Maybe you've done it. Gone into a paint store, flipped through paint strips, and with the confidence of Czanne, purchased gallons of paint to match your living room furniture.
Then, after the paint dries, you're shocked to find a much brighter or bolder color that doesn't complement the red in the sofa or the green in your rug.
Mystified, you march back to the store, study more samples, wash out the paint rollers, and try again. It's expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating.
Bonnie Rosser Krims, a color consultant and artist, has decoded the mystery of coordinating colors in her new book, "The Perfect Palette" (Warner Books, $30). She provides "fail-proof" color combinations that lend themselves to a simple, pulled-together look.
Ms. Krims suggests combining just two or three colors in a room or even an entire floor of the house. One color for the walls, one for the upholstery and window treatments, and a third on the floors.
Her formula is outlined in 50 "recipes" that use three main colors, plus a trim and an accent color. Krims also advises which hues are appropriate for a particular setting. Red, she says, works well in dining and family rooms while yellow is best in rooms with little day light.
While sticking to just three main colors may sound a bit uninspired, Krims doesn't agree: "Nobody would ever say there are three main colors in this room ... you don't notice it. Less is more," she says.
"The Perfect Palette" can also help the most enthusiastic amateur interior decorator avoid some common faux pas like a lack of coordination throughout a house.
"A lot of times people think about colors in isolation. They start in a room and just paint it a color [then] when things start to come together they realize, 'Well, this doesn't have anything to do with that, and that doesn't have anything to do with this.'" Krims said in a recent phone interview.
For those beginning to decorate a new home, Krims suggests taking her concept a step further by choosing one recipe and interchanging the colors throughout an entire floor. Each room's walls are painted a different one of the three main colors (or white) while the furniture and floors are also interchanged with the three colors.
"Start with the room you spend the most time in and either choose some color from something that you already own or choose a favorite color," Krims advises. Then proceed with a recipe that includes that particular color.
Prior to starting any painting project, Krims has some advice for avoiding the No.1 mistake: Before painting an entire room and then realizing the color is all wrong, chose a color, buy a small amount of paint, and test it on a small section of your wall. If it doesn't look right, try the color just above it or below it on the paint strip until you find the right shade.
Another way to hone your color coordinating skills is to observe nature and art, Krims suggests. Browse through books about travel, gardens, gemstones, or tropical fish. Nature combines colors in ways people sometimes don't consider, and the result is often striking.
Most of us can never expect to achieve the color coordinating skills of the master artists but getting one step closer to that Architectural Digest dream home isn't as tough as it may seem.