How To Choose The Perfect Grey

I had a message from my dear friend the past week and it said: “Just painted a wall grey only to notice it is baby blue…” To be honest this happens more often than the average DIYer likes to admit. Colours are complex, then you have the complexities of light, direction, window numbers and sizes and then add large pieces of furniture into a room and watch the colours change again!

Our 21st Century love of neutrals doesn’t help either, especially as spaces get smaller and walls get lighter. (Ok you won’t understand this if you live in a suburb in the US or Australia or like my friend in a gorgeous, huge mansion retreat in Finland) but believe me its “typically” true for the rest of us.  I actually wrote about the Greige Rage earlier this year.  You can read that blog post here.

So unless you like painting your walls a few times to get the right colour, here are a few things to think about before painting your wall the wrong shade of grey:

Every Grey Has A “Colour”

The amazing Maria Killam has a system that is called “understanding undertones”. From all of my years in the design and building industries, this is the clearest way I have seen neutrals explained. Because Maria does it so well, with her trademarked understanding undertones” so if you want to learn more, that is definitely the person I would go to for that colour theory lesson.

Growing up, I thought that grey was made by adding white paint to black paint or visa-versa. It is, but most of the greys we pick up from the shops isn’t actually created that way. Most greys are made from a base colour to make it a “warm” or “cool” grey and can also be just a “shade” of a colour on a chart. Unless you know your colour charts very well, I would definitely not recommend picking a colour for your walls from a colour chart. Always buy a sample pot and paint a large piece of white card (so your existing wall colour doesn’t come through underneath).

So when choosing a grey, the first thing you need to think of is what is the base colour in this grey? The easiest way to do this is to think right down to a primary colour. Is it red, blue or yellow? If you can’t see it yet, try a secondary colour, (green, purple, orange – just in case you forgot) which you will usually be able to tell if you put the colour against a brilliant bright white (if you have a piece of melamine at home, like in your kitchen or bathroom cabinets try it against that for now).

If you cant be bothered finding the colour by thinking, you can use an app to do it for you… There is an app called ColorSnap which tells you which colours are in the photo you just took.


Natural & artificial light

It is important to consider what kind of light you will see your grey with. During the day, ask yourself which direction does your window in the room face and during the night, ask what kind of bulbs am I using or want to use?

So this is equally important because you cant see colour without light… Artificial light has a colour, so this will change the colour of your walls too (and those of you who buy 4500K LED with a colour rendering of over 85 to have it “as close to natural daylight as possible”, good for you, but unless you have SAD or want your home to look like an office, the intention and cost more often than not is not to replicate natural daylight).

Natural daylight also has colours. The evening sun is more red, orange (sometimes a warm purple) and the morning sun is more gold (but also blue) and during the day daylight is white. Also depending on which hemisphere you are in and which direction your windows face, your colour will also be affected by natural daylight. So during the day, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere with one window in your room facing North (this would be similar to a South facing Window in the Southern Hemisphere), there is no direct sunlight into the room, so the room will have more of a greyish light coming through the window. This changes the colour fo your grey again (because as we now know that without light we can’t see colour)…

So the trick is to know your light in the room where you are painting your grey. You don’t want it to be a depressing jail!

I love lighting, I wrote about it recently if you didn’t get a chance to read it here.


Here I just wanted to point out that your room doesn’t stand alone and often it will be viewed from another room! You may fall in love with the grey colour and you might have thought about it from every angle and then once its al complete you sit down in another room and look at your walls through the door and find that your gorgeous taupe/grey looks pink or green, from a distance making the room you are sitting in look off..
Don’t forget to view your grey from other rooms and see how it flows between the spaces.

Furniture & Large Items

This is a great one and not many people actually realize that your walls will be affected by other items in your room. Your grey wall might look pink if you have a red kitchen or a bright red sofa in the room. All items have a presence and especially larger items in your room. So don’t forget to consider the colour of your furniture when choosing your greys too!

I hope this gave you a head start and a better chance of getting it right the first time.