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How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

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I have a confession. We have lived in our new house for about 3 weeks and we are on a second round of painting. I’m a little embarrassed and a lot mad that I spent money on paint and several days on ladders painting those tall, tall walls. And now I’m getting ready to paint again. Boo. See, I’m painting our great room gray. And as those of you who have painted a room gray know, grays are fickle. They are hard to choose based off that little color swatch!! The color you see on a swatch may look 10 million percent different on your walls. It’s annoying as all else. So I’m here to teach you from my mistakes and tell you how to pick the perfect gray paint!

FYI, these tips work especially great for for fickle colors like gray but, in reality, you should consider doing this for all of your rooms, regardless of paint color.

How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

The story starts here. As you saw in the house tour {part 1 and part 2} every single wall in our entire home was painted a caramel-y beige when we moved in. I can appreciate a good beige. But after living in boring beige apartments for the past 3 years, I was sooooo done with beige.  I had in mind a fantastic light blueish-gray for the walls.

Here is the second part of the story. We moved into our new home on April 25. The giant Sherwin William’s paint sale ended April 22. So we bought several gallons of paint during the sale and before we moved in. We were trying to save a little money and I was eager to get rid of the beige. While that wouldn’t have been much of a problem, we were never able to see our desired paint color in the lighting of our new house. And let me tell you… paint chips tell you squat about how the color will look in your room. That tiny square of paint!? How on earth could it show you how that paint will look on 14-foot walls!? It can’t. That’s how.

Within the first week in our new home, my mom and I spent 2 days on ladders painting the walls. I was thrilled to see the beige going away. My mom, on the other hand, kept saying how blue the “gray” was and how she thought I wanted it to be a little darker. Sure, she would pretend to like it {don’t lie mom!} but I knew she didn’t love it. Being my stubborn self, I stuck with it and was sure that it would be great. ……..and boy was I wrong. You were right, mom. I’m sorry. It is much lighter than I thought it would be {see above picture on the right}. It is a beautiful color, but not at all what I had envisioned. So we went back to the drawing board.

How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

Tip number 1: BUY SAMPLE PAINT POTS!!! I can’t emphasize this enough. I wish I had been able to do this from the get-go. But since we didn’t own the house yet… I don’t think the owner would have been happy with us painting his walls. It wasn’t an option.

How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

Paint those samples on multiple walls that have different lighting. I would also suggest putting one test spot near a piece of trim so you can see how it would look next to the trim. If your trim isn’t the right color {like mine} paint a small area of the trim too. Don’t forget to number your samples in some way so you know which paint is which color.

Let the paint sit for at least 24 hours so you can see the paint at every time of day. That way you can see if it looks super purple at night. Or maybe it turns taupe.

Narrow down your choices. If you can narrow it down to 1, fantastic. We were not so lucky. We were able to narrow it down to 2 different colors, number 2 and 3. Number six was almost non-existent on the wall. Not at all what we wanted. Number 5 was almost green in most light. Number 1 was darker than we wanted. And number 4 was too brown.

How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

If you are still trying to decide between multiple, paint larger areas of your selected colors. Seeing larger areas can help the true color to be seen better. We were seriously struggling. Two and three are so similar with number 2 being slightly warmer, which I love. But number three is more of a true gray. Sigh. This is hard!

How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

I painted huge sections of wall {while watching hulu}so I could get the feel of how the color would look on our tall walls.

How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

Another piece of advice? Figure out your color scheme/vision for your room before you decide on a particular shade. I had zero vision for what I wanted in this space. That was a huge part of the problem. I tried to rush it and spent hours on pinterest leading up to the move trying to figure out what I wanted. I wanted to know where I was going with this room and what I wanted but I couldn’t force it. I am happy to say that after playing with towels in Target, I have finally figured out what I want and can finally see the whole vision in my head! Yippee! And let me tell you, it will be fantastic! I’m so excited! {See my sneak peak above}.

