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What Nobody Will Tell You About How to Pick the Perfect Gray

Picking the perfect gray for the walls of your home might be harder than you thought. Here’s why.

Today I’m going to take off my amateur “DIY Blogger” hat, and put on my professional “Designer and Color Expert” hat for just a moment, because I want to share with you some information that’s been bugging me. And when I say bugging me, I mean on a deep, anxiety-producing, sleep-disturbing, personal level.

Today I want to talk about picking the right gray color for your home. Gasp. Why is that so personal, you ask? Well, it’s because I feel like my reputation is on the line when I’m picking colors for my house, and right now I’m having the darnedest time picking the right gray.

As I’ve been going through this process for my own house, I’ve also been thinking about all the information out there in blogland and on Pinterest about picking the perfect gray. There’s a lot of it. And it’s all great advice! But there is one thing I’ve learned in my career about picking colors, and it especially applies to gray.The truth about picking the perfect gray

So, what is the one thing that nobody will tell you about picking the perfect gray?

You can’t.

There is no such thing as the perfect gray.

And that, my friends, is good news. And bad news. But mostly good news, and here’s why.

Once you adjust your expectations, stop believing one color can solve all your (color) problems, and learn how to pick a color that is closest to perfect for you, then you’ll be a lot happier with the results once the paint is on the wall.

Gray is tricky.

Gray is all the rage right now, and I believe it is here to stay, at least as much as my mom thought painting her living room mustard yellow to go with her amazing avocado green brocade couch was going to be the “right” color forever. But back to gray…

Let’s talk a little color theory first. You may remember learning the color wheel in elementary school. While I didn’t yet understand it at the time, over the years I’ve come to learn this fundamental truth from the color wheel: Colors are relational. Every color is affected by the colors around it. No color is an island, either in nature, or in decorating.Color Wheel

The second reality about color is something you’ve probably encountered yourself in your own home. Every color is affected, and actually defined, by light. Without sharing all the scientific reasons for this (mostly because I don’t know them), let me just say that light creates and changes every color it touches.

What does this mean for you, as you try to pick the perfect color for your wall? It means you need to take into account the other colors in the room, as well as the light sources. It also means you need to realize that when the light changes, as it does throughout the day, the colors on your wall will change too.

This is why I say you can’t pick the perfect gray. You might pick one that you love in natural light, but not so much in artificial light. During the day it looks like you expected, but then when the lights come on at night it’s not quite the same.

Knowing this in advance gives you the freedom to pursue which setting you prefer. Are you mostly home at night? Then consider how your color looks in artificial light and choose one that makes you happiest at night. Are you a stay-at-home-mom like me? Then, for the love, pick something that makes you happiest during the day. Your kids will thank you.

Gray: the color that isn’t a color.

These two truths apply especially to gray (as well as other neutral colors) because it is a blank slate. It literally feeds off the other colors and light sources around it and behaves differently in each setting.

Let me tell you a little story to illustrate. When we moved into our new house, I immediately started painting. Nothing makes me feel more at home that putting my own stamp of color on the walls.

For my living room, I chose a deep shade of teal, surrounded by two grays. I picked the most neutral grays I could find in the color decks, and happily started painting. But those neutral gray walls, with north-facing windows, and big sea of teal on one wall, might as well be light blues.

Dark teal wall behind couch, next to gray wall.

I like the effect, and I’m sticking with it (at least for now) but I really should have known better. And that’s why I feel the need to share this truth with you: there is no perfect gray.

There will be a shade that perfectly suits you, but don’t let anyone else tell you what it should be, unless you have the same house, situated in the same direction relative to the sun, with all the same colors and accents.

How to pick the right gray for you.

So all this color theory begs the question, how do you go about picking the right gray for you? By all means, surf Pinterest, read the articles, look at a million paint swatches, but here are a few tips to keep in mind as you’re doing so.Gray color options in different color palettes.

