Finding a paint color you will love can create enough stress to make a person want just to give up and stay with your builder beige. How can a picture look so fantastic that you simply MUST have it too? Only to discover the perfect color is awful once on the walls? Please tell me I’m not alone in this nonsense.
The perfect paint colors are typically neutral. There are exceptions and we’ll get to those later. In the meantime let’s talk neutrals. Neutrals do not mean boring beige, white or gray. By definition neutral is defined as a way to avoid conflict, disagreement, and void of overpowering characteristics. The overall goal of wall paint is to play nice with ALL the other pieces in the room and serve as a backdrop.
I want wall color to work with new items brought into the room such as pillows, throw blankets, rugs and seasonal decor …especially seasonal decor. The paint colors below are lovely neutrals and will work well in most homes and decor styles. Finding the right one, however, is key. You can see that each color has slight variances, but nothing screams a distinct color palette.
Paint delivers additional durability by withstanding the daily-
mess ness of a home. Perhaps it’s just my crew that INSISTS on touching the wall when they walk downstairs. The finish of paint is a personal preference. Some designers prefer a flat paint, but I’m not one of them.
While building our home, we lived in a rental for six months. The walls were flat builder beige. BORING. The walls were so boring that my youngest son was aware of how awful walls were. Nope, not even kidding.
When washing a mark off the wall (remember I have wall touchers!), some of the paint would come off. Neat! Obviously, that was some seriously cruddy paint! I prefer a slight sheen with durability (note: this post is referring to WALL paint, not paint for trim, cabinets, exteriors, ceilings, etc.).
Remember this bit o’info: the more sheen a paint has, the more wall imperfections you will see. Did you ever wonder why ceiling paint is flat? If it were glossy the likelihood of seeing drywall imperfections would be greater. My personal preference is eggshell finish for walls. It is relatively flat but also durable.
Ok, we’ve determined that paint must be durable and play nice, NOW…where do we find the perfect color?
Where do you find your inspiration for a room? It can be pictures, a photo, fabric, rug, etc. An inspiration piece is a great jumping off point for paint color. When consulting with clients, my recommendation is to paint color last. Yes, even when looking at a neutral color, try to save the paint for last. It is easier to chose color based on your decor pieces than choosing decor to match your walls.
A friend of mine is redoing her kitchen. It’s a substantial task they are taking on. She wants a little color but wants the color to be relatively neutral. We determined the components of the room that were staying: the granite countertops and wood floors. With these elements in mind, we looked for the “inspiration” that would work with (not against) the items that are not changing.
During a trip to Italy, she purchased three beautiful paintings from a local artist. The pictures serve as the inspiration for this room. The paint and fabric for the window valance all compliment these original works of art. The fabric chosen for the window valance has similar colors as the paintings. Because the paintings and fabric have bold colors, we decided to go with SW Svelt Sage. It is decidedly green but neutral in tone and serves as a backdrop with the UbaTuba granite and hickory floors.
What are the fixed elements you ask? Well, those are the items that will stick around and the paint tone should compliment. Elements such as furniture, stone, countertops, cabinets, flooring, etc. could be considered fixed, not changing any time soon. In my post about updating our great room, I talked about this topic.
The approach worked well when painting our kitchen: I examined the undertone of our cabinets, backsplash, and granite. Our kitchen lacks some natural light. One objective was getting the walls light and bright. Paint has a light reflective value that helps when determining if a room will appear brighter, even without the lights turned on.
The natural undertones in my kitchen are warm (versus cool). When we built, we missed the popularity of gray by 12 months! Sherwin Williams Accessible Beige works great in this room. It is a light greige color and works lovely with the unchangeables of my kitchen.
Another element that is often unchangeable is the amount of light in a room. It’s impossible for me to change my northern light exposure in my kitchen to southern exposure. DANG IT! I would totally love that capability, though! I kept natural light exposure in mind when choosing the depth of paint color.
The word ‘undertone’ all over the place on decorating websites but how do you find it? Locating a paints undertone isn’t overly complicated and knowing the undertone will likely save future painting mistakes. Most of the neutral colors below, look relatively interchangeable. Nothing is jarring or appears remarkably different.
To find the exact undertone, though, we need the color swatch with all the different shades shown. Look at the darkest shade and that is where we see undertone. The darkest shade will quickly reveal the undertone of lighter colors. Easy. Breezy.
Take a look at the colors below. They are the darkest of the colors above. When we look at the darkest swatch, we can see Accessible Beige has a brown undertone, Popular Gray has a red undertone, and Repose Gray has a black undertone. If someone is looking for a true gray, I say Repose is a solid bet.
Color vs. Neutral
Neutrals need to work with a variety of colors. Think of seasonal colors such as a summer blue and a fall blue. Each eludes a different feeling right? Summer is more light and breezy whereas the fall creates a warm and cozy feel. With the ideal undertones in mind (warm = warm, cool = cool) a neutral paint color with the same warm and cool undertones will work. I’ll use my bedroom as an example.
We painted the walls Sherwin Williams Oyster Bay. Hands down my favorite color. In the summer, I want light, bright, breezy. In Wisconsin, fall is perfection and the season where we bust out the warm, cozy colors and textures.
Oyster Bay is a fabulous neutral in either season. It goes with whites, greens, blues, beiges, greiges, gray, orange and red. That’s quite the plethora of colors, right? During the summer months, I like to go light with the bedding but this fall/winter, I want to bring in red or rust. With the warm neutral undertone of winter colors and the warm undertone of Oyster Bay, I can easily accomplish my vision. The duvet on the left is Charlie Paisley in Red from Pottery Barn and the duvet on the right is Jessie, also found at Pottery Barn.
When a pop of color is the heart’s desire, try it on an accent wall. Be forewarned: bright individual colors can limit design options. That’s completely ok because it is YOUR home and nobody else’s. If a red wall makes you happy, go nuts and paint it red. I’d still strongly recommend, keeping the undertones consistent throughout the house.
Summary of Key Elements
- Neutral doesn’t have to mean boring. Neutrals are the backdrop to everything else.
- Look at items that won’t change in the room: work with those colors, not against them.
- Study the darkest color on the paint chip: this is where the undertone hides.
- Color can be neutral. Regardless of neutral or bright colors, keep the undertone consistent in the room and throughout the house.
- Pick you paint LAST.
Hopefully, these tips are beneficial in selecting paint colors. These are the exact strategies I use when picking out paint in our home. It’s been a while since I’ve made a big mistake so this is what works for me. If you have other strategies you’ve used, please share those.
Are there any strategies you prefer when picking out paint? Or have you ever had a paint color disaster or a happy accident? I’d love to hear your story.