Along with figuring out your color scheme, use your color scheme to help you decide on a particular shade. Maybe you want a sunny yellow paired with your gray. But that sunny yellow may look gross next to a green-gray. Maybe the yellow brings out the blue in a gray and that isn’t what you want. You can even go as far as picking up sample paint of your colors to paint next to them, like I did.

We have decided on which color we want to paint the walls. Which one do you think we chose?? Number 2 or 3?? Have you ever painted the same room twice within a few weeks?? Please tell me I’m  not alone!

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89 thoughts on “How-to Pick the Perfect Gray Paint

  1. Good luck! I’m leaning towards #2. FYI, next time there is a paint sale but you don’t know what colour you want, you can buy the paint untinted and bring it back for tinting once you know. Check with the store because different colours have different bases so you should buy the base you think you might need 🙂

  2. I am leaning towards #3! The coolness of it will offset the natural warm lighting! I have painted a room several times in a week. I really wanted a metallic gold wall in our bedroom, but the golds kept coming out the wrong shade. How many shades of gold could there be????? I finally had to give up on having a beutiful yellow gold and settle for a darker gold. Still looks good, but not what I envisioned.

  3. You are so not alone! I painted our kitchen purple (supposed to be grey) three times before I just gave up went with a pale yellow. It was a rough week 🙂 Good luck this time around, it certainly looks like you’ve out in your due diligence!

  4. So much work painting….your walls must have soaked up a lot of paint!

    Here’s my take…it all looks so purple to me. I can’t see grey at all. Sorry 🙁 I’m sure you guys will like it though.

  5. I’m voting for 3 the warmer one. Excited to see what you decide. I just made CP a little office and used gray too. Light gray for the walls (very small room) and darker gray trim. All colors pop in a gray room. You see what’s in it ’cause the walls don’t fight for attention!

  6. I TOTALLY feel your pain! When we moved into our new home, the kitchen was an awwwwwful salmon color. AND the walls aren’t drywall. They’re pine tounge-and-groove. Barf. So for a temporary fix, I went for paint. FAIL! I let my mother-in-law talk me into a darker shade. FAILx2! We only have one window in our kitchen. I wish I would have gone with something much lighter and we could have accented it with darker shades & contrasting colors. Next time. After the drywall. Probably in 4 years. WAHH!

  7. I once thought I needed to have a red bedroom and boy was I mistaken. For one red is an energy color not a relaxing bedroom color at all. Also all reds arent created equal, some are purply, some have a hint of blue and some are orangy. After 4, yes 4 coats of paint on a small wall because it took 4 coats of satin paint to not see white underneath, I hated it! Needless to say it took about 4 coats of a neutral color to kill the red and I’ve never revisited my desire for a red room

  8. Oh yeah, I’ve painted the same room twice within hours, nevermind weeks! Twice I painted the living room, put the furniture back into it, went GROSS, took all the furniture out immediately, and painted it again. Same thing happened with a guest bedroom, except the furniture didn’t even make it into the room before I repainted it!

    Those are all great tips for selecting any paint colour. It’s also a good idea to paint samples onto cardboard so you can move them around the room easily.

    #2 and #3 are both lovely greys. Based on how they look on my monitor, I would pick #2. Whichever one you go with, I’m sure it’ll look great 🙂

  9. Greys are hard. We are currently trying to find the perfect grey to paint our shed in order to match our house…ugh…they are all either too pink or too blue. One day, we’ll find it 🙂

  10. Great tips! I haven’t painted a room a true gray yet (I thought we’d end up more on the gray side when we painted our front rooms, but we wound up going with a blue with gray undertones (BM’s Nantucket Fog). But I agree that neutrals are the hardest to get exactly right….there’s always some other color trying to sneak in there and make it look more blue/green/pink whatever than you wanted!
    Gretchen@BoxyColonial recently posted..Abe at Four MonthsMy Profile

  11. Great post! I’ve been struggling with picking the perfect grey for our master bedroom…Husband wants something dark but I still want the room to be able to feel cozy and romantic. I’ve had a half dozen paint samples taped to the wall for a week and couldn’t even pick one I liked enough to get samples of…so I guess it’s back to the drawing board for me. We painted our house when we moved in 2 years ago (same situation as you – moving in to an all beige house and a paint sale was ending right before we closed!) and I’m repainting everything now because I rushed through all of the color choices!

