THE MOST POPULAR TRUE GRAYS (Benjamin and Sherwin)
If you’ve been looking for the most NEUTRAL gray paint color with NO UNDERTONES, you’re going to be looking for a looooong time.
Why? Because EVERY gray paint color has undertones. However, that’s not to say there aren’t grays that are MORE NEUTRAL than others, which is why today, we’re taking a close look at some of the more popular, relatively NEUTRAL gray paint colors from Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams.
BUT FIRST…we need to have a chat with our big girl undies on and two boxes – one full of wine and one full of Kleenex for all those tears you’re gonna cry.
As I mentioned above, every gray will have undertones and in fact, I have an entire blog post dedicated to this topic. But, on top of that, there are OTHER BIG ISSUES at play when trying to find the best gray paint color for you and your home.
GRAY PAINT COLORS ARE SUBJECT TO PERCEPTION & PERSONAL OPINION
If a gray paint color has a blue undertone it DOES, if it has a green or purple undertone it DOES, but that doesn’t mean you SEE IT THAT WAY or that it will look that way in your room to YOU.
A lot depends on how you actually see color, which can be skewed by any number of things, including…
- Degrees of color blindness (of which there are many and is more common in men than women)
- PERSONAL biases toward one undertone or another. I’ve had clients tell me they see green in EVERYTHING as they are sensitive to it, even when there isn’t any green to be found!
- Your idea of what a ‘neutral gray with no undertones’ looks like. Again, some people see gray-purples as neutral, others see gray-blues as the most neutral (fewer people see gray-greens as true grays though)
- What you choose to partner your gray paint color with. A gray that COULD’VE looked neutral to you, might look blue if you put it with a warmer tone. A gray that could’ve been YOUR BEST true gray, could look green if you partner it with a gray with a purple undertone. There are MANY scenarios where your PERCEPTION can be altered
How do I know this? Well, in my Online Color Consulting, clients send me inspiration photos or written info showing me the ‘true gray look’ they want on their walls. Some will send me photos of Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray or Collingwood. Others will send photos of Sherwin Williams Repose Gray or Light French Gray as to THEM, they look like true grays.
But they aren’t. Do we need a drink break? Silly question, OF COURSE WE DO.
GRAY PAINT COLORS CAN SHIFT DRASTICALLY DEPENDING ON THEIR ENVIRONMENT
That’s right, even THE MOST NEUTRAL gray paint color WILL change on a room-to-room basis depending on the exposure of that room, the amount and QUALITY of light coming in, the light bulbs, the surrounding hard surfaces and even the soft furnishings. Again, the COLOR ITSELF WON’T CHANGE (it is what it is), but how it looks on your wall and your perception of it will.
For example, if you have…
- North-facing light. Grays can lean HARDER into their cool base, picking up more undertone. And because north-facing light is a gray-blue light, many gray paint colors can flex into that unintentionally
- South-facing or warm afternoon western-light. Some grays can look softer and warmer and not so ‘legit gray’ or cool as they might in another room
- A countertop that has, say, purple undertones and you partner it with a gray that DOESN’T HAVE purple undertones but a very vague green instead (but looks gray to you), the green undertone could be ENHANCED due to the fact that opposites can bounce off each other and make each other stronger. So, what LOOKED like a neutral gray, could turn out to have an undertone you didn’t expect, simply because it was given the wrong partner (Tim feels this way all the time – definitely unexpected)
- Beige toned carpet, tiles or furniture. If you have these warmer tones and partner them with what LOOKS like a darned neutral gray, the warm undertones of your beige could GLORIFY the cool undertone that’s in the gray paint color, making it look stronger and LESS neutral
Look at how the UNDERTONE of this gray paint color changes from left to right, going from slightly blue, to warmer and slightly green
And one of my more IMPORTANT POINTS (even though ALL of my points are important #jokingnotjoking), which is actually a question I get ALL the time in my Virtual Paint Color Consulting…
WHY DOES MY PAINT COLOR LOOK GREEN IN MY ROOM?
This happens to even the BEST neutral paint colors, everything from gray and greige to beige, cream and white – they can ALL (quite easily) pick up an unintended green undertone given the right environment.
