MORE THAN 50 SHADES OF GREY | The Home Design School



Grey bathroom

In my blog post a few weeks ago, I told you about a disastrous experience I once had when I was looking for a grey paint to go with my silver-based wallpaper, and how the paint had turned out green, once it dried on the walls! I have also shared with you the time that I couldn’t get a good colour match for my grey kitchen, and how exasperated I was at how different greys could be.

Now, I know that I’m not alone with this problem, because it is something that friends and family ask about, and I get people emailing me and posting in my Facebook groups to ask how to pick the perfect grey. It’s not as simple as it seems, and it’s no exaggeration to say that there are way more than just 50 shades of grey. 

So why is grey so complicated?

Well, I’ve called on the help of a few industry experts from different paint companies to help explain it all. To start with, it’s a lot to do with how grey paint is made. You would think that grey is made by mixing black with white, right? Well, it can be, and those are the purest, truest greys. But most greys are not made by just mixing black with white. Say whaaaa?! That’s right! Most greys are made by starting with a colour (like blue or red or green) and then black and white is added in differing ratios to create a tone of the colour. Eventually, when enough black and white is added, it appears grey, but it also retains an undertone of the colour it started as. Ah- ha! The penny drops. That’s why your grey paint sometimes looks pink, or green or blue. Let’s see what one of our industry experts has to say: 

“The key to working with gray successfully is determining the undertone that best suits your space. The most popular grays are not just simply gradients of black and white instead they are comprised of other pigments that add to the complexity and appeal. ”

— Sharon Gretch, Benjamin Moore

Farrow & Ball’s Green-Based, “French Gray”

The trouble is, the human eye – and – brain combo isn’t that great at spotting undertones. It recognises the colour as ‘grey’ and filters out the undertones. It’s only when you put the grey next to a coloured item which clashes with the undertones that you know all about it – usually after you’ve slathered it all over your walls. 

Not only can clashing undertones be a problem, but you also have to think about the other furniture and accessories in your room. A Valspar rep told me a story about a client who had brought back a pot of cream paint to complain that it appeared pink on her walls. On further investigation, it turned out that the client had positioned a red sofa against the wall, and the reflected light was making the paint appear pink.

“Depending on factors such as the way a room is lit throughout the day, the other colours that you’re planning to incorporate into your palette, and how furniture and soft furnishings reflect colour of their own, the same grey can take on very different characteristics from room to room.”

— Sarah Foster, Fired Earth

Fired Earth’s red-toned, “Pumblechook”

So, how do you avoid making these mistakes? Firstly, you need to test out the actual paint at home, in the actual room that you will be using the paint. Check out this blog post for a few tips on how to do this. Clémence Flammée from the Little Greene Paint Company agrees that you must test your paint, alongside everything that will surround it:

“The depth of a colour is only perceived in relation to other colours seen with it. You should always consider how the space and light in the room will affect the colour. We would always advise painting large swatches and placing them on different walls. Leaving space between the swatches means that you can separate the colours.”

— Clémence Flammée, Little Greene Paint Company

Benjamin Moore’s Blue Toned Silver Gray

Finally, we also need to consider how light will affect the colour of the paint too. If you recall in my recent blog post, I talked about how the direction your room faces can have quite an impact on the colours in your room, and using grey is no exception. Sarah at Fired Earth has a few tips for us there too:

“Cool northern light will tend to bring out any blue notes in a grey […] while artificial light really warms up red-toned greys […]. Green-based greys […] will look different again so it’s well-worth getting sample pots of several of your favourite greys and experimenting with them. ”

— Sarah Foster of Fired Earth

So, let’s sum it all up… 

  1. Greys can be made from any colour, by adding black and white.
  2. This creates undertones.
  3. You often cannot see the undertones in a paint by looking at the colour chip in the shop.
  4. Other objects in your room can affect how the grey appears by reflecting light onto the walls.
  5. The direction your room faces can affect how the colour appears.
  6. You should test out the paint by painting large swatches of colour in the room.

I know that I have got so much better at choosing paint colours over the years and I’m happy to say that choosing a grey paint is no longer as much of a headache as it used to be.



I hope this has helped you too. Leave me a comment at the bottom to let me know about your grey paint mistakes!


Main image: Fired Earth’s green-toned Granite eggshell on the panelling and green-toned Oak apple eggshell on the bath.

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