    I wouldn’t have been able to pick between #2 & #3…knowing me, I would have gotten a gallon of each and dumped them together to create a custom grey!
    Sarah Ewald recently posted..Decorating the Bedroom: Part 2My Profile

  12. hey there! Thank you for this post! I’ve been gathering paint swatches and looking at your living room redo trying to decide which blue grey to choose! And it’s hard to tell based on a little bit of color! Loved this post and the pictures were super helpful! 🙂
    Danielle recently posted..Cheese Potato SoupMy Profile

  13. I absolutely 100% agree that YOU HAVE TO BUY PAINT SAMPLES!!! When we moved into our first house in 2011 we were so excited and ran to the store and bought 6 gallons of paint. It was a beautiful color on the swatch, it was a neutral beige and was going to go great with the burnt orange color in the cozy living room and then we got to painting…. and it was a like a deep red dirt color on the walls?! We were soooo upset! (Luckily we noticed about a quarter of the way in and just stopped right then and there.) And no one at the store would refund it for us or help us lighten it or anything. It took me a whole year to get the paint refunded. I don’t like causing problems but six gallons of paint is a lot of money to waste so I ended up writing a letter to corporate and then they allowed me to switch out all of my colors! We did end up buying three sample pots and then chose the right color according to what we wanted. Whew, what a pain!
    Runt recently posted..So far… 8 weeks in?My Profile

  14. You are not alone! My husband and I did the same thing when we moved to a new home. The SW sale was ending prior to our move so we purchased the base paint that had not been tinted, to save money! Then we took back 3 gallons of paint to be tinted the same shade. The home was 2 stories and very open. We started in the living room & went through a gallon. I came home from work the next day and my husband had finished the rest of the spaces! It looked like 2 totally different colors! Finally I looked at the paint cans & realized that some of the paint was eggshell finish and some was satin! We sure didn’t save any money and had to buy all new paint NOT on sale!! Won’t do that again! This was before the sample sizes were available! You have a great idea. It is good to live with the samples for several days also! I never rush in selecting colors now! Great blog!

  15. Just a note – Instead of painting a large section of wall – buy some poster boards and paint them – tape on wall(s) – live with it or them for a day or so. You can move these from wall to wall (to see if the different lighting at different times will change the color). This way you don’t have to cover a section of wall that you used a darker swatch, but decided on a lighter tone.

  16. What a fantastic post! Thank you so much! I’m about to paint my living room walls gray, and have been having a hard time choosing. Now I know exactly what to do to figure it all out. Thanks again! 🙂

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  18. an easier, and less expensive way to see how your color will look around the room is to use a piece of scrap wood. you can use any size you are willing to cart around. it would have definitely worked for your first two trials. just paint it and place it where you are hoping to get a better picture of how lighting will change the color.

  19. Hi! I’m late reading this, but I’m searching for how to choose the perfect gray. Could you tell me what #2 was? (Brand, color name or number?) It looks like it’s just what I’m looking for! (As opposed to the sample currently on my wall that looks purple…actually it’s the Pewter Mug from your sample picture up above!)

    Thanks!

  20. This is great advise. I currently have 8 different grays on my walls and don’t like any of them. Its been two weeks of sample painting and I believe I’m in for another week at least. Gray is hard to get right. Hope you love yours.

  21. I am trying to decide on a gray paint color for my living room. This has really helped. My walls are beige now and looking for an exciting change….thanks!!!!

