Out with the old … beige, cafe au lait, pale mocha, bone … favorite neutrals for the past decade, may give way to more sophisticated gray-based neutrals. So you might ask, isn’t gray just black and white mixed? Well, yes and no.
Know Your Undertones
Paint makers offer more than 50 different shades of gray, so before choosing a new color-scheme for your home, you need to know how grays work with other colors. Have you every put a gray top with gray slacks only to see that they clash? That is because they had incompatible undertones. In color theory, an undertone is an additional color added to a base color to give it subtle shading. The cosmetics industry popularized a designer’s secret by offering warm and cool shades to match varying skin tones. In paint color science, undertones add coolness, warmth, edginess, calm and myriad other feelings. In the gray families, you will find blue-grays and red-grays, golden-grays and green-grays, and even purple and brown/beige grays.
Finding the Right Gray
Years ago, local paint shops were colorists. Designers might request three drops of green and two drops of black in their “white” paint to give it a pleasant not-quite-so-harsh-white “feel” even though to the naked eye it just looked white. Alternatively, color specialists would add one drop of blue with two drops of black to give a bluish tint to a pale gray wall. Many designers had their own special color mixes. The advent of big-box DIY stores gives homeowners access to designer color pallets without the designer consulting fees, but being able to buy any shade you want does not mean you are buying the right one for your needs. If you already own furnishings, artwork, carpeting and upholstery that you intend to keep, finding the right gray neutral is paramount to enjoying your decor.
- Select from several paint brands, types (eggshell, semi-gloss), and designer offerings. Do not just select colors from brands in your “price range.” Many paint stores offer to color match custom colors if necessary.
- Hold the various paint swatches next to woodwork, upholstery, brick or stone, carpeting and other furnishings to narrow down your choices.
- When you have three or four choices, have your paint store mix a sample (most stores will do an eight ounce sample for you).
- Grab a roll of butcher paper and paint large swaths of color on separate sheets.
- Tape the swaths to your walls, moving them around throughout the day so that you can see how light reflects off them. If you have LED lights, the colors will appear different from compact fluorescent lights or sunlight.
- Since incandescent light bulbs are phased out, now would be a good time to change out your bulbs so that your color choice will delight you for years to come.
- Be sure to place colors near your carpet, woodwork, stonework, trim and windows.
Be patient with the process. Selecting the right color—one that works in daylight and lamplight, sunshine and overcast—might take time. Getting paint in a hurry might end up costing you more when you find your color scheme depresses you in the early morning light.