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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Read more: Gray Owl vs Stonington Gray
Benjamin Moore Gray Owl: Gray that can go green OR blue
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)
Sherwin Williams Big Chill: Gray with a very soft blue undertone.
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)
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.
Not sure which gray is best for YOU and your room?
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