  22. i picked a pewter that i wanted for my kitchen and dining room trying to make them tie together we just installed a breakfast bar and took down the wall between, well it looks purple…ugh…

  23. Please tell me what #3 paint color was. I am going through the exact same thing–wanting a mid tone gray to cover large areas and a two story entry and family room! Sparrow eh? I looked at that and was worried it would look too pinkish. Do you love it? The #2 and #3 would have been my top pics also–please let me know what #3 is!

  24. Pingback: Tips for Finding the Perfect Gray Paint Color - Ask Anna

  25. i’m really glad that i’m not the only one who had trouble ( weeks worth) on finding the perfect gray. i had the perfect gray in an apartment that i rented out, but when i sold my duplex i thought it would be okay because i kept the paint can lid with the formula on it ( i even had them name the paint and it was called…….apt gray….creative, eh? that was in 2003. 11 years later i dug out that paint can lid to take to be matched for my new little townhouse. unfortunately the building company had changed out all their paint department and then could not use the formula. they tried to match the inside of the paint lid while i looked at every store sample of gray i could get my hands on. two sample cans later, maybe i have a close match. we’ll see

  26. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! I have been struggling for almost 5 years on what colors to pain on my white walls. I have lots of likes but no set vision and this helped me so much on how to make a decision and not regret it!! Maybe by year 6 i’ll have some color in my home, haha!!

  27. How can you tell what undertones paint has. i.e. gray with brown undertones or gray with yellow undertones, etc.

  28. I feel your pain regarding the “right” gray! My bedroom wall resembles your paint ladder. Most of the grays look blue or violet in the current light in that room, and I’m still looking. I am excited to see your final choice.

  29. I painted my whole bedroom grey. Next day, it was lavendar grey. Whaaaaat? Yes, it changes after drying and in different light. I got more paint that I was sure was right, painted half of the room, had the good sense to wait till the next day to see the color, and low and behold…blue grey. NO! I want mushroom grey/warm grey! Dunn Edwards just did not have a swatch that worked, so I got another brand paint swatch and had Dunn Edwards match it and take it to 70% of that color (yes they can do that), and voila! Perfect grey. Fast forward 3 years, now I have a bathroom I want warm grey. But the space and accessories are all different, so we are starting all over again, but this time, taking YOUR advice. Thank you for posting!

  30. What is the color you have on the walls in the photo at the top? The gray currently on your walls that your mom thinks is too blue? I love it!!! Thanks!

  31. Very helpful information. I am going grey in our new house and never realized how many grey shades have other pigment color in it. Thanks

  32. Just an afterthought now but if you were converting to a darker grey, most paint stores will take you old unused bad grey and just retint to the darker color at no cost!! I had bought an extra gallon of paint when painting my hallway and obviously you can’t return it so I went to Lowes and they tinted it to another darker grey that I used for my laundry room for free!

  33. It would be helpful if you told people the names of the colors, just saying.

    ***Also painting swatches on the walls with existing color can throw the sample colors way off***

    Grays pick up surrounding colors very easily. The best way to test colors is to go to the $1 store and buy some white foam core boards, this is the perfect medium for paint. (you will see what I mean immediately) Paint your colors on the boards and move them around the rooms at different times of the day. This will give you the truest representation of the colors.

    Always try to keep your tester colors away from any other colors. A white background is best. Tack up a white sheet and put your sample boards on top of the sheet. Another route is to prime the walls if you can and then paint the sample colors on the walls but keep the colors far away from each other.

    Happy Painting!

  34. Ok, so I want to know what the names of both 2 and 3 are because I’m in the exact same position, with closing at the end of the month. I want to get the walls painted before we move in, but we don’t have the month that I was planning on. We only have one week.

    • Number 2 is what we decided to go with and it is Behr’s Sparrow. I absolutely love it! It is a perfect gray! Though the paint card made it look quite weird. And number three was Behr’s Pewter Mug. I hope that helps! Best of luck to you!