In this next photo, you’re looking at Benjamin Moore Collingwood which is a warm gray paint color that actually COMMITS to a purple undertone (whereas some are more flexible), yet it looks greenish…
Let’s look at Collingwood in another room that shows it more true to form…
In this next photo, we have Benjamin Moore Classic Gray looking like it has a wee touch o’ the Irish…
And now looking more like its usual self…
THERE ARE THREE VERY GOOD REASONS WHY YOUR PAINT COLOR MAY BE FLASHING GREEN ON YOUR WALLS
1. The windows have a tint, glaze or reflective barrier on them which has a subtle green cast
2. There’s a lot of grass, trees or landscaping outside the window, which are OFTEN combined with south or west-facing afternoon sunshine. These sun rays can SO EASILY grab that green and reflect it on the walls. DAMN THAT SUN! Says me, who begs for it on the cloudy West Coast of Canada
3. You chose a gray paint color with a particular blue or blue-green undertone that’s reacting with your warm-toned light bulbs or that golden south-facing western light shining through your windows, turning the walls a slight shade of green
4. Kermit the Frog is outside the window mooning you. I did say three GOOD reasons…
Here’s Benjamin Moore Gray Owl looking a touch green…
And now, looking considerably grayer and bluer…
When this happens, you end up in a tricky spot as to counteract and balance that green reflection on your walls, you’ll want to focus on the warmer end of things, using colors with orange, red (pink) and sometimes even purple undertones (which works GREAT if you want colors in the warm range). However, for those wanting a cooler approach, once the sun goes down (not Elton John style), you’re left with a color that’s FAR from your perfect neutral gray.
Sometimes we just can’t get what we want and have to find a happy medium OR accept what is (insert meditation and deep breathing exercises here). Short of that, board up the windows and call it a day (you can also try daylight bulbs with slightly higher kelvins, although personally, I find them a bit bright and harsh for many homes).
So, let’s dive in and see what I’ve got. These are colors I know are relatively neutral, but have also resonated with my Online Color Consulting clients who are looking for that EVER-ELUSIVE perfectly true gray.
All of these grays have undertones that WILL SHIFT based on your perception and their environment – but these are your best shot at getting a true gray paint color.
In order of lightest to darkest…
BENJAMIN MOORE GRAY OWL OC-52 / 2137-60
- LRV 65.77
- UNDERTONES: Gray Owl has a green-blue undertone
Benjamin Moore Gray Owl is DEFINITELY one of the top gray paint colors. And while you wouldn’t know to LOOK at it, in some circles it’s considered a slightly warm gray. However, it does favor cool undertones, specifically blue and green and can swing WILDLY between them (although they are passive, I’m just being anal).
Kylie M YOUTUBE Paint Color Review of Benjamin Moore Gray Owl (new updated version coming soon)
SHERWIN WILLIAMS BIG CHILL SW 6848
- LRV 62
- UNDERTONES: Big Chill has a blue undertone
Sherwin Williams Big Chill is my FAVE light neutral gray. Its blue undertone is PASSIVE and while in certain lights/situations it can lean that wink blue-green or blue-purple (it’s not fussy), it’s generally a pretty fab looking neutral gray.
Just look at how it changes with the lights on/off…lights on, lights off. Lights on…lights off. Wasn’t that a Muppets sketch? Anyway.
SHERWIN WILLIAMS ON THE ROCKS SW 7671
- LRV 62
- UNDERTONES: On the Rocks has a purple undertone
Ooooo, On the Rocks gives Big Chill a good run for its money! And while it CAN pick up any of the cool undertones, it tends to favour a vague purple.
In this next photo, On the Rocks was a GREAT choice as it connected with the undertones in the toss cushions, ottoman and flooring. Had we gone with a GREEN or blue undertone, it would’ve been hell on toast.
BENJAMIN MOORE CLIFFSIDE GRAY PM-5 / HC-180
- LRV: 61.34
- UNDERTONES: Cliffside Gray has a blue-green undertone
Now, because I only use photos from my E-Design clients, with the goal of showing you RELATEABLE, REAL HOMES, I don’t always have photos of the colors I want to share with you. Sometimes the photos that come in just aren’t clear enough to use! But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some GREAT information, which is the case with Cliffside Gray.
I’m surprised Cliffside Gray isn’t talked about more and I think it’s more about its placement in the fan deck, rather than lack of popularity. Cliffside Gray is VERY SIMILAR to Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray (coming up next). The difference is that Cliffside has more green mixed with its blue undertone, making it just a TOUCH muddier.
