What color to paint the threshold, the transition between rooms when the rooms are different colors?

Ask Lori Sawaya Color Strategist“Hey Lori, I’m driving myself crazy with what I’m sure is a simple question. I keep going back and forth trying to decide what color I should paint the threshold, the small transition wall area between rooms when the rooms are two different colors. How do you know which color from which room to choose?”

Flow-of-Color-Start at the Front-Door

It does seem like a simple question but a lot of people struggle with this color dilemma. The answer is start at your front door and walk in to the rooms in question. As you’re walking, think about this rule of thumb: The flow of color always follows the flow of traffic starting from the front of the house to the back.

The visual flow of color from room to room should feel as natural and as logical as how you move from room to room. How different colors wrap from one room to the next should make sense.

Paint Color Transition room to room
Photographer: Stephen Busken | Designer: Ryan White | Source: architecturaldigest.com

For example, front door > foyer > dining room as we see here in this lovely dining room.

The white paint color from the foyer wraps the threshold walls, the point where traffic transitions into the dining room which is painted Railings by Farrow & Ball.

Remember: Color follows the flow of traffic and Ryan White, the designer of this room, nailed it with both the wall color and the flooring transition.

Here’s how not to paint the threshold between two rooms.

Nimbus-Grey 2131-50-Dining-Room

I couldn’t find a source for this photo as you can tell from this link but evidence I did find suggests it’s painted Nimbus Grey 2131-50 by Benjamin Moore.

We can’t really tell where the front door is in this house but that’s okay because sometimes the front entrance or the main traffic pattern through a house isn’t always obvious. Leaving some homeowners to wonder if the rule of thumb that “color follows the flow of traffic” applies.

What we can determine from this photo is that the Benjamin Moore Nimbus Grey formal dining room is next to a kitchen.

We can use room hierarchy to figure out what color the doorway to the kitchen should be. The formal dining room is a more important, more formal room than the kitchen. When in doubt, assign more wall real estate to the more important room, the more formal room or, of course, the room that’s closer to the front door.

In this case the dining room color would have been a better choice for this doorway. More work, yes, but worth it.

Nimbus Grey Dining Room Transition Painted ai

This is what it would look like if it were finished to match the dining room walls. Just a couple additional pieces of chair rail and a bit more painting would help Nimbus Grey flow in towards the less formal kitchen area instead of stopping so abruptly and cutting off at the dining room.

How to paint the wall between two rooms

Flooring thresholds should follow the same transition rule of thumb. The rule of thumb to follow traffic from the front of the house to the back takes precedence over room hierarchy. In this picture it looks like the flow is a bit of a twist on the traditional open floor plan. It looks like it goes front door > kitchen > family room.

Assuming that’s the case, the way the floor transitions where the kitchen and family rooms meets was done well.

In summary, you want to distribute paint colors and flooring so they go with the flow of traffic starting from the front door. You want to avoid paint color transitions that go against the natural flow of traffic from the front of the house to the back because it will look and feel awkward.

floor-threshold-transition in middle

For example purposes, I moved the flooring transition in this photo. If the flooring threshold somehow ends up in the middle of the small transition wall area, you should ignore it and still follow the flow of traffic rule of thumb. You definitely don’t want to split the wall down the middle to match the floor and try to paint the small wall area two colors.

Use moulding-transition color from room to room

And last by not least, you can get creative with moulding to transition from room to room. Getting the scale and proportion of decorative moulding just right is critical so it’s worth the investment to hire a professional to help you through all stages of design and installation.

How about you? Do you have a story where you struggled trying to decide what color to paint in the inside small wall area of interior doorways?

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