These shades of gray are anything but gloomy.

By Elizabeth Sweet
June 01, 2020
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Gray continues to top the list of popular paint colors for homeowners, and for a good reason. Whether cool, warm, light, or bold, grays of all tones and intensities provide a fresh backdrop for decor and coordinate beautifully with tile, countertops, furnishings, and art. Although this crisp neutral is highly versatile, gray is one of the most challenging colors to select due to its shifting undertones and sensitivity to natural light levels. Going gray seems simple enough at the outset, but sample paint chips and the finished result often vary greatly. Sometimes previously unseen, warm, cool, green, or blue tones can surface after gray paint is on the wall. To help you choose the ideal gray paint color for your space, take these essential factors into consideration.

Credit: Marty Baldwin

How to Choose Gray Paint Colors

Before you pick up a gallon of paint, take into consideration these tips for choosing shades of gray.

Consider Undertones and Lighting

To make the gray paint selection process easier, consider your paint's undertones and test the shade before committing. Undertones are the warm or cool colors added to paint to provide complexity and nuance. While they might not jump out at you initially, they often make a surprise appearance on the wall.

"The key to selecting the right gray is to focus more on the undertone of the color and the lighting in the space rather than the chip itself," says Cyndy Aldred, the blogger behind The Creativity Exchange. "In darker rooms, grays take on a warmer tone and transform the atmosphere." She also notes that if a room has an abundance of artificial lighting, gray walls can shift and appear green to the eye.

Match Decor and Flooring

If you're designing a space around existing furniture and flooring materials, these elements can draw out hidden colors, too. To ensure a successful result, coordinate gray paint undertones to your interior finishings, suggests Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. "It's important to consider whether the decor in the room is mostly warm or cool, and match the undertones accordingly," she says.

In areas with lots of wood elements, such as kitchens, tread carefully when choosing gray paint colors with greenish notes. "Be mindful of the other aspects of the room, such as furniture, cabinets, and flooring," Wadden says. "The green undertones in gray look very prominent when paired with wood."

Best Light-Gray Paint Colors

We asked designers and paint experts to share their picks for the best light-gray paint colors. These are the shades they turn to again and again for kitchens, living areas, bedrooms, and more.

Credit: Courtesy of reDesign Home

Agreeable Gray SW 7029, Sherwin-Williams

Chicago-based interior designer Alessia Loffredo of reDesign Home selected Agreeable Gray by Sherwin-Williams for the cabinetry in her client's light-filled kitchen. "We were looking for a light accent that would coordinate with the marble and limestone flooring, one that needed to perform rain or shine," she says. "Agreeable Gray checked all of the boxes for this space."

Wadden selected this color as a favorite, too, stating that Agreeable Gray is Sherwin-Williams's most popular color. "It's the perfect hue for any living space, whether it be a family room or bedroom, as it acts as a neutral backdrop," she says. "This gray is less cool than others, which bodes well for the resurgence of warmer hues and beiges that we're seeing."

Credit: Courtesy of Light and Dwell

Naturel SW 7542, Sherwin-Williams

After a long search for the perfect fit, Oregon-based designer Molly Kidd of Light and Dwell chose Naturel by Sherwin-Williams for her own kitchen cabinetry. "This one has all the things I love in a gray," she says. "It's soothing, not too blue or too taupe, and it brings warmth to the space." 

Credit: Poppi Photography

Classic Gray OC-23, Benjamin Moore

Krissy Peterson, an interior designer based in Redmond, Washington, believes that Classic Gray by Benjamin Moore is the perfect neutral. "Classic Gray is one of those amazing colors that adapts to its surroundings, which makes it really transitional," she says. "I love that it doesn't have undertones that can turn it too purple or pink. It's a great basic gray that can go a little greige to coordinate with warmer colors."

Credit: Ariel Okin

Gray Owl 2137-60, Benjamin Moore

Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore gets the vote of interior designer Ariel Okin, based in New York City. "Gray Owl is a beautiful true gray through and through. It's not too green and not too blue, and it hits the right balance between warm and cool," she says. "I particularly like it in bedrooms for a clean and monochromatic palette of creams and grays."

