Choosing Paint Colors, The Old Way
We've all been there. You pick wall paint colors for your home only to find that once it's on the wall it's not what you had in mind. Ugh! It is too green when you wanted grey, or too grey when you wanted tan.
Where did you go wrong? Isn't a neutral a neutral? - Not quite.
The mistake you're making when picking neutral Colors For Your Walls
Most of the time when we're picking a neutral colors palette we're often picking a light neutral color. We choose a shades that's enough to give us some color on the wall, contrast our baseboards and trim, and act as a backdrop for the colors in our whole home color palette.
The problem is, these neutral paint swatches are small and it is very difficult to determine the neutral undertones of these light shades.
The last thing you want to choose if you dislike the color green is a neutral color with a green undertone. This is the big mistake most people make when choosing neutral paint colors for their home.
We typically 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. Sound familiar?
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. I cover all of these tricks in my on demand class on color.
If you’re stumped when it comes to picking neutral wall colors for your home, you’re not alone!
There are key things to look at before you decide on a neutral wall color, especially if you're going for a light shade. I'm going to walk you through the steps and teach you how to choose the right neutral paint color for your home.
What Are Neutral Paint Colors?
A neutral color paint is a paint color with a dominant brown, black, or gray undertone. These neutral undertones are not bright and they don't draw a lot of attention which allows them to be used with a variety of coordinating colors in a well decorated space.
However, picking neutral colors for walls doesn't mean you have to choose a straight gray, black, brown, or white paint color.
What colors are considered neutral?
In home decor, neutral paint colors are any light to medium paint colors that work nicely with other colors, meaning they have an evident neutral undertone.
Identifying The Neutral Undertone In Paint
When picking paint colors there are two categories of undertones you'll need to consider, warm undertones and cool undertones. Each will give you a distinct feel to your space and can enhance the existing tones in a space or downplay them - which comes in handy if you've got colors in your home you can't change but don't love.
(We dive deep into this concept in my online color course, Color Made Clear.)
Warm neutral color palette
Colors that are considered warm are colors like brown, red, orange, and yellow. Warm neutral paint colors have a brown undertone and are known to bring out the warmth or coziness in a space. When paired with warm light or direct natural light they will appear even warmer.
Cool neutral colors
Colors that are considered cool are colors like blue, purple, gray, and black. Cool neutral paint colors have a black or gray undertone and are known to make a space feel crisp and clean. When paired with cool artificial light or indirect natural light they will appear even cooler.
How To Identify The Right Neutral Undertones For Your Neutral Wall Color
Undertones are sneaky, but I'll explain how to see the undertone clearly in even the lightest shades of neutral color swatches.
(You can watch the video below or keep scrolling to read.)
To choose the right neutral paint color for your home, you must look at the undertone.
Step 1: Do you want a warm neutral color palette or do you prefer cool neutral colors?
The neutral wall colors you choose are just a part of your whole home color palette. How much warmth or coolness you want to achieve in a space should be considered when selecting neutral paint colors.
There are many 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) as well as which colors you want to highlight and which colors you want to downplay.
- If you have a lot of warm tones and direct warm light but want to balance it out, you may decide to go with a cool undertone in your neutral wall color.
- On the other hand, if you have a lot of cool light coming into your space going with a cool neutral undertone will enhance the blue and bring out even more cool colors, so balancing everything out with a warm neutral undertone might be a good idea to bring in a little warmth.
I myself lean toward a cool color palette in my home. My color scheme includes a lot of blues and greys with very few warm colors. However, because there is a lot of cool light coming into my home, going with a cool gray undertone for my wall color could make my spaces feel stark and uninviting.
Instead I chose a barely warm neutral wall color in the greige paint color family to give it just enough warmth while maintaining the modern feel of my decorating style.
Step 2: Use the darkest shade on the neutral color swatch to determine the neutral undertone.
Before you purchase samples to test on your walls you'll want to narrow your search for a neutral wall color by looking at the paint swatches or paint strips.
At first glance the lightest shades on these paint color strips appear to be very similar but believe me, they aren't.
To determine the undertone of the paint color we need to look closely at the darkest color on the strip because this will tell us what the lighter colors are made from revealing their undertones.
When you look closely at these dark shades you can quickly see that one is a warm neutral paint color with a lot of brown in the undertone (left) while the other is much cooler with a lot more gray in the base color (right).
These undertones will show up even in the lightest shades of the color.
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.
If you’re in a paint store these color strips might not be available, but instead be out on display on individual color sample cards, but don’t worry the concept is the same.
Instead of using the color strip you’ll notice that when looking at the wall of color sample cards the go lightest to darkest from the top to the bottom and then warmest to coolest from one side to the other. Think of each column on the wall display in the same way you would the color strips in this example.
Step 3: Determine if there are any other undertones present.
Remember in an earlier example I mentioned a scenario where you may end up with green walls when you were going for gray? Or maybe you were going for a light gray but your wall color ended up looking too blue.
This is because not only are there neutral undertones to consider when choosing a neutral wall color, but undertones of other colors can be present as well so it is really important to pay close attention.
To determine if there are any other undertones present in a paint color you will again use the darkest shade of the color. Then moving up the color strip you can often see colors like yellow, green, lavendar, or blue exposed in the deeper shades.
And just like the neutral undertones we discovered before, these undertones will show up in the light shades of the color as well.
If you're unsure, you can also use the color strip to the right and to the left of the color you're examining to help you determine if there are any other undertones present.
Examples of identifying the undertone of a paint color
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!
What Are The Best Neutral Paint Colors?
In my opinion, the best neutral paint color for your walls will allow you to mix both warm and cool colors in your home color palette flawlessly. This neutral is warm enough to be inviting, yet cool enough to elevate your space and make it feel current.
That's why my go to color for neutral wall paint is anything in the greige paint color family.
Greige is a perfect mix of beige and gray and can vary from pretty much gray with a tiny hint of brown in the undertone to a lot of brown in the undertone with just a hint of gray. It all depends on the overall feeling you want to create in your space and the other colors you're wanting to bring balance to.
Examples Of Neutral Wall Paint Colors To Get You Started
SW= Sherwin Williams and Behr Marq.= Behr Marquee found at Home Depot
Cool neutral paint colors
These cool neutrals will have a black or gray undertone and read to a more true gray paint color.
Gray paint with blue undertones
Gray paint with green undertones
- Silver Strand by Sherwin Williams
- Aloof Gray by Sherwin Williams
- Sedate Gray- Sherwin Williams
Warm neutral paint colors
These warm paint colors will have a brown undertone.
Brown paint with gray undertones
Beige paint colors (yellow or pink undertone)
- Park Avenue by Behr Marquee
- Wheat Bread by Behr
- Wool Skein by Sherwin Williams
The Best Way To Test Paint Colors On Your Walls
No need to buy paint samples and paint big squares of each color on your walls! Samplize offers peel and stick paint samples from all major paint brands delivered to your door so you can put them up on the wall with no mess.
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.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing Colors For Your Home
A lot of factors go into selecting colors for your home, and it goes way beyond paint color.
Things like your home color palette, existing colors in your home (that you may not be able to change), and the color of the natural light, or lack of natural light can change the way a color shows up in your home.
In my self-paced online color course, Color Made Clear, I walk you through all the steps to choosing and using color in your home to create a pulled together and cohesive look, even if you have things like cabinet color or floors you can't change.