Color My World

Trust a color consultant to find the perfect hues for you.


Debra Aufdemberge and Danielle Stallings

When my husband and I bought our Bay View fixer-upper in 2018, we knew what we were getting into: A serious roof repair, extensive plaster work and a major landscaping project, just
for starters.

When it came time to decide on interior paint colors, we felt burnt out and indecisive. Paint was the last thing on our minds. We also didn’t want to be hasty and choose colors we’d regret a year down the road, nor did we want to spend weeks agonizing over paint swatches and comparing 13 slightly different shades of gray.

Cue Debra Aufdemberge, a color consultant for Sherwin-Williams and — as far as I’m concerned — a real-life angel. She swooped in and saved me from throwing my hands in the air and yelling, “Just paint it all white!”

Aufdemberge’s job is to help frazzled homeowners create the perfect color palette for their homes, both inside and out. It turns out that my feelings of frustration are shared by lots of other homeowners — picking paint colors sounds simple, but when you’re deciding on a color scheme for an entire house, the task can be overwhelming.

“We have seen a countless number of homeowners come into our stores and become frustrated with choosing a paint color,” Aufdemberge says. “It is very difficult to choose a paint color while looking at an in-store color wall that has thousands of options under fluorescent lighting.”

Michael Madson

Those swatches also tend to look a lot different once they’re painted on your walls. A color consultant can evaluate your space and take stock of factors from furniture to lighting to help you decide on the perfect color and skip over all the weeks (or months) of deliberating.

For a pricy exterior paint job, a color consultant is an especially valuable resource — you won’t regret sampling a few expertly-selected colors before taking the plunge on a fresh coat of  outdoor paint.

“Our primary consideration is each homeowner’s unique style and design goals,” says Danielle Stallings, color program supervisor at Sherwin-Williams. “Instead of telling each homeowner what they should do, we work closely with them and make recommendations that will make their home feel comfortable and meet their needs.” 

Armed with thick books of paint swatches, Aufdemberge came to my house for a 90-minute color consultation. She asked which colors I was drawn to, which colors I didn’t love, and what kind of vibe I was aiming for in our historic home.

By the end of our session, Aufdemberge helped me create a color palette that I loved and that remained true to the period of the house —nothing too garish, but not too vanilla, either. When I told her I secretly always wanted a purple room, she gave me the confidence to turn my pipe dream into a reality, guiding me to the perfect bold shade of aubergine that popped against the maple floors in my office.

Working with a Sherwin-Williams color consultant costs $95, Stallings says, but you’ll also receive a $50 gift card to use on paint or supplies, which offsets the cost. Independent color consultants charge variable rates by the hour or by the project. At Colorwheel Painting in Milwaukee, a basic color consultation is usually included in the painting package. As a standalone service, color consulting starts at $150.

If you’re thinking of calling a color consultant, there are a few ways you can prepare in advance to get the most out of
the experience.

“I’d suggest having as many items in place as possible, including countertops, floors and light fixtures,” says Michael Madson, owner of Colorwheel Painting. “It’s a lot easier to find a color that works with a countertop than to find a countertop that works with a color.”

And if you’re on the fence about bringing in a color consultant, take it from me: It’s the best money I spent in the early days of our home renovation. You can’t put a price on preserving your sanity.

“Paying for this expertise is a minimal investment that can save the homeowner a lot of valuable time or costly mistakes,” Madson says. MKE

Not So Black & White
Evolve your neutral decor with colorful tips from local pros.


You’ve been living with your HGTV-inspired, modern farmhouse décor for a few years now and you like it just fine, but suddenly you’re craving something extra. A pop of color. Real color. Something that will set your home apart from the other farmhouse fans in your circle of friends and neighbors.

So now what? It’s all in the details, say a pair of local home-design experts.

“Tone on tone is always beautiful, always classic, and there’s always a place for it ... especially now that [floor plans] are more open,” says Emily Ebben, director of design and marketing at Warren Barnett Interiors. “I don’t think that’s going anywhere. It’s setting you up for longevity and being able to switch out accessories and colors — inexpensive to do in comparison to doing a whole room. By adding a really cool area rug that has a pop of color or accent, throw pillows, art work, well-placed accessories — things like that can add minimal bright pops of color, in an appropriate way.” Ebben calls the approach “the jewelry of a room,” noting that she recently punched up a longtime client’s black and white décor with a bright orange sofa and lively ottomans. But before you head to the store or gallery to add a punchy piece to your home, snap some photos of the room, where in-store design experts can help you get it right on the first try.

“We have thousands of [upholstery] fabric options, but we actually have color on our floor, as well,” says Randi K. of BILTRITE Furniture-Leather-Mattresses, which offers comprehensive, complementary in-store interior design services. “We have the neutrals, but we also have color — because we love color. And sometimes color will sell better on a piece. People can’t imagine what a blue sofa or a green sofa is going to look like.”

Whether you get your design advice in-store or in-home, both women agree that two-way communication is key to color you’ll truly love.

“It’s important for everyone to have their own personal style,” says Randi K., who describes her own design taste as funky and eclectic. “You have to have what you like in your home, because your house is your home. If [clients] like color, you can’t go by the trends.”

“It’s our job to ask the appropriate questions, and really listen to our clients as far as picking the right color scheme,” adds Ebben. “I always ask ‘What’s your favorite color?’ and ‘What color do you hate?’ Because you could hate green, and I might think that a palette is really cool but there’s a touch of green in the pattern or something else that would completely turn you off and I would have no idea. Seeing the space and getting in our client’s homes is of the upmost importance — but really our job is to listen. That’s what helps us guide our clients 
the best.” MKE