Credit: Courtesy of BANDD Design

Anonymous SW 7046, Sherwin-Williams

Sara Barney of Austin, Texas-based BANDD Design chose Anonymous by Sherwin-Williams as her go-to gray paint color. "I love this shade of gray because it adds the perfect touch of color while also keeping the room bright and sleek," she says. "We wanted to keep this kitchen neutral for the most part since we incorporated copper statement pieces throughout. This color was a perfect option to keep it looking fresh and modern."

Credit: James Nathan Schroder

Mantra SW 9631, Sherwin-Williams

For a more unconventional option, Wadden suggests a blue-green gray called Mantra for its calming qualities. A new color from Sherwin-Williams, this gray paint offers relaxing, cool undertones. "Mantra is an ethereal blue-gray that's reminiscent of a soft, efflorescent sky," she says. "It relaxes me just by thinking about it!"

Credit: Becky Shea

Silver Chain 1472, Benjamin Moore

Interior designer Becky Shea of New York City says Silver Chain by Benjamin Moore is one of her top gray paint recommendations for clients. "We selected it for this bedroom because it's light and airy during day time hours and then warm and cozy in the evening," she says. "Anytime we step foot into this room it makes us feel good. You take a deep breath, look out at the Hudson River, everything pauses, and you feel at peace."

Credit: Courtesy of Sherwin-Williams

Repose Gray SW 7015, Sherwin-Williams

A tried-and-true favorite, both Aldred and Wadden love Repose Gray by Sherwin-Williams. This reliable and ever-popular favorite gets top marks for versatility. "I love Repose Gray because it's a true, neutral gray that has always been a top seller," Wadden says. "It pairs well with textures and finishes, making it the perfect blank canvas for any space."

Best Dark-Gray Paint Colors

For rooms that call for a bolder statement, try these expert-recommended dark-gray paint colors.

Credit: Dana Wolter

Rockport Gray HC-105, Benjamin Moore

A monochromatic kitchen in Benjamin Moore's Rockport Gray makes for a sophisticated yet soothing statement. Birmingham-based interior designer Dana Wolter used it on her client's cabinetry, trim, walls, and even the ceiling, utilizing different finishes and varied custom paint intensities to create a subtle contrast. "I love this shade of gray as it reads as a neutral with its warm, taupe undertones," Wolter says. "It blends with shades of gray, green, and browns, making it versatile in its appeal. It's just a warm, welcoming hue."

Credit: Courtesy of Jean Stoffer Design

Englewood Cliffs 1607, Benjamin Moore

Chicago-based interior designer Jean Stoffer turned to Benjamin Moore's statement color Englewood Cliffs when creating a sitting room for her clients. Stoffer says it was the ideal choice to coordinate with the new decor and offer a respite from the adjacent open-concept kitchen, dining, and living space. "We love the depth and dimension that Englewood Cliffs paint adds to the space," Stoffer says. "The undertones play nicely with the velvet emerald sofas and highlight our favorite antique brass details throughout the room. This gray creates beautiful movement and interest, which is why it's one of our favorites!"

Credit: Courtesy of Farrow & Ball

Plummett No. 272, Farrow and Ball

Houston-based designer Mary Patton puts Plummett by Farrow and Ball on the top of her list. "It's a soft, soothing dark gray," she says. "It works beautifully on cabinets, in bedrooms, or in living spaces. If you want something a little lighter, it also looks great cut by 50% with white."

Credit: Courtesy of LeeAnn Baker Interiors

Cheating Heart 1617, Benjamin Moore

For another bold option, Seattle interior designer LeeAnn Baker suggests Benjamin Moore's Cheating Heart. "This is such a dramatic color that reads as a soft black and sometimes gets confused as a navy," she says. "It works wonderfully as a soft backdrop and really is dramatic when used on cabinetry. I have used it in kitchens, bathrooms, and offices. It is the perfect neutral dark gray for any space."

Other Tips for Choosing Gray Paint Colors

As with any painting project, the key to achieving success is testing colors in person before making the final decision. Aldred encourages homeowners to always be sure to "sample, sample, sample." Before committing to painting an entire room, or even just an accent wall, testing is an imperative part of the process.

To sample paint like a pro, Wadden suggests painting a 3-foot square in the space. "Look at it at different times of the day and in different lighting," she says. "The various tones emerge depending on the light." With the right color temperature and undertones, gray paint colors can make a gorgeous backdrop for any room.

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