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How to Forgive and Embrace Gray Paint Colours

Posted on September 24, 2018 by KylieMawdsley

 

More Tips on How to Pick a Gray Paint Colour (and why it’s so friggin’ hard)

In the words of the great Leonard Bernstein, ‘I feel PRETTY and WITTY and GRAAAAAY!’. Okay, so maybe it was gay, not gray, but either way, I’m feeling pretty AND witty today, so I thought it would be a great time to do some more deep-diving into the world of gray.

Spa style relaxing bathroom with Benjamin Moore Wickham Gray. Best gray paint color. Kylie M INteriors Edesign, online paint color consulting blog

Other than white, gray is hands-down, one of the HARDEST paint colours to choose (to which many of you might say that ANY paint colour is hard to choose), but seriously, gray is a bugger.

So, why is gray such a pita (pain in the…)? Because it is a chameleon. Because no matter WHICH gray you choose, it will shift itself on a wall-to-wall basis. Because JUST when you think you’ve landed on THE gray of your dreams, it goes and changes colour. And speaking of colour, let’s talk about the undertones of gray.

Open layout great room. Kylie M INteriors edesign. Sherwin Williams Collonade Gray. Transitional home decor and rattan bar stools - Copy

Gray has undertones of either blue, green or purple, there is no avoiding them. And the thing is, gray might FAVOUR one of these undertones, but that doesn’t mean it won’t flex into the others depending on the following:

  • Time of day (position of the sun)
  • Exposure (Oh, you HAVE to learn about this one)
  • The temperature of your light bulbs
  • Exterior factors, ie: green grass/shrubs, a red brick wall close-by, etc…
  • Interior finishings such as a warm wood floor or a forest green sofa
  • The actual ‘recipe’ of the colour (what colours are blended together to create it)
  • Your PERCEPTION. While the colour itself is NOT subjective (it is what it is), how it is SEEN can vary from person to person!

What to do, what to do. Drink. That is a personal instruction, not one directed at you, although it’s not a bad idea if you’re struggling with gray paint colours.

Romantic rustic master bedroom and ensuite bathroom. Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter and Wickham Gray. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, edecor and online paint colour expert blog

Now I’ve gone into MUCH more detail in this blog post: Gray Paint Colours – The 3 Undertones You Have to Consider, so I’m not going to hit that much harder. What we’re going to do now is look at some examples. Why? Because they will give you visual support to let you know that you AREN’T going crazy – it’s the gray that is crazy and I’ve got 3 great examples to show you why (and I’m not even going to get STARTED on SW Repose Gray which is the craziest of them all).

Example #1 – Benjamin Moore Shoreline

Recently, I had an E-design client hire me because she’d chosen Benjamin Moore Shoreline for her living room, but didn’t like how it was flashing a bit purple. Oh, a bit purple…and everything else, but it’s a GREAT example of gray and it’s (ahem) ‘flexibility’ (said slowly and painfully using air quotes).

Like many grays, Shoreline LOOKS like a nice soft gray. However, it has a whole whack (technical term) of undertones to contend with, undertones that are ENCOURAGED by the environment.

How to pick the best gray paint colour. Showing Benajmin Moore Shoreline by Kylie M INteriors Edesign blog

You might even think that those walls are 3 different colours, but they are ALL Shoreline!

Example #2 – Benjamin Moore Gray Owl

Now let’s take a look at Benjamin Moore Gray Owl, another friggin’ ninja…

Entryway, stairwell, reclaimed pine wood flooring, treads, white railing, white wainscoting. Benjamin Moore Cloud White and Gray Owl. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour and decorating blog

Shown above, you can see that it looks like a light gray with a slightly fresh, cool blue look to it.

Below, we have Gray Owl again, but it’s looking a weee bit moodier and is picking up a hint of green-blue to it. You might not even SEE this until you compare it to the fresh crisp look of Gray Owl above.

Benjamin Moore Gray Owl and how the undertone changes with natural lighting. Kylie M Interiors E-design, colour consulting

So of course, if you picked Gray Owl based on the FIRST image, you would be greatly disappointed if it turned out like the bottom photo…and it just might. Again, it all comes down to the MULTITUDE of factors that we discussed earlier, and short of stopping the earth from turning (I started out by saying we should stop the sun from moving), there is no way to avoid the ever-changing nature of gray.

Example #3 – Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter

Revere Pewter is ALWAYS surprising. Okay, I’d say that 80% of the time it’s predictable and 25% of the time it’s surprising.

