Here’s what happened. The ’90s were a blur of beige. That particular “beige” had a yellow undertone and when mixed with the other ’90s elements of shabby chic and faux finishes it was bad. After that we as a people were ready for a big shift, a rejection really of that warm and dated tone. So 2000 rolled around and we celebrated a new millennium by ushering in a decade (if not more) of “gray”. For whatever reason, we considered this neutral more “modern,” “fresh,” and “masculine” (this was also a decade that valued “masculine” and “feminine” differently – bu-bye).
In an attempt to be more sophisticated I started painting everything gray. I even wrote a whole post about it, with an oddly entertaining reference to Ryan Gosling. I didn’t take a ton of great photos back then but I found a few.
For the pilot episode of Secrets From A Stylist, I chose this gray grasscloth for Ian’s house (and the cheapest gray wall to wall carpet ever) and it was cold in every way.
After the show, we switched out to this warm camel color which we still love 10 years later.
Again on Secrets, I painted this dark room gray…
By mixing it with hot pink (Woah, those roses – can you say ROMANCE?) and brass it was actually kinda great and trust me if it had been white it would have been so flat – that room had very very little natural light (read about how to avoid that big mistake here). If I could go back in time I probably would select a powdery blue paint for that plaster or just a warmer, lighter gray.
But I wasn’t all wrong. Ten years ago I painted Gray Owl in Ian’s living room and still love it.
We painted my friend Scott’s bedroom Pavilion Gray and we still love it.
Our bedroom in LA is painted Ammonite (a warm gray) and I LOVE it.
So what makes one gray depressing and another gray like a big hug?? How do you choose the right gray paint?
We aren’t done exploring…
A few years ago, Brady wrote a whole post about his “Choosing the Perfect Gray’ journey and he tried out 12 different paint colors on swatches before painting his living room.
He selected Pavilion Gray (same as Scott’s bedroom) with the help of our audience and in photos, it looked beautiful.
He thought he chose the right one… but after he lived with it he realized it was actually dark and depressing in his space – although it looked so pretty in photos. He painted it to Super White (and also switched out the sofa and his “garbage” chairs – his words – that were literally falling apart).
Now a good gray, like a good ANYTHING will always be in style. This isn’t a declaration, we aren’t announcing the demise of one of our only true neutrals. So what’s my problem?
It’s so easy to go too “cold” and a cool gray can indeed feel depressing. When I was designing the Portland house one of my best pieces of advice from locals is don’t paint anything gray. There is already enough up there. The same goes for the English who want happier colors that can also be moody, but not gray (or grey in the UK).
Here’s how to choose a good gray paint color:
- Look at the overall color tone of the whole paint strip to help determine what the undertone of the color is. Then make sure you like that undertone color. It might be blue, gray, purple, brown – this will indicate more of what it will feel like.
- Go for a warmer undertone if you want it to feel like a hug. It’s easy to go too beige and thus create taupe or what some might call “greige,” so we’ve rounded up our favorites below:
- Modern Gray | 2. Ammonite | 3. Gray Owl | 4. Pale Oak | 5. Pediment | 6. Soapstone | 7. Skyline | 8. Heron Plume | 9. Pavillion Gray
- Please paint a piece of paper and live with it on multiple walls throughout the day (like Brady did). Every paint color reacts differently based on your natural light (or lack thereof).
- Know that even if you go slightly blue, it will look blue. The amount of times I’ve tried to choose the perfect “blueish gray” is embarrassing, only to end up with baby – mother-effing – blue. We are on the hunt for the perfect blue/gray right now so stay tuned for that when we find it.
- The other colors in the room can shift your gray. It can either pull out more warm or cool tones OR it can contrast it and push it in another direction. I wish I went to design school and had more of a solid color theory scientific answer for you, but sometimes something will reflect on the walls and shift it entirely which is frustrating.
So, in conclusion, are we done with gray???? NO, but we are certainly only using it where it’s actually appropriate and recognizing that it’s not for every room or every location. It became a go-to that we went to too often. The ’00s ushered in a decade of white walls and we are similarily questioning that popularity. Both can be great neutrals and great backgrounds for any style, and we will always use and highlight our favorites. But like anything, we are being more purposeful and asking ourselves “WHY?” before selecting any color.
So those are my current thoughts and feelings about gray. I would love to know yours (and please recommend other grays in the comments – I’ve only used what I’ve used and we too need more recommendations).