Choose the Perfect Shade of Gray

Paint is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to change the look and feel of a room. However, as easy as it may be to paint a room, I find choosing just the right color is often one of the most difficult decisions you may face as an avid do-it-yourselfer – and it’s one of the more important decisions I make for my clients.
 
Since there are so many paint colors available to consumers and not as many options available for fabric and furniture, paint color should be the last thing you pick out in a room.

Paint color should be the last thing you pick out in a room.

Whether you’re purchasing all new furniture for a new home or you’re tweaking the look of a space, this approach gives you the freedom to buy what you want and won’t tie you only to those options that go best with the paint color you first chose. This is important, especially considering how expensive furniture and fabrics can be.
 
It’s also important to determine your goals for the new paint color. Are you going for a subtle change which simply covers a less desirable shade of beige or brown? Or are you going for a dramatic change that will grab your attention? This month, we’re helping fellow contributor Jess Simpson pick a paint color for her bedroom that better complements the feminine and vintage style of her furniture and accessories.
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determine your goals for the new paint color.

Jess feels fairly set on the overall look and color palette and would like to pick a base that’s more updated than her current beige. She’s a stylish lady who loves design, and she’d like something flexible enough to stand up to minor changes in decor and accessories. A vibrant paint color will limit the room’s possibilities; however, since gray is a neutral, it’s the perfect color for her goals and will make a great backdrop for her colorful space.
 
There really are many more than 50 shades of gray (sorry, had to) to choose from. Gray also changes so much in the daylight, and drastically when paired with other colors. These reasons make it one of the most difficult colors to pick out, and we’re going to show you how to choose the perfect one.

1. A Lesson on Undertones

Pick up the “Essentials” pamphlet from Sherwin Williams; it lists a lot of their grays and blacks. We’re going to use this booklet in an exercise to learn what undertones are. I use Sherwin Williams because I love their grays and I really like the quality of their paint. I recommend this booklet because a lot of their grays are shown right next to each other, and this is the easiest and most visual way to explain undertones.

notice the difference in the shades… some seem blue or pink, others may look purple or green; this is an undertone.

 
Having a good sense of undertones will help you narrow down what shade of gray should be used. Open the booklet and notice the difference in the shades… some seem blue or pink, others may look purple or green; this is an undertone.
 
Only true gray results when white is mixed with black, so all of the shades you see here have had another color or two added to them.
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2. Decide what undertones you want your gray to have

If you have mostly cool tones in your room, you might prefer a gray with blue undertones such as “Gray Screen.” If you have warmer tones, a warm gray such as “Agreeable Gray” might work best.

Make sure to take flooring, brick and stone into consideration when choosing a paint’s undertone.

 
One way to help you decide which shade will look best in your space is by holding the Essentials booklet up against furniture, wood, etc. to see what works best together and is the most visually pleasing.
Make sure to take flooring, brick and stone into consideration when choosing a paint’s undertone. Every situation isn’t always perfect, so if your flooring doesn’t have the same undertones as your furniture and you don’t plan on buying new things, pick what you want the paint to go with the most or choose a happy medium between the two.

3. Decide how dark you’d like your room to be

How much natural light does your room have?
 
For rooms that don’t receive much natural light, I normally don’t go further down on the scale than color chip #3. This is a personal preference because I don’t like to use a lot of

Keep in mind that the darker a paint color you choose, the more artificial lighting you’ll need

artificial lighting. Keep in mind that the darker a paint color you choose, the more artificial lighting you’ll need and the higher the electricity bill will be!
 
For rooms filled with light, I tend to go with a #2. As the day progresses, the wall color will darken; it’s fun to watch that happen. I always pair #2 with white trim or a white ceiling so it has a contrast. Otherwise, the paint color you spent so much time picking out could end up looking white itself.
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4. Narrow down your choices

After figuring out what undertones you want the paint to have (blue, green or beige) and how dark you’d like the paint to be, narrow things down to three or four shades. Cut the color chips off of the Essentials booklet (make sure to write the name and the number on the back) and hold them up to your furniture, window treatments and flooring. I suggest you cut the chips off of the paper; seeing them next to each other against white paper will distort the true color and might confuse you. It confuses me! For this project, I chose Repose Gray, Agreeable Gray and Useful Gray because I liked how they worked with Jess’ bedding and carpet.
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5. Make larger samples

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, I suggest that you make larger samples on poster board because you won’t get an accurate reading of color from the little chips in the pamphlet. To do this, purchase a sheet of white poster board and have paint mixed in of each of the colors you chose at Sherwin Williams. I use the one-quart size for this.

Don’t paint samples directly onto the wall; it’s best to make paint samples on poster board

Cut the board into 1’x1’ squares, label the back and paint a few coats on the entire sheet…don’t leave any white on the edges. Don’t paint samples directly onto the wall; it’s best to make paint samples on poster board – seeing the colors all at one time can be confusing, and the poster board makes it really easy to see the colors behind furniture and in different parts of the room. There’s an added expense in purchasing a few paint samples (and waste), but it’s so much less expensive and wasteful than painting a whole room in a color you hate, which could result in a re-do. This way, you can try on the paint color in the room to see if it fits.
Bring the paint samples around the room to see how they work with the furnishings. I placed my first round of selections on the wall behind Jess’ artwork and bed because this is the main

Make sure to place samples in the corner of the door trim and baseboards

focus in the space. I narrowed down my selection to Repose Gray and Useful Gray because against the artwork, Agreeable Gray looked slightly purple. This brings me to another point: pay attention to what a color changes into when placed near another color. Does a gray paint color make your beige carpet turn pink? If it does, you should probably rule that one out.
 
Make sure to place samples in the corner of the door trim and baseboards; it’s the best place to see how they will work with flooring. During this step in our project, I ruled out Repose Gray because it brought out a lot of unwanted brown in the carpet, and Useful Gray complemented it best.

6. Confirm your decision

Look at the samples during different times of the day with all of the lights on and with them off. Move the samples around to different walls as well. All paint colors, including grays, drastically change in different types of lighting.
 
After going through these steps for Jess’ room, I left her with one swatch of Useful Gray and one swatch of Analytical Gray (one step darker) for her to test out so she can see which color she liked the most throughout the day and while she’s reading at night. Click through to the followup article “How to Paint a Room” to see which shade Jess chose and for tips on painting a room.
 


This article originally published in The Inaugural Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [June/July 2013].
Download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.


sarah-stacey-citygram-austinSarah Stacey

Interior Design Columnist
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Sarah Stacey is the lead designer at Sarah Stacey Interior Design — a design firm with a clean, playful, contemporary aesthetic that creates fun spaces for every member of the family.

Sarah has a true knack for craft – with an ability to incorporate unique, handmade elements into her designs.

Find more of her work at Sarah Stacey Design

Photography: Chris Perez