Benjamin Moore REvere Pewter, Cloud White Kitchen, red toned wood floor. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online virtual paint consulting

What you SHOULD expect from Revere Pewter is that it’s a soft warm gray that can (and usually will) pick up a vague, soft green undertone. And that’s all fine and dandy until THIS happens…

E-design. Farmhouse country style paint palette, Benjamin Moore Buttermilk yellow and Revere Pewter gray. Oak flooring and furnishings. Kylie M Interiors blog

Still pretty, but definitely not muddy or tinged with green. And if you like a gray with a blue undertone this is okay, but if you DON’T it will be a problem.

And if it doesn’t go green and it doesn’t go blue, what does it do? It goes slightly purple WITH a wink o’ green. Lord have mercy.

Rustic romantic style bedroom with reclaimed wood, Benjamin Moore Revere PEwter, chandelier, pink blush accents. Kylie M Interiors E-design, online paint color consultant and edecor blog

So, now that we’ve looked at some examples, let’s touch on some helpful tips to pull the frayed edges of our sanity together.

5 Tips for Picking Your Best Gray Paint Colour

Tip #1

Look at your gray paint colour on all of the walls…but be kind to it

Why be kind? Because no matter how much you wish, there is NO paint colour and NO gray that will look the same on every wall. As I’ve shown you above, it will flex itself more than a 10 year old gymnast. The key is to find one that you ‘generally like on every wall’ while trying to avoid the specific undertones that you don’t like.

Tip #2

Sample your gray the RIGHT way

When you do a paint sample, be sure to sample it the right way. Paint up a nice big sample (on a canvas/posterboard) and either leave a white border around it or put it on white paper. If you don’t seperate your OLD wall colour from your NEW wall colour, the old one will 100% skew your perception of the new one. Trust the Ginger.

Tip #3

Don’t have high expectations

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it. Seriously though, if you expect your gray to look the same on every wall, you will be greatly disappointed. IT WILL CHANGE AND IT WILL HAVE UNDERTONES. I promise. Which means that you should move on to the next tip…

edesign, virtual paint colour consulting. Kylie M Interiors Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams color expert. marketing (1)

Tip #4

Choose your fave and least fave undertones

Red or white, red or white. MIX THEM BOTH AND GET ROSE, YAY! (I will squeeze wine references in wherever I can). As for gray, it will have undertones of either blue, green or purple. You might not like any of them, but I bet there’s one that you like more and one that you like less…and one in the middle. If you don’t like ANY of those undertones, you need to stay away from gray! Choose the undertones that you absolutely can/can’t live with. This doesn’t mean that it won’t hit a WINK of the fugly one on the odd wall, but it does mean that you can focus your efforts on grays that are more likely to hit yer happy place.

And finally…

Tip #5

Take cues from your interior finishings

Most people are picking gray because their home already has some type of gray in it. And THAT gray will have an undertone. You will want your paint colour to have the same undertone or one that coordinates pretty damn well.

If you don’t HAVE anything with gray in it (ie: you just have wood flooring), you can go back to your personal preferences, taking into consideration your EXPOSURE and lighting situation.

If you are transitioning from beige, you might want to read this blog post as you can’t just jump in swingin’!

A few great grays to consider…

Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray: Gray with a blue undertone that might swing the TINIEST bit green.

Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray on the walls of a bathroom wtih double sink and white quartz. Custom made wood vanity and tile floor. Kylie M Interiors Online Colour Consulting services - Copy

Read more: Gray Owl vs Stonington Gray 

Benjamin Moore Gray Owl: Gray that can go green OR blue

Hallway with reclaimed wood flooring and white railling. Benjamin Moore Gray Owl and built in bookcase. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color

Read more: Paint Colour Review of Gray Owl

Benjamin Moore Collingwood: Gray with NO green or blue undertones that favours a mild purple (but in a north facing it will cool down, so be careful)

Benjamin Moore Collingwood, best warm gray paint colour, Silver Gray ceiling, Sherwin Dover White trim, contemporary living room. Kylie M INteriors Edesign, online paint color consultant

Read more: Paint Colour Review of Benjamin Moore Collingwood

Sherwin Williams Big Chill: Gray with a very soft blue undertone.