  35. I absolutely love the dark gray color ! What brand and color is it please ? I am painting this color over navy blue , any suggestions?

  36. Wow, I’m working with a grey right now. I chickened out of the darker and went for Behr”s “Silver Screen”….it looks so light on the paint can…not sure how it’s going to work out yet. And I like that tip about buying it untinted. Can I retint my Silver Screen a shade darker is what I’m wondering!

  37. Great article!! I wish I would have read this before I painted my bedroom last weekend. I picked a warm gray that went well with my bedding. As soon as I brushed a section of the wall it was slightly purple, but I figured it was just because it was daytime and really bright outside. Boy, was I wrong. At night, its even more purple and I hate it. I’m hoping once our furniture is delivered and I bring in some other colors, it will look less purple. However, I am afraid I will have to repaint the whole room. Next time, I will try the sample colors and wait 24 hours as you did.

    What are the paint colors that you used above? I really like #1, 2 and 3. #2 is probably my favorite with the color scheme you are doing.

  38. Thanks for the tips. My son and daughter-in-law are building an inlaw apartment for me and my main color choice is gray but wanted to incorporate
    Other colors. Your tips will help. Thanks again… Some great tips!

  39. ladies, the reason you’re seeing different colors is most likely that your computer monitors are not properly color adjusted. On my pro graphics monitor I’d have to say her decriptions of the colors are spot on. Thanks for this useful advice.

  40. I saw your blog on Pintrest and thought this girl just doesn’t know how to make up her mind. Really glad I read it before I had bought the gallons of paint to do 2 tone grays in my bedroom and bathroom. I now eat my words and thank you as I am on my 8th sample and have found the colors I was looking for.

  41. You’re not alone!! We were in the middle of a huge remodel with our main areas all in a shamble. I had primed and painted 2 coates our entire kitechen walls and ceiling a light tan. Then we have friends over to see the progress and they immediately ask if we were going to leave the walls WHITE!! Oops!!! Guess they didnt look as tan as we thought! I spent the next week repainting a shade darker!

  42. hi- I am an architect and have done many interior projects.. My advise for future projects is to pick your paint last! Choose the other items first. If there is carpet in the room start there. If not pick upholstery fabric or a painting that you want build your color scheme around. Why? Because paint is available in almost an infinite number of colors. Carpet is more limited. Upholstery is more limited. Working backwards to a paint color can be difficult. Good luck on your new home.

  43. I’m in the same place right now, we have oing that we are ga olive green sofa and loveseat to use in the living room, so I would pick #2 gray.

  44. You’re not alone! I painted my dining room one evening. Got up the next morning, made coffee, walked into the room and the sun was coming through the window. My dining room was GLOWING PURPLE! Back to Home Depot immediately. I repainted the dining room that morning!

  45. I have done this so many times…sorry to say, but I now buy paint on sale in the base white and decide later which color to tint it…then you can take advantage of the sale price. By the way, love the palette of sherwin Williams grays that begin with nebulous white, passive, Argos, city scape and on

  46. I love #3! Have been looking for a pure light grey for weeks. Which one is this?! Also would love to know which paint was #1 as it seems it might work as accent wall with #3! I’ll of course follow your tip and try these in the room first 😉

  47. Omg! My mom drove me crazy! Same thing. 2 blue. But she is stuck with it because she doesn’t hv tone to change b4 thanksgiving eoth the painter.
    What color did u go with in the end?

  48. Hi, I think number two, but please I’m sixty-two days in troubles to choose the right gray colour, we live in Italy
    and we like so much your choices, please can you tell us the name of the brand and the number of the gray paint?
    Thank you very much.
    Kind Regards
    A desperate owner

  49. Hi. I’m having the same problem! I love the first color you painted (you mistake! Lol) and wanted to know the name. Also could you give me the name of number 2.

    Thanks!

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  51. Than you for the advice! What is the brand and colors of the last 2? I really love number 2 and considering painting my living room that color.