Gray: a complicated non-color

I’ve decided to paint my living room and dining room gray. You might think I’m crazy to do so since Portland is known for being rather gray many months of the year. Perhaps… But, I hold fast to my claim that gray is a very beautiful, complicated, nuanced neutral that showcases other colors and light wonderfully. Reasons I like gray walls:

  • The rest of my belongings and surfaces are warm, golden, and beigey in tone, including my floors, drapes, and furniture. I’d like to bring some contrast to the space by adding a cooler neutral to the walls. Here’s a peek at the current situation.

  • I like colorful accessories, like paintings, pillows, throws, napkins, table cloths, vases, and candles. Colorful walls would render all those add-ons too Crayola-box-of-crayons-ish. Gray seems like a good canvas to layer on top of.
  • Depending on the time of year and time of day, a good gray wall color changes slightly with the light. It can read blue, green, brown, or violet depending on the temperature and source of the light. It’s important to me to pick a gray that can take on any of these qualities rather than just one. Gray can be very versatile if chosen carefully.

The challenge is finding just the right shade of gray. It’s so easy to pick something that’s too blue, too drab, too dark, or too light. I really liked what I used in our old apartment, but that color has been discontinued and I want something a tad darker. Here’s some shots of the gray in my old place.

Needless to say, I’ve been getting to know the guys at the paint store quite well! I’ve been in there three times for samples already and they’ve been very helpful.

I have a few gray samples taped to my walls right now. I’m trying to decide how I feel about them. I’m also continuing to research what others have used and like. Here are some homes that use gray in really beautiful ways.

I plan to paint after the holidays, assuming I’ve decided on a gray by then. I’ll definitely post pictures and tips. In the meantime, here are a few resources/tips that have helped me along in my search for the perfect paint color:

  • Try to limit yourself to one brand of paint, or at least limit yourself to the brands carried by one particular store. You could drive yourself crazy if you don’t place this initial limit. I’ve decided on Benjamin Moore because the paint store I like carries the brand and I appreciate their low and no VOC formulas. (Better for the environment and our lungs.)
  • Explore colors online initially. I’ve enjoyed browsing homes at Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy, and playing with the Personal Color Viewer at, but…
  • Make sure you preview the colors in your own space. Colors, especially complicated neutrals, look very different in person, in your spaces, than they do online or in the store.
  • Try to settle on a few options in the store and ask the retailer if they can provide a larger sample. The guys at my local paint store have helpfully given me 4″ x 6″ cards of a few grays.

How have you chosen wall colors recently? Can you recommend a good gray?

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3 Responses to Gray: a complicated non-color

  1. carmen says:

    Ah, that will be a fun wintertime project. I think the gray will be lovely–especially in how you can dress it up with accessories/decor like you mentioned. Right now our walls (apt.) are a peachy-khaki color which is fine, but really hard to match. I really wish they were just white! Can’t wait to see the finished photos when you’re done 🙂

  2. Lindsay says:

    Peachy-khaki would be tough. We had trim that color (with white walls) in our first apartment in Portland and it was tough to decorate around. I’ll definitely post more pictures as the project progresses.

  3. Pingback: Painting my dining room « Urban Domesticity

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