Sherwin Williams Big Chill with oak floor, stairs, white wainscoting with light bulbs off and on. Kylie M Interiors E-design

Read more: Paint Colour Review of SW Big Chill

Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter: Gray with a soft green undertone (but can be a SUPER colour ninja)

E-design. Farmhouse country style paint palette, Benjamin Moore Buttermilk yellow and Revere Pewter gray. Oak flooring and furnishings. Kylie M Interiors blog

Read more: Paint Colour Review of Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter

Sherwin Williams Repose Gray: I couldn’t just leave you hanging with this one. Repose Gray is one of the HARDEST grays to nail down, and I talk all about it here.

Sherwin Williams Repose Gray with teal and yellow accents in a palette

Not sure which gray is best for YOU and your room?

Check out my affordable E-design & Online Paint Color Consulting packages! 

edesign, virtual paint colour consulting. Kylie M Interiors Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams color expert. marketing (29)

Chat soon,

Kylie M Interiors, decorating blog, e-design, online colour consulting expert. signature



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Comments

  1. My favorite light gray is Sherwin Williams ‘Passive’. I have it in my living room that faces south west and it is the most gorgeous true-to-proper-light-gray I’ve found. ( I had to paint over a Benjamin Moore shade that worked great in my foyer and hallway but drove me nuts with how blue it looked in my living room. )

    1. Post
      Author

      Hiya Toni! You are the 2nd one to ask that! That is SW Ellie Gray with SW Big Chill. Ellie Gray can sometimes swing a weee (like super wee) wink blue-green!

      ~Kylie

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      Author

      Thank you for letting us know Janu, it’s comments like these that help other readers explore new colours! The last comment was about Knitting Needles, which is quite similar with it’s SUPER passive purple undertone!

      ~Kylie

  2. Have you ever used Sherwin Williams knitting needles? It is a beautiful shade of gray that doesn’t appear to have a blue, green, or purple undertone. I absolutely love it! Are used it in my master bedroom and master bath. You are correct though, it looks totally different in each room. 🙂
    I love the dark gray on the page you displayed that says “start painting stop guessing “. What color is that wall? It’s very rich looking.
    I really enjoy reading your articles. They are informative as well as being entertaining! You were very witty!

    1. Post
      Author

      Well, thank you Kelly! And yes, I have used Knitting Needles, it’s GORGEOUS (I just referred it to an E-design client today too!). And while it might look pretty darned gray to you, it does flex a bit into purple (just so you know ;). YOu might not even see it until you compare it to say, a gray-green or blue-green!

      As for that ‘Stop Guessing, Start Painting, that is SW Ellie Gray which is a soft moody gray with a VERY (very) VAGUE blue-green undertone. 🙂

  3. very informative info about grays. I have revere pewter and it does seem to look good with everything….I would like something fresher, but I just can’t stand the purple, blue, pink, or strong green undertones. Could you do a video on the Sherwin Williams paint color “On the Rocks” ? I’m really interested to hear how you would review it. Thank you!

  4. Hi Kylie;
    So what you are saying is that there are basically 50 shades of gray or is it grey? I love your blog it’s not only entertaining but very educational!I have a question for you Kylie, So if you had let say stonington gray and you wanted to transition into a more neutral color down the hall or adjacent room without having to paint over stonington,…what would be your choice? What is your go to neutral, what would compliment stonington without clashing with it? Would love to know your thoughts on your choice of neutrals, would it be gray, or not?

    Thanks!

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      Author

      Ooo, to complement it, but get out of gray, I almost think you’d want to go to a warm off-white, slightly creamy, something like BM White Down, but the warmth of it will pop a bit more off of Stonington. And while it’s not entirely ‘warm’, I do like Classic Gray which is a slightly warm gray :), a bit of a transition perhaps.

      1. Thanks KYLIE, so from a LRV perspective that you cover so well in your videos (thank you)I I do prefer the LRV of such colors as;Tapestry beige, balboa mist, edgecomb gray and so on…Would any of these colors work alongside stonington gray??? I don’t mind gray tones that are a tad more neutral I am just trying to lean away from the blue hue that stonington brings, as my room is a shady one. Thanks

  5. I chose Collingwood for my southwest bedroom after failing with Anew Gray(too much green). MOST times of the day I’m happy with my choice but certain hours I still get a hint of green. Based on your blog, I attribute this to lots of green outside my window from our yard and open space behind us. I wish I’d gone a tad darker because of the light in the room.
    Kylie, your blog has been tremendously helpful! Thank you.

