You know you’re a design junkie when someone talks about “fifty shades of grey”, and you immediately hope they’re talking about paint colours… I hear ya!!
Over the past few years, grey has become the new neutral of choice in place of beige. There are so many variations of grey that this sexy neutral has gone from dull and lifeless to a colour that many choose to use throughout their homes in one cohesive palette.
But if you’ve been on the hunt for your perfect griege, you’ll no doubt realise there are very few true greys, and it’s perhaps one of the trickiest paint colours to get right.
Compare grey paint swatches side by side, and you’ll find that the longer you look at them, the more it will appear that some aren’t even grey! They can look blue, yellow, brown or even greenish.
There’s a reason for this. Every paint colour is a combination of colours together. The first colour your eye sees is the mass tone. It’s the dominant colour that entices you to rush over to Valspar’s giant wall of colour in the first place.
Every colour also has an undertone. The undertone is a hint of colour that enhances the mass tone.
There are cool undertones and warm undertones. Cool undertones are blues, greens and purples. Warm undertones are yellows, oranges and reds. Cool undertones will make your grey paint a cool grey, while warm undertones will make your grey paint a warm grey.
The Shades of Grey // Valspar
Here’s a little look at Valspar’s curated shade of grey collection….. Together it’s easy to see that all these shades of grey have undertones. When looking at colours in isolation, it gets a little harder to find the undertone. But we’ve got some tips to help you avoid any decorating disasters.
Finding The Undertone…
Stand in front of the paint card swatches at your local showroom. Or better yet, get yourself a fan deck from Valspar or Dulux.
Select a colour card where a particular grey shade catches your eye. Choose a card with a range of grey colours on it (not the individual colour swatch, but the one with 5-6 shades). If you’re struggling to find the old-style linear charts, hunt down a Little Greene Grey Collection card.
When you’re looking at the lighter shades, seeing the blues/green etc, undertones isn’t as easy. But it’s much easier to tell from the darker shades, so head to the deepest shade, and you’ll immediately see the undertones.
For example, do any of the shades of grey on the card seem to have a blue appearance? If so, all the greys on the card have a cool undertone.
If no other dominant colour grabs your attention on the card you are holding, check the next set of colour cards in the same column on the wall of colours. Specific colours should start to jump out at you.
These are the undertones of that particular batch of greys. While you may not notice any strong undertones in the paint store, when painted on a whole wall, undertones will be a lot more visible, especially when natural and artificial light affects them.
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But this is just the start, to get the perfect greige for the walls of your home, we need to dig a little deeper…
Painting Walls Grey + Getting It Right…
Colours are affected by light (both natural light and artificial light). Artificial light also has warm or cool attributes. Warm light has a yellow glow, whereas cool light is described as blue. When choosing paint colours for your home, it’s important to consider the light in the space.
Natural light can affect a room and change the look and feel throughout the day. Colours you think look fabulous during the day will change how a room looks and feels at night.
Rather than get into the many ways a colour will change based on daylight, artificial light and the orientation of a room, here are some handy tips to show you how to pick grey paint colours that work in your home:
LOOK FOR COLOUR SWATCHES WITH MULTIPLE SHADES
If possible, ditch the single-shade colour cards and grab a bunch of colour swatches that feature multiple shades of grey on one swatch. If the brand or manufacturer you are dealing with only has single cards, bring a mix of single-colour grey paint cards home and lay them side by side.
When you do, you may notice colour tones that pop out at you, indicating the undertone. Never look at the individual cards in isolation, as you need to compare them side by side with other greys.
PICK UP A WIDE SELECTION OF PAINT SWATCHES BEFORE MAKING A CHOICE
If you’ve pinned favourite greys on Pinterest or written down a grey shade that a friend or design blogger used and loved in their home, pick up the swatch.
CHOOSE BOTH WARM AND COOL SWATCHES
Pick up colour swatches on both ends of the “shades of grey” spectrum. If we’re going to do it, might as well do it properly. You may think you want a cool grey but once you get it home and see it in your room, you may have a change of heart.
DO YOUR COLOUR SELECTION AT HOME IN THE ROOM BEING PAINTED
As light affects a paint colour, it’s important that you look at your colour swatches in the room that you are going to be painting. Never select a colour at the store. Most stores use fluorescent lighting and the paint swatches are affected by the light surrounding them.
LOOK AT THE SWATCHES IN THE DAYTIME AND AGAIN AT NIGHT
Once you have your swatches in your room, look at them with natural light coming in through the window during the day. You can also turn the light on in the room just to see the effect of the artificial light on the colours during the day.
Make a note of the colours you feel you like best. Now go back at night and look at those same colours with the lights on in the room. Artificial light may change the way you perceive colour in daylight. Put a star on the swatches you like best under the artificial lighting. Now you can narrow down your choices by taking note of which shades have both the star and check mark on them. If it takes a while before a swatch has both, keep comparing. Pick up additional swatches and continue the process of looking at them in the daytime and at night.
COMPARE YOUR COLOURS TO OTHER ITEMS IN THE ROOM
If there are items in the room that are going to remain in the room once it is painted (linens, pillows, upholstered furniture, window treatments) compare your favourite colour swatches to these items to see if they complement each other. When painting a bathroom or kitchen, see how the colour swatches look next to floor or wall tiles, countertops and cabinets.
If you’re painting a living room, place the colour swatch up to the sofa, area rug or window treatments. If you have grey accents in the room you are painting, they don’t have to match, but you also want to ensure that they aren’t so opposite that they seem to clash.
BUY SAMPLE POTS TO EXPERIMENT WITH THE COLOURS ON LARGE DIY SWATCHES
Once you’ve narrowed your colour choices down to a few, purchase sample pots of these colours to see what they will look like in a larger area. Once you have your sample pots, pick up some white foam core or poster board and paint large squares of each colour, leaving a white border around each. Colour against a white background will give you the best representation. Do a few coats. Write the colour name beneath each swatch. Tape your paint swatches to the wall and look at them in the daylight and at night, as you did with the initial mini swatches.
At this point, there will likely be a grey colour that looks fabulous in the space.
PAITENCE IS A VIRTURE
While understanding how to pick grey paint colours may seem like a long, drawn-out process, hang in there! Patience and preparation are key to choosing a grey paint that will work well in your space and make you smile whenever you enter the room.
My Home Office
I’ve recently chosen my own perfect grey for my office at home.
I wanted a relaxing and calm space, so blue/greys would be a natural choice, but I had to work with the warmer tones of the flooring and fireplace, so I needed a slightly warmer grey that wouldn’t be too cold.
My final choice was Cornforth White by Farrow + Ball. A Mid-tone grey that’s neither too warm nor cool, easy and versatile. Cornforth White sits contentedly between Ammonite and Purbeck Stone to create a hushed and calming retreat. Click here to get 3 Cornforth White Colour palettes for you to consider. You can check out this post for inspiration from Cornforth White Farrow and Ball Colour Palette.
If you’d like a colour combination that works perfectly with grey click here for 10 Navy + Grey colour combinations
Finally, this guideline on choosing grey paint colours also applies to choosing ANY paint colour for your home. Every colour has undertones and is affected by natural and artificial light. It’s best to always compare swatches, purchase sample pots and experiment on large swatches first before making a paint colour decision.