4 Tips for Choosing a Gray Paint Color (& 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. And since I’m feeling so darn good, it’s a good time to do some deep-diving into the world of gray.
Other than white, gray is hands-down, one of the HARDEST paint colors to choose (to which many of you might say that ANY paint colour is hard to choose), but seriously, gray is a bugger.
Why is gray such a pita (pain in the…)? Because it’s a chameleon, and no matter WHICH gray you choose, it will shift itself on a wall-to-wall basis. That’s right, JUST when you think you’ve landed on THE gray of your dreams, it goes and changes colour.
So, without further ado, let’s get this color party started…
4 TIPS FOR CHOOSING YOUR BEST SHADE OF GRAY
If you want to embark into the wild world of grays, these five tips should get you well on your way. If you’re stuck, I have a great Online Paint Color Consulting service (it’s also super fun).
1. KNOW YOUR ROOM’S BEST & WORST UNDERTONES
Gray will have undertones of either blue, green, or purple. You might not want ANY undertones. Or maybe you like one or two of them, but not the others.
Well, guess what, Buttercup? What your room needs is MORE IMPORTANT than what you need. Or, you can prioritize your own tastes and potentially have a clashing hot mess of a space – you do you, boo.
Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter with granite countertops
However, while SOME GRAYS commit pretty hard to one particular undertone, many grays will flex their color muscles depending on the following:
- Time of day (position of the sun).
- Your room’s exposure.
- The temperature of your light bulbs.
- Exterior factors, i.e., 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 colors are blended together to create it).
- Your PERCEPTION. While the colour itself is NOT subjective (it is what it is), how it’s PERCEIVED can vary from person to person!
Benjamin Moore Shoreline is a great example of a gray that CAN’T decide which undertones it wants to flash – purple, blue, green; it’s happy to show you ALL of them. It’s a GREAT example of gray and it’s (ahem) ‘flexibility’ (said slowly and painfully using air quotes).
You might even think those walls are three different colors, but they’re ALL Shoreline!
Sherwin Williams Repose Gray is equally as unpredictable, as shown in this foyer…
However, MANY grays are similar to Shoreline and Repose Gray in that their surrounding environment easily influences them.
But here’s the trick…
The more COMMITTED a color is to its undertone, the LESS LIKELY it is to grab the others. So, if you purposefully want to avoid blue or green, find a gray that commits to violet.
A gray like Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist COMMITS to violet.
If you DESPISE violet undertones, choose a gray that heavily favors blue and green. Not that they won’t EVER flash the other undertone given the right circumstance, but they’re WAAAY less likely to, due to their particular undertone commitment.
Do your research and sample a range of grays. See which undertones coordinate with your bossiest finishes (i.e., countertop, tile, fireplace stone, etc…). And while you’ll want to consider your room’s exposure and your personal tastes as well, you should prioritize what your SPACE needs.
2. BE PATIENT WITH YOUR GRAY SAMPLES
You’ll be greatly disappointed if you expect your gray to look the same on every wall. IT WILL CHANGE AND IT WILL HAVE UNDERTONES. I promise. As shown in the previous examples, gray will flex itself more than a 10-year-old gymnast, not just from home to home, but from WALL TO WALL!
Once we accept a paint color’s limitations and tendencies, we can let go of things a bit and breathe a little easier.
Sample and compare a minimum of three shades of gray. Move them to different walls at different times of the day (always place your samples next to either trim, tile, stone, etc… never just floating in the middle of the wall). The key is to find a gray that you ‘generally like on every wall, at least 75% of the time’ while trying to avoid the specific undertones that you don’t like.
Benjamin Moore Coventry Gray
3. DECIDE HOW LIGHT OR DARK YOU WANT YOUR WALLS TO BE
Whether you love a light, fresh gray or a dark, moody one, your room will also have its preferences based on its existing finishes. The great thing is that unlike undertones, which need to cater HARD to your interior finishes, your personal tastes can also play a big part in your final choice.
Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray
But before you dive in, you might want to learn about LRV. LRV stands for Light Reflectance Value. Every paint color has an LRV number on a scale of 0-100, with 0 being black and 100 being white.
Once you know the LRV range you want, finding colors within that range will be much easier!
Aside from each paint color’s LRV number, here are some other considerations…
- Consider a darker shade of gray if you want your room to be cozy and intimate.
- Light grays are great for a bright, modern approach. They’re also the ideal depth for ‘multi-room’ gray applications (where multiple rooms are painted the same color).
- Cool, north-facing rooms usually suit a WARM GRAY over a cool gray.
- Warm, south-facing rooms or those with western afternoon light, often benefit from a cool gray, but can also handle warm ones.
Just keep in mind, based on current trends, gray is going OUT, and warm colors are IN. If you aren’t worried about trends, hit gray as hard as you want. However, if trends or RESALE are in your mind, you might want to paint gray in moderation or consider something warmer.
4. SAMPLE YOUR GRAY THE RIGHT WAY
Of the colors you’ve already explored, you might have already FOUND your room’s perfect shade of gray – you just discarded it because you didn’t sample it the RIGHT WAY!
- Your existing paint color WILL skew your perception of your new samples – you must separate old and new with white paper/posterboard between them.
- You need LARGE SAMPLES and should never rely on the small paper chips from the paint store.
- NEVER pick a sample based on how it looks at the paint store – look at it in your home.
- Don’t just hang your sample in the middle of the wall and expect it to look perfect. Place it next to trim, backsplash, stone, etc… to see how it relates to its surrounding finishes.
In fact, read this… How to Sample Paint Colors the RIGHT WAY
THE TOP 10 SHADE OF GRAY TO GET YOU STARTED…
Which gray paint color is the most popular can depend on which DEPTH you’re looking for and what you’re painting – walls, cabinets, or exteriors. However, these ten colors should get you started…
- Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
- Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter
- Benjamin Moore Classic Gray
- Benjamin Moore Balboa Mist
- Benjamin Moore Gray Owl
- Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray
- Sherwin Williams Light French Gray
- Sherwin Williams Mindful Gray
- Benjamin Moore Silver Satin
- Benjamin Moore Collingwood
Check out my E-design & Online Paint Color Consulting packages!
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2018, AWESOMELY UPDATED FOR YOU IN 2023