  6. Thanks for the drinking advice – that has been the most helpful tip during this process. I’m currently reading this posting (again) while sipping Rose. We are moving to a (mostly) North facing apartment in NYC with good windows. The other exposures are East and face a brick townhouse wall (aaaah, NYC). The whole apartment is currently painted Super White which is a little too stark for our tastes but we may just give up and use that! Yes, the bedroom looks pink in the morning.

    The living dining, foyer are one big room. The kitchen and bath are grey and white. We thought – easy-peasey we currently have Revere Pewter and love it in our south facing apt. WRONG – looked terrible. So tried foam boards with all the grays in your blog – Balboa (purple) , Edgecomb and Classic Gray (too beige), paper white (too blue), Gray Owl (too blue). We finally found BM Light Pewter, but I can’t find it reviewed anywhere to understand their possible undertones. They actually seems like a lighter, slightly grayer version of Revere Pewter , and we found Rodeo which seems like a lighter RP. Have you ever seen anyone use BM Light Pewter (or Rodeo)?

    1. Post
      Author

      Cheers!
      Okay, so while they can flex around, Rodeo can favour a very (and I do mean VERY) mild green, not unlike Revere Pewter. Light Pewter is a warm gray that can pick up a weee faint purple, but fractional 🙂

  7. I don’t like grey AT ALL in any way, shape, form or hue (green-grey, purple-grey, its all screams grey to me). Grey just looks depressing. I’ve had several design “consults” with color experts and they all recommended grey hues – even when I told them I “hate” grey in any form. Unfortunately, I listened to them and now hate my living room – but I’m selling soon so it will look “trendy” by golly! It seems to me most designers/color experts have their “stock-trendy colors” and recommend them. I’m hoping that the “grey-trend” will end in 2020 (it started in 2010, at least on the US “coasts” which are quick to embrace the latest trend), having outlived it’s 10 year “run”.

    At any rate to each his own. I found the post interesting from the perspective of how light influences colors – even grey. I’ve learned a lot about color undertones and light from this blog (thanks Kylie!) and can’t wait to pick out colors in my new place.

    1. Post
      Author

      Oh Joyce, you know, you aren’t the only one! I’ve had a lot of demand lately for the warmer end of things and I think things are slowly swinging around. I don’t know that we’ll hit full-blown beige anytime soon (with regard to neutrals), but things they are a changin’!
      ~Kylie

  8. We recently used Gray Owl for a client/friend (I helped raise him, now I get to help him decorate as we’ve both moved to another state – how fun!). Gray Owl definitely went greener, which works as he has a green leather sectional and a green-grey brick fireplace. However, it got darker than we wanted in the areas that don’t have a lot of natural light.

  9. Hi Kylie! I a recently discovered your blog, and I love it! After four years in our home, we are finally getting around to redoing our laundry/mudroom. Hooray! My husband is doing all the work–all I have to do is pick the paint color. We chose pretty gray cabinets (to replace the old brown ones) and the floor is a lovely whitish gray faux-wood. Washer and dryer are white. It’s a north-facing room with a ton of sunlight from the one big window. I wanted to do a blue (my favorite color, and yet I have no blue paint anywhere in our house), but we worried about going too dark. So we finally chose Stonington Gray, based on some of your reviews. While I love the color, I think it’s too similar to the cabinet color. So should we go light, like maybe Silver Satin or an off-white (which seems boring to me) or pick a different color altogether? We put up some Revere Pewter (along with Gray Owl and several other blue/grays) but I’m just not sure with the gray cabinets. Any thoughts? Thank you!!

    1. Post
      Author
  10. Hi Kylie,
    Love your posts as you provide so much information. What is the difference between SW knitting needles and SW Silverplate? I painted my bedroom SW tinsmith but it turned out baby blue, so I’m looking for a colour that looks more gray.

    1. Post
      Author

      Oooo good question as there’s a big difference! Well, in my eyes anyway ;). Silverplate is a soft stormy gray that can grab a blue (or sometimes blue-green) undertone – but it is SOFTER AND MORE MUTED than the blue found in
      Tinsmith for sure.
      Knitting Needles is also that bit stormy (not icy cold) but leans into a soft PURPLE undertone. Of the 3, I would say Silverplate would SEEM the most neutral, although all grays have some undertones – it’s just about picking the ones that suit your room the best!

  11. Thank you for sharing your tips! Can you please tell me the colour of the walls in the photo of the white kitchen with wicker counter stools please? The photo just above your video. Thank you.

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