The Trick to Choosing the Right Paint Color + 12 Perfect Neutral Paint Colors

We’ve all been there.  We pick paint for our home only to find that once we get it on the wall it’s not what we had in mind. -Ugh! It is too green when we wanted grey, or too grey when we wanted tan.

Where did we go wrong?  Isn’t a neutral a neutral?

Not quite.

Most of the time when we are picking a neutral paint we are often picking a shade that is pretty light. We choose shades that are enough to give us some color on the wall, make our baseboards and moldings pop, and are a perfect backdrop for everything else we want to highlight in a room.  All of these things are good.

The problem is that when we are looking at these really light shades on the paint swatch, it is super difficult to tell what the undertones of the color are. Usually we don’t see it until it is all over our walls, we’ve already spent hours or paid someone to paint, and have to either start all over again, or live with it.  -Double Ugh!

In the first few homes I painted I made plenty of mistakes, but I learned some tricks along the way and (not to toot my own horn but) I haven’t made a color mistake in a very long time.  And word on the street is that many of you (my fabulous readers) are stumped when it comes to picking color for your homes.  In fact, recently I asked each one of you what your biggest struggles are when it comes to decorating your home, and I would say about 70% of you mentioned color. So I’m here to help!

The trick to choosing the right paint color for your home.

Over the next few weeks we are going to dive into color here on the blog starting today with 12 neutral paint colors that should help you narrow your search and take the plunge into getting some color up on your walls.  Keep in mind that regardless of the brand of paint you prefer, if you find a color in any brand, you can take it to the paint store and they can color match it for you using the brand you prefer. (Say whaaaaat?)

Ok let’s get to it!

First things first.  Neutral does not mean grey, white, or brown.  In home decor, neutral means light to medium colors that work nicely with other colors.  That means that most neutrals have different colored undertones like grey, blue, yellow, brown, and green.  This is why you have to be careful.  The last thing you want to choose if you dislike the color green is a neutral with a green undertone.  Undertones are sneaky, but I’ll explain how to see the undertone clearly in even the lightest shades.

That said, neutrals can be cool (have blue or green undertones) or they can be warm (have brown, red, orange, or yellow undertones.)  The first thing you will want to decided is if you want a cool or a warm neutral.  

I myself am a cool color person.  My entire house has blues and greys with very few warm colors.  So naturally when choosing a greige for my walls, I went with something with a lot of grey in it, but enough brown to give it some warmth. I guess you could call it a perfect greige. 🙂

But if say you decorate with a lot of red and wood tones, you would probably go in the direction of a warm neutral.

You with me?

So how do you know what the undertone of a color is when you are choosing a light shade of paint?  You always look at the darkest shade on the paint swatch.  It is where the color is the most obvious and it will tell you what undertones are going to show up, even in the lightest shades.

Let’s look at some examples.

how to choose the right neutral paint

Take your hand and cover the small color tiles at the bottom of the photo so you just see the 3 large color tiles.  They are all pretty similar.

If I asked you which one was the most true grey you could probably spot it pretty quickly right? (Passive Grey)  But if I asked you which one was the most green you wouldn’t be able to answer as quickly.

Now take your hand down and look at the tiles along the bottom.  This is similar to what you see on a color strip in a paint store.  The shades go from lightest to darkest.  So now, look at the darkest shades of each of the three colors above and tell me which one has the most green.  Aloof Gray right?  Repose Gray has the most brown in it, but also has black so it is a true greige and Passive Gray has a black base so it is a true cool grey.

Make sense?  Using the darkest color on the swatch will help you see the true base of the color!

But there are a ton.of.colors. out there and it can get overwhelming.  So I did some research using 2 popular brands and came up with these 12 neutral paint colors that will hopefully get you going in the right direction. This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure. 

Here are my top neutral paint colors

P.S. SW= Sherwin Williams and Behr Marq.= Behr Marquee found at Home Depot

best neutral paint colors from Sherwin Williams and Behr Marquee

You’ll notice that the top row are the neutrals with cool undertones of blue and grey.  The middle row are neutrals with warm undertones of brown and red, and the bottom row are cool neutrals with green undertones.

Essential Gray- Sherwin Williams  ||  Silver City- Behr Marquee  ||  Passive Gray– Sherwin Williams  ||  Gray Shimmer– Behr Marquee  ||  Park Avenue- Behr Marquee  ||  Requisite Gray- Sherwin Williams  || Repose Gray– Sherwin Williams  ||  Popular Gray– Sherwin Williams  ||  Sedate Gray– Sherwin Williams  ||  Aloof Gray– Sherwin Williams  ||  Silver Strand– Sherwin Williams  || Looking Glass- Behr Marquee


TIP: If you are painting a large open living space sometimes it is a good idea to choose a color and then paint one room one or two shades lighter or darker to give some contrast when looking into the room from another room!

best neutral paint colors

Hopefully this helps give you a starting point and the confidence to choose paint that you will love.





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About Corey

Corey is the creative behind Hey There, Home (formerly TinySidkeick,) where she shares easy-to-follow and beautiful home decor and entertaining ideas. Her mission? To make home decor accessible to everyone, even if you don't consider yourself crafty, and to empower people to decorate their homes in a way that they can actually be lived in, not just looked at.

80 thoughts on “The Trick to Choosing the Right Paint Color + 12 Perfect Neutral Paint Colors

  1. Jenni Langley says:

    I have an open plan living/dining/kitchen. My laundry is also open to the house. I’d love to paint it all, but it’ll take so much paint! Do you have any suggestions for choosing a color that goes with wood? I have tons of woodwork–cabinets, baseboards, door frames, crown moulding, and I have a wood dining table & chairs, and wood-look tile. The granite counters are a marbled black/creamy color. I have a blackish-brown sectional sofa. My outside doors are cream and the paint is a cream color. What I really love is aqua. I’d like to incorporate it in my home without it becoming overwhelming. I only have a couple aqua decorative items above the kitchen cabinets, but I’m planning to paint a cabinet/hutch aqua. We have photos with black frames. Do you know what other color would go well with all this? I’d like to lighten the feel of the room, make it cozy. I need to choose an area rug and entrance runner. I’m not sure where to go from where we are right now. Thanks for any advice you can give!

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