Let’s take a quick break to talk about paint samples…
Undoubtedly, you’ll be heading out in the near future to grab paint samples – stop right there! I want you to check out SAMPLIZE. Samplize offers peel and stick paint samples that are more AFFORDABLE, EASIER and more ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY than traditional paint pots. Here are just a FEW reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients…
- Samples arrive ON YOUR DOORSTEP in 1-3 business days, depending on location
- At $6.99, they’re more affordable than the samples pots/rollers/foam boards that are needing for traditional paint sampling
- If you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room
Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE
BENJAMIN MOORE STONINGTON GRAY HC-170
- LRV: 59.75
- UNDERTONES: Stonington Gray has a blue undertone (slightly blue-green at times)
Stonington Gray is wicked beautiful and seems to be THE gray that MOST people find to be pretty darned neutral…but as we know, it’s not.
SHERWIN WILLIAMS TINSMITH SW 7657
- LRV: 57
- UNDERTONES: Tinsmith has a blue undertone
Tinsmith is lovely and cool with its subtle blue undertone. In this next example, you’ll see how a warm cream color (the headboard) can enhance the undertones of a paint color more than normal, whereas a cleaner white could help them fall back…
Click on the above image or HERE to see available color packages!
SHERWIN WILLIAMS LIGHT FRENCH GRAY SW 0055
- LRV: 53
- UNDERTONES: Light French Gray has a slight purple undertone
Oh, I DO love Light French Gray. And while the lighter grays are definitely more popular, for those wanting a bit more depth and body on their walls, Light French Gray can be a STUNNING choice. It does favor a vague purple undertone. If you have north-facing light, you may see it swing a weee bit into a purple-blue undertone, whereas in south-facing or western light, it softens up REALLY nicely.
BENJAMIN MOORE PLATINUM GRAY PM-7 / HC-179
- LRV: 38.79
- UNDERTONES: Platinum Gray has a very vague green undertone
Platinum Gray is pretty friggin’ fantastic. It is a soft, medium depth gray with a very MINOR green undertone. Now, in the above photo, the carpet looks like its purple-toned, right? It’s not, it’s just the photo as the carpet has a LEGIT green undertone (it’s my own home).
BENJAMIN MOORE CHELSEA GRAY HC-168
- LRV: 22.16
- UNDERTONES: Chelsea Gray has a minor green undertone
Chelsea Gray has to be one of the most FAMILIAR names in the darker gray paint world. It’s been kickin’ it for quite some time simply because it’s SO friggin’ versatile! Whether it’s for kitchen cabinets and islands, bathroom vanities, accent walls, WHOLE ROOMS, exteriors or doors, Chelsea Gray seems to have it covered!
SHERWIN WILLIAMS CLASSIC FRENCH GRAY SW 0077
- LRV: 24
- UNDERTONES: Classic French Gray has a SUPER minor green undertone
Classic French Gray is an awesome option for exteriors, feature walls, kitchen cabinets and more, it’s all about making sure you like how it settles on your home re: its undertones and how they relate to the environment they’re in.
In this next example, Classic French Gray is the sample on the bottom right. Now, you could look at ANY OF THOSE GRAYS independent of each other on a white background and they could all look pretty darned gray, however, it’s often through COMPARISON that we see their true colors (pun intended).
BENJAMIN MOORE KENDALL CHARCOAL HC-166
- LRV: 12.96
- UNDERTONES: Kendall Charcoal has a tiny wink of green undertone hiding inside it. Think of the wee dude in Lucky Charms, like THAT tiny (not that GREEN though)
Popular Grays that get listed as being REAL GRAYS (that ARE gorgeous) but don’t make the cut
- Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter – warm gray with green undertones
- Benjamin Moore Classic Gray – warm gray with purple undertones
- Benjamin Moore Collingwood – warm gray with purple undertones
- Sherwin Williams Passive – a whole WHACK of cool undertones in this bad boy
- Sherwin Williams Repose Gray – its undertones swing WAY too much for me, although at times it can LOOK gray
- Sherwin Williams Dovetail – it has a lovely warmth and while its undertones are passive, it’s the warmth that throws it for me
Check out my Online Paint Color Consulting packages