Never get it wrong again…
You spend months knee deep in paint chips, obsessing about finding the perfect shade of paint for your living room. You finally make a decision and with childlike excitement you begin painting. We’ve all been there. The paint goes on the wall and . . . what? “Where did the blue, green, or purple come from? That is not what the paint chip looked like!” At last count, you had 43 swatches painted on your wall and you STILL didn’t get it right. Does this nightmare sound familiar?
The struggle is real…
You’re tired of spending every weekend making several trips to the paint store to purchase more samples. Your living room wall is beginning to resemble a spotted leopard, your head is starting to spin and you’re actually convincing yourself that your outdated, gold painted walls aren’t so bad.
Enter . . . the dreaded, annoying undertone. The undertone of a color is often not seen at first glance and takes a bit of effort to uncover. What you initially see is the color’s mass tone, but the undertone sneaks onto the scene like an uninvited house guest that is making themselves a little too comfortable!
How much and what type of light a room gets can have a big effect on the undertones that come out in a color. Whether the light comes from a lamp or a window, what at first glance may appear to be one color, can suddenly begin to look completely different.
Truth is, selecting a paint color is freakin’ hard…
For this post, I am going to refer to the color gray, which is front and center as the go-to neutral and I don’t see it going anywhere, anytime soon. It also, just so happens to be the color I get asked about most.
While some color trends are best left in the past (need I remind you of Avocado or Old-World Gold) Today’s neutrals are calming, livable and classic. I’ll focus on gray from here on out, but the tips for detecting undertones work for any color. Capisce?
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the ever-so-popular, “greige.” It blurs the line between gray and beige without really committing to either one. Hmmm . . . a perfect choice for those of us with commitment issues. It is extremely versatile and works with just about anything.
Here’s the thing…
Grays are tricky. They can have a warm (brown, yellow) or cool (blue, green, purple) undertone. Keep this in mind when making a selection. Do you have a lot of rich woods, reds and browns? You’ll probably want a warm gray. If white, blue and green are more your thing, a cooler gray is for you. The million-dollar question is, how do you find that undertone before you’ve invested money and more importantly your blood, sweat, and tears onto your walls? I’ve learned some tricks over the years and I’m going to share them with you. My secrets are your secrets. So, let’s talk paint!
Back to the million-dollar question…
- When selecting a paint color always look at the darkest shade on the paint strip or let-down strip. This is where the undertone is easiest to detect. If you see some blue, green, brown etc. in that color, chances are it will show up in your chosen color.
- Another trick is to NEVER look at colors in isolation. Gray, is gray, is gray, right? Well, if you have ever stepped foot in a paint store you know how wrong that is. Put numerous paint chips from the same color family next to each other. The undertones will become much more obvious when you see several next to each other.
- A picture is worth a thousand words or at least a gallon of paint! For those of you that have a tough time seeing undertones, snap a picture with your phone. Sometimes the undertone is easier to see in a picture.
- Lastly, I always, always tell my clients to buy some poster board. Purchase a paint sample and give the board 2 coats. Place the board on your wall and move it around to different walls as the sun exposure changes. Live with it for a few days. Pay close attention to any annoying undertones you may see. This will give you a good feel for how this color is going to behave in your room. Priceless!
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, will change your space more than a new paint color. It is the perfect place to start if updating your home is on your agenda. I love Sherwin Williams Paints! Here are a few of my favorite grays that I have consistently seen work. In other words, they are known winners and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Repose Gray #7015
Lovely and soft. A spec of a brown undertone may show its head, but not enough to make this color a member of the greige team.
Agreeable Gray #7029
A pale, warm gray with subtle taupe undertones. Perfect if you have lots of warm wood tones in your home. A real winner!
Big Chill #7648
One of my favorites! Slightly cool, but not at all cold. You may see a bit of blue in some lights, but you really need to look for it.
After more hours than I’d like to admit researching paint colors and my own experience, I’ve put together some awesome cheat-sheets for you. One describing how to detect undertones and another, that is my Top 10 List of gray and greige colors, complete with descriptions and undertones explained. Sign up on my homepage to get the complete list. Happy painting!
Arifur Rahman says
Thanks for your helpful article
Jenna McElwain says
Selecting a paint color is tricky. Glad you found the information helpful!
Teresa H. McCarthy says
Just discovered your articles and I’m now a fan! Thank you for your simple, yet meaningful explanations.
Jenna McElwain says
Teresa thank you so much for the wonderful compliment! I am thrilled that you find the information I share simple and meaningful. That’s my goal. I can never have enough fans!!
Sherri Kottwitz says
This is super helpful and I am signing up so that I can get the 10 colors!
Jenna McElwain says
That’s awesome Sherri. Thank you for reading my blog post!
Hi Jenna, please help. I’m trying to decide between big chill and on the rocks to paint my laundry room. There is no natural light In the room/no windows. I have the sapphire blue GE fresh vent washer and dryer. I’m trying to pick a color which will best complement the appliances
Thank you for your time
Jenna McElwain says
Well, you are already on the right track. Narrowing the endless options down to two! I can tell you that I have Big Chill in many areas of my home. While some find a bit of a blue undertone, that doesn’t show up at my house. I have not used On The Rocks before. If you put in your email address at the top of my website’s homepage, you will receive my top 10 list of gray paint colors along with a cheat-sheet for detecting undertones. I insist that my clients purchase samples and paint a large piece of posterboard. Move it around to different walls for several days. This will give you a good idea of how the color will behave in your room. This tip along with others are included in the cheat-sheet I referred to. Good luck!