  1. What direction do your room’s windows face? Direct sunlight gives off a warmer glow than indirect. If you can actually see the sun from your window, that means you have direct sunlight and your gray color will look a little less blue. If you can’t actually see the sun out your window, then you have indirect light and the color will seem bluer. (Is that a word?)
  2. What types of light do you use in the room? Natural light tends to be cooler than incandescent light (traditional light bulbs). However, LED’s and certain other energy-efficient lights also give off cooler light than incandescent bulbs, so you need to know what you’re using at night. Does your lamp give off a warm glow? Then it will make your gray look a little warmer, toward the neutral or brown end of the spectrum.
  3. What other colors are you using in the room, and how much space do they cover? If you have a giant teal accent wall like me, it’s going to drive the color in the whole room (and spilling into the hallway) towards the blue side of the color wheel. You may be better off going with a taupe than a true gray, if you don’t want your gray to skew blue.

In case you need a quick refresher… the cool colors are blue, green, and most purples, and warm colors are red, orange, and yellow.

Happily, when the sun is down and the lamps are on, my living room turns out to be the perfect color of gray. Exactly what I was going for. So I make it a habit to sit in there most evenings and congratulate myself on doing such a great job picking colors.

[bctt tweet=”I’ve come to learn this fundamental truth from the color wheel: Colors are relational.” username=”thepalettemuse”]

Now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, I’m heading to the paint store to start over with my color plan for my kitchen, since I learned so much from my living room. Soon, I’ll be sharing (what I hope will be) a cohesive color scheme for my whole house.

That way, if you have the same floor plan, lighting situation, and tastes as me you can just use one of my grays as your perfect gray!What no one will tell you about picking the perfect gray.

In the meantime, do you have questions about color? I’d love to help. Let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to keep you from making my same mistakes.


Monday 19th of September 2022

I want to paint my hall bathroom grey with black cabinets and a deep, burnt orange shower curtain. I don't want blue- grey. I have no window or natural light source. The lightning is traditional bulbs. Any suggestions? And thank you in advance!


Monday 19th of September 2022

Hi Jennifer, yes I do have an idea for you! I like Anew Gray by Sherwin Williams. It's a good neutral that doesn't lean blue, especially with traditional light bulbs. If you're worried about it being too dark, you could also try Agreeable Gray. It's the same family but a shade lighter. Good luck!

Stephen Quartarone

Tuesday 9th of November 2021

I recently had my walls painted with “PPG Cool Slate” which is a soft gray with amethyst undertone … which has more of a purple undertone that we would like to be frank. We were looking for a gray that was warm, but the amethyst undertone is just too tinted…

Any suggestions for decor to help the “gray” come out of the walls more than the amethyst?



Monday 6th of December 2021

Hi Stephen, I think that will depend somewhat on what other colors you have in the room. If you use warmer toned accent colors, like golds and tans, that might help. You could also try using warmer colored lightbulbs.


Thursday 26th of August 2021

Your article made me laugh and cry!! I have been pulling my hair out over grey!! Too blue! Too green! Too dark!! Too light! Trying to find one that will go with my, are you ready, yellow tile with black trim on half the walls in my kitchen. kitchen!!! I can’t afford to rip the yellow tile out! Originally it was wallpapered above tile & I have been living with what remains of pulled off wallpaper!!! Wish I could attaché a picture. Kaye ….lost in grey


Wednesday 8th of September 2021

I feel your pain Kaye! I've seen some good tutorials for painting over tile. Maybe that would help?


Wednesday 3rd of January 2018

I wish I saw your post before selectng paint colours. We have the EXACT same living room. The grey definetly turned out more blue. I wish I had bought a sampler to try first before investing the time and effort into now a blue-grey.


Thursday 11th of January 2018

I can totally relate! It's easy to accidentally pick a more blue shade, especially if you have a lot of blue colors in the room.


Saturday 7th of October 2017

I have wanted white kitchen and bathroom cabinets. This is time consuming but hope it works as well as you say


Creating a color-filled life. Conquering my little world one DIY project at a time. With lots of coffee and chocolate. Albuquerque NM. Pinterest ~ Instagram ~ Facebook