Current Color Trends — Fifty Shades of Gray

Fifty Shades of Gray, oh my! Are you thinking of updating your home? Gray walls are everywhere now. If it’s time to change your walls — beige, cafe au lait, pale mocha, bone — the favorite neutrals for the past decadetoday’s new favorite colors are gray-based neutrals. Okay, you ask, isn’t gray just black and white mixed together? Well, yes and no.

Know Your Undertones

Paint companies offer more than 50 different shades of gray, so before choosing a new color-scheme for your home, you need to know how grays can work with other colors. We’ve all put a gray top and gray slacks and realized that they clashed. 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 a 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. Who knew?

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 big box DIY stores now give homeowners access to designer color pallets without paying designer consulting fees. Being able to buy any shade you want does not mean you are buying the right one for your home. 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.

  1. Select from several paint brands, types (eggshell, semi-gloss), and designer offerings. Do not just select colors from brands in your “price range.” Almost all paint stores can color match custom colors.
  2. Hold the various paint swatches next to woodwork, upholstery, brick or stone, carpeting and other furnishings to narrow down your choices.
  3. When you have three or four choices, have your paint store mix a sample. You can purchase an eight ounce sample of the color but not necessarily of the type of paint.
  4. Grab a roll of butcher paper, or buy special sheets that allow you to stick on the wall, then paint large swaths of color on separate sheets.
  5. Tape these paint samples 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Be sure to place colors near your carpet, woodwork, stonework, trim and windows.
  8. Live with these color samples for a while and you’ll soon decide which one is “the one”.

Be patient with the process. Selecting the right color—one that works in daylight and lamplight, sunshine and overcast—might take time. Getting in a hurry might end up making you repaint if you realize your color scheme depresses you in the early morning light. But over all, paint is pretty inexpensive to change. If you’re not quite sure the color is right even after using large samples, paint one wall, or a good portion of one wall and live with it that way. After a few weeks you’ll know if your undertone should be warmed up or changed. Making the change then is much easier and much less cost than painting the room and hating it.


Moving? Know the value of your home …