Inside: Learn how to choose neutral paint colors for your home with the right undertones. Plus 12 perfect neutral wall colors to get you started.
We’ve all been there. You pick paint for your home only to find that once you get it on the wall it’s not what you 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?
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The mistake you’re probably making when picking neutral paint colors
Most of the time when we’re picking a neutral paint we’re often picking a shade that’s 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 the other colors we have in our whole home color palette. All of these things are good.
The problem is that when we’re looking at these really light shades on the paint swatch, it’s really difficult to tell what the undertones of the color are.
Usually we don’t see it until it’s 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 neutral wall colors for your home.
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!
There are a few key things to look at before you decide on a paint color, especially if you’re going for a light shade. So today I’m going to walk you through the steps and teach you how to choose the right neutral paint color for your home.
To choose the right neutral paint color for you home, you must look at the undertone.
What are neutral colors?
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 neutral wall colors 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 paint with a green undertone.
Undertones are sneaky, but I’ll explain how to see the undertone clearly in even the lightest shades.
That said, there are cool neutral colors (that have blue or green undertones) and there are warm neutral colors (that have brown, red, orange, or yellow undertones.)
First Decide: Do you want a cool neutral wall color or a warm neutral wall color?
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?
>>There are a lot of things to consider when deciding between warm neutrals and cool neutrals like your unique lighting situation, the other colors you use (or are stuck with in your home) and which colors you want to highlight and which colors you want to downplay. For a complete step by step way to consider all these components and create a color palette you love, check out my color course, Color Made Clear.
So how do you know what the undertone of a color is when you’re choosing a light shade of paint?
You always look at the darkest shade on the paint swatch. It’s 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.
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’re 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.
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.
Here are 12 neutral paint colors to get you started
SW= Sherwin Williams and Behr Marq.= Behr Marquee found at Home Depot
You’ll notice that the top row are the cool neutral colors with cool undertones of blue and grey. The middle row are warm neutral colors 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
How to make your final decision…
You’ll want to start by getting a few samples and testing them to see which one you like best. Remember, colors may be different in your home depending on the lighting and the surrounding colors so don’t just start painting without doing your homework. Follow these 8 tips to be sure you’ve chosen the right color.
TIP: If you’re 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!
Hopefully this helps give you a starting point and the confidence to choose a neutral wall color you will love.
For more help on choosing paint color, my Ultimate Guide to Choosing Color page is packed with info and resources!
Thinking about going greige? Get the low-down at How to Choose the Perfect Greige.
And if you’ve ever thought you couldn’t go wrong with choosing white paint, you’ll want to check out these must-read tips for choosing the right white paint for walls, cabinets and trim.
Thanks for stopping by!