Does Gray Have Undertones? You bet your booty it does!
I ALWAYS twitch when my E-design clients say that they would like, ‘…a neutral gray with no undertones’. At which point I think, oy vay – I better top up.
Gray is right up there with white as the SNEAKIEST of colours with regard to undertones. Just when you think you picked THE perfect gray, you paint your walls and end up with a certain shade of blue, green or purple. OH JOY!
The key to picking the PERFECT gray is to figure out which undertone you want – because you’re gonna get one.
The 3 Undertones of Gray
Gray has 3 undertones – blue, purple and green. You might like to think you can avoid these, but you can’t – like taxes, death, and empty wine bottles, they will haunt you. And even the MOST NEUTRAL gray will be susceptible to change based on the exposure of your room, landscaping outside the window, interior furnishings and your OWN perception of how a colour looks. Some people are more sensitive to undertones, and while the colour itself and ‘what is in it‘, is not subjective – how you SEE the colour (vs someone else) IS!
Approximations of: BM Stonington Gray, BM Abalone, BM Titanium, BM Classic Gray, BM Gray Owl, BM Sleigh Bells
You could have looked at any one of the above blobs (super technical term) under certain circumstances and thought they were ‘pretty darned gray’. However, they are a great example of the many faces that gray can have!
Gray with a Blue Undertone
Gray with a blue undertone is usually the most popular choice.
- A gray-blue can be either icy (more fresh) or stormy (more subdued/earth-toned)
- It can also have a blue undertone that leans slightly purple, making it seem a touch cooler
- A gray with a blue undertone can also pick up a wink o’ the Irish. I won’t say it’s ‘warmer’, but it’s certainly a softer look
Shown above: BM Stonington Gray
Grays with a blue undertone can be a great choice for a south or west facing room, but can OFTEN be a bit too cold/flat for a north or east facing room. Gray with a blue undertone can look great with many beige and greige colours, making it a nice transitional choice.
A few popular gray/blues…
Sherwin Williams Big Chill. This is a fave of mine with its subtle, slightly cool blue cast – it hits just the right note. Read more: Colour Review: Sherwin Williams Big Chill
Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray. A gorgeous stormy gray/blue with a wink more depth to it. Equally as lovely is the slightly darker BM Coventry Gray. Read more: Paint Colour Review: Sherwin Williams Stonington Gray
Gray with a Purple Undertone
A gray with a purple undertone is the 2nd most popular and is often seen as the ‘most gray’.
- A gray-purple can appear a bit more fresh/clean or more grounded/stormy. The more grounded, stormy ones often have a touch of brown as well
- A gray with a purple undertone can also lean a bit warm (that brown undertone that I mentioned above)
- It can also have a MORE cool cast if it’s a purple that leans slightly blue
Shown above: SW Repose Gray
Gray with a purple undertone can be suitable for most exposures, but because it’s cooler, is a bit better suited to south and west facing rooms. The ones with just a touch of brown often due well in north or east facing rooms as they aren’t quite as cold.
This type of gray is also OFTEN found in many of today’s popular laminate, marble and quartz countertops.
A few popular gray/purple colours…
Sherwin Williams Repose Gray. This can be a BIT of a chameleon, but it’s a lovely soft, slightly warm gray. Read more: Colour Review: Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
Benjamin Moore Collingwood. A softer, slightly warm gray with that OH so lovely purple undertone. Read more: BM Collingwood – A Colour Review
Gray with a Green Undertone
The gray/greens are pretty sneaky…
- A gray-green tends to be the warmest looking of the bunch (while still being a cool colour most of the time)
- A gray-green can lean cooler if it’s a green that leans slightly blue
- It can also be a bit softer/warmer if it’s a green that leans slightly yellow – this is usually a ‘warm gray’
Shown above: BM Revere Pewter
Gray with a green undertone is pretty, but definitely the least popular of the bunch. When I have clients looking for a gray, this is often the undertone they say that they’d like to avoid. Why? Because it’s the least likely to look like a ‘traditional gray’.
A few popular gray-green paint colours…
Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter. Undoubtedly THE most popular one. Read more: Colour Review: All About Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter
Benjamin Moore Gray Owl. Oh sure, it has a green undertone, but that’s not all! Read more: Colour Review of Benjamin Moore Gray Owl
So what does this mean to you?
It means that when you are choosing YOUR perfect gray paint colour you need to do the following:
- Decide which undertones you like. Now, this doesn’t mean you can go all willy-nilly and just DECIDE which gray you like. You will figure this out based on the specific needs of your room, ie: the undertones of the OTHER gray items in the room, the exposure, and THEN your personal tastes. For example, you might like a gray with a cool blue undertone, but your northern exposure might make it feel TOO cold. You might like a gray with a green undertone, but your sofa with its purple undertone might think otherwise (sofas are SO bossy sometimes…)
- Clarify which undertones you need to avoid. Again, this isn’t ALL about you (not all the time anyway). Based on the thoughts in #1, the items in your room and your exposure will play a BIG part in which gray is good and which gray is bad. The idea is to have the undertones similar from gray to gray.
- Do your research and figure out which grays will work for you and the specific needs of your home! As you know, I have tons of articles on gray paint colours, so use me and abuse me. And if that doesn’t work, my E-design is affordable and fun too!
- SAMPLE SAMPLE SAMPLE! I can never stress this enough, particularly with wine tastings. And it’s not enough to just slap some paint on your wall and say, ‘it looks too blue’. The key is to do a poster board with 2 coats of paint and leave a 2″ border around 3 sides of it. This white border will give a visual barrier between your old colour and your new one. Your old colour WILL influence your PERCEPTION of the new colour. The side where the paint is up to the edge is so you can place it right against the trim/cabinets.
And of course, there are MORE. I could talk more about WARM grays – but I’m going to save that for an upcoming blog post. And there are also greiges and taupes, but you might want to find out the difference between greige and taupe before you commit to any one colour!
Shown here, BM Pashmina
Do you want to know what YOUR perfect cool gray paint colour is? I can give you 3 fabulous options to choose from, personalized to you and your home!
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