I test 5 or 6 variations of a color before settling on a choice for a project. A few questions:

You mentioned that June’s room is north facing. Is the window shown in your photo the only one in the room? If the other walls are not broken up by windows, doorways or closet doors, the color you choose will intensify by reflecting back onto the opposite walls, especially in a smaller room.

Are you painting just the walls and keeping the trim and ceiling color? Is the floor finish remaining the same? Do you have existing fabrics (sheets, quilts, pillows) or a rug that you’ll continue to use in June’s room, or are you thinking of purchasing new things? It’s easier to nuance paint colors to coordinate with existing elements in a room that will not change, such as floor color, furniture finishes and fabric colors, or with new things that are selected first. Painting first and then decorating around a new color can often be much harder and more time consuming.

(I once had to do a designer show house bathroom that had a hideous Gulden’s brown mustard colored ceramic tile floor that could not be removed. No other designer wanted to touch it. I designed the space with the idea of making the tile look great, and spent time finding a wallpaper and fabric that complemented it. I wound up getting numerous phone calls from people wanting to know where they could buy the tile, lol!)

Both yellows you’re testing are part of Sherwin Williams “Energetic Brights” colors, so they will be fairly intense. (And you’re so right about the potential for yellow to be the color of insanity. It’s also been shown to make babies cry a lot.) Maybe try to get good coverage with a second coat of each sample to get a true sense of the colors first? Going from dark to light can be challenging, because the the dark primer affects the natural light in the room, making it more difficult to check the true colors. Also to consider, will you have the same type of light fixtures or lamps in her room as now, and how do the colors look at night?

When sampling colors on projects I often paint two coats of each choice onto a 20 x 24 inch piece of foam core. That way I can move the sample around the room into different light conditions and compare various choices side by side or alone, without the distraction of samples on the walls. Because a lot of paint companies now offer sample tins (F&B is one of my favorites), it’s an inexpensive way to test colors.

Hope I haven’t thrown too many questions at you (once I get started on design topics there’s no stopping…), and feel free to ask if you have more of your own!

Catherine September 6, 2012 at 11:36 am


Oops, correction – Optomistic Yellow is an “Energetic Bright”, Friendly Yellow is not. If you have access to a Sherwin Williams fan deck, as opposed to individual sample strips from the store, it’s often helpful to look at the deepest color on each strip. You can then tell more about the base of lighter colors, i.e. whether a particular yellow has more of a gold, orange, lemon-y or green undertone, for example. Even without seeing June’s colors in the actual room setting, or any other things you may need to coordinate with, Friendly Yellow looks like it could be an easier choice to live with.

Catherine September 6, 2012 at 11:37 am


Optimistic, lol!

Laura M. September 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm


I like the Optimistic Yellow better. I might even go a shade more yellow-y. But then when I bought my first car my two requirements were that it was yellow and a hatchback, so… I lurve me some yellow. 😀

Lisa September 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm


I am not a designer but I found some valances for my kitchen that I loved before I painted the walls. I really didn’t know what color I wanted the walls at that point. When I got home, I looked at the valances on the windows (shades of blues, yellow, white, and sage green) and chose the yellow in them for the walls and I love it! It has really brightned up the room and it makes the valances pop! Maybe choosing a new comforter or curtains would help.

Kat September 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm


I’ve found in north-facing rooms or just those without much natural light, go a shade lighter than you think you want. It’s always more intense once you cover the whole room and yellow gets bright in a hurry.

Jan September 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm


As a child I had a northeast facing bedroom and loved the color yellow so my mom and I picked out a bright, true yellow, lemon color. We ended up painting just 2 adjoining walls with the yellow and the other 2 walls in white. It was a hit! Everyone who saw the room loved it also. As I grew it was easy to move my bed to a white wall or one of the yellow walls and redecorate with a fresh bedspread, pillows, curtains, etc. Happy painting!

Kim September 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm


I like the peachier toned Friendly Yellow. I find the peachier toned yellows… even more intense versions… to be very cheery and restful at the same time. A warm happy color to wake up to as well as a cozy comforting color by lamplight at night. My own room is a more intense peachy yellow, almost towards a gold: Home Depot’s Torchlight. I don’t find it the least bit crazy-making. :)

But if you plan to have yellow in any of the room’s fabrics, you might want to start there. Easier to get paint to match a fabric than to fall in love with a color on the wall and not be able to find anything that goes with it.

Cassie September 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm


I like the bottom color better, the top one looks like its just plain ol’ tan

Janelle September 6, 2012 at 6:30 pm



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