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How To Choose The Perfect Neutral Paint

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

Photo Courtesy of Joe Lingeman

With Spring desperately trying to peak it's head in our thoughts are on a refresh and what better way to do that than with paint. Picking a paint color is never easy. With so many options and each one varying slightly from the next it is no wonder why as designers we are always asked to help with our client's paint selections. When choosing a paint color most people are working around existing furnishings and decor currently in their home. The easiest way to tie everything together is with a great neutral color throughout your home. This also eliminates the need to repaint if you end up changing out any furnishings saving you time and money, and who doesn't like that?

As you can see from our round up the majority of the colors are in the range of white, greige, and gray. We tend to stay away from the beige tones especially here in the Midwest as many of them tend to have strong yellow undertones and paring that with the remaining oak woods that you'll still find in the homes here is in our opinion disastrous.

White is having a major comeback as of late (not so much here in the Midwest as we are still on the gray kick). I find that white is one of the hardest colors to choose. As with all colors it is affected by undertones, lighting, and the elements that are around it, but there is something about finding the perfect white for a space that takes a good eye.

The key to choosing a good white paint (or any paint really) is to physically paint it in your spaces.

Narrow down your top choices and either buy the sample testers and paint a good size swatch on your walls or you can get reusable paint samples from certain paint manufacturers. Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines™ offers an 8”x 10” Peel & Stick Color Samples of her paint line (not a paid endorsement). Through Samplize you can get 12"x 12" reusable Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, or Farrow & Ball paint samples (not a paid endorsement).

Photo courtesy of Samplize

Either way by having a swatch of the color on the walls you can get a true feel of how the paint will look in your space throughout the day with your furnishings and various lighting to make sure it's something you really like before painting the whole room.

How Light Affects Paint Colors

One major factor that is overlooked the majority of the time is how light, both natural and artificial, will alter how a color will look in your home. Each light temperature pulls out a color undertone, which is why the same paint will change from room to room or will look different at night than during the day.

Let's start with the natural light that comes through windows. Depending on the direction of the light you will get a warm or cool temperature as well as various color undertones.

North facing rooms: cool temperature sunlight all day/ bluish color.

East facing rooms: warm temperature sunlight before noon/yellowish color.

West facing rooms: warm temperature sunlight after noon/ orange-red color.

South facing rooms: warm temperature sunlight all day/orange-yellow color.

Now you are probably think ok great, now what does all of this mean? Not to worry I will explain how it affects colors as soon as we talk about artificial light.

Incandescent Bulbs: warm light with yellow or amber color

Florescent Bulbs: cool light with a bluish color

Halogen Bulbs: brighter whiter light more like sunlight

Soft White Florescent Bulbs: mimics the warm light of an incandescent

Full Spectrum Florescent: produces light that most closely resembles natural light

LEDS: depending on the type will give you every color scenario mentioned above

This is a great comparison on how light temperature affects colors. Light that has a yellow or amber color will intensify warm colors and dulls cooler colors. Light that has a bluish color will amplify blue and green colors and will mute warmer colors. A soft white florescent bulb though is the wild card it will fade all colors regardless of temperature. Take this into consideration when you are choosing colors for your home as these temperature colors in both natural and artificial light will change how you see the color of the paint.

This image is a comparison of LED lighting options based on how many kelvin (K) the bulb has, thus affecting the color temperature. There is a really great article that elemental led put out regarding LED lighting and how to chose what is right for you home. They go into great detail breaking down ideals for choosing the right light for the right function in different areas of your home.

In the design world we always suggest layering the types of lights you have in your home between ambient, task, accent, and decorative depending on the function of that room. This way you create a comfortable atmosphere regardless the type of light.

Photo courtesy of NOON Home

If after staring at countless shades of paint swatches at your local hardware store you start to question your sanity because they all start to look alike, don't worry for many people the selection process can be difficult. Choosing the right paint color is a key part of the success of any design. If you are having trouble let us help you with a color consultation we'll get you pointed in the right direction.


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