neutral paint colors

how to choose neutral paint colours

Ever painted a room only to find the colour is not what you wanted?  Ugh! It’s too green when you wanted grey or it’s too yellow when you wanted a pure, bright white?  Yup, I know the feeling because I’ve so been there.

Where did you go wrong? After all a neutral is a neutral right?  Well, not quite.

The good news is that the tips below will show you exactly how to choose neutral paint colours for your home with lots of pictures to inspire you and show you the variety of neutral wall colours.

I’ve made plenty of paint mistakes over the years.  Once I painted my whole bedroom in (what I thought was) a soft white. And guess what? It ended up looking totally yellow. Yuck!  But I’ve learned through experience which I’m going to share so that you never make a paint mistake again.

what are neutral colours?

Before we dive in to how to choose neutral paint colours for your home, it’s worth explaining what I mean by neutrals in the first place.  Many of us think of neutrals as shades of white, grey and brown but in interiors neutrals are any colour that works well with most other colours.

I like to think of neutrals as muted colours that create a beautiful background to bring everything else together in your room.  Whether light or dark, when done right, walls painted in neutral colours are fabulous for making a room look cohesive and calm.

And the other big advantage of painting your walls in neutral tones is that you will never tire of the colour or feel like you’ve made a mistake.

neutral paint colors

How to choose neutral paint colours for your home

lets talk undertones

If you’ve ever watched paints being mixed in a paint store, you’ll have seen that they almost always add some colour to the paint.  Even though it’s a neutral colour it will have a tinge of some other colour like green or blue or yellow, unless it’s a pure white.  If you dislike green, the last thing you want to end up with is a neutral colour with green undertones.  This is the biggest mistake people make when choosing paint colours for their home.

In order to determine the undertone look at the colours at the bottom of paint sample cards. The darker colours towards the bottom will show exactly what the base colour or undertone is. While this method is very handy, many paint companies do individual colour cards. If this is the case, lay any single colour card against a piece of basic white printer and the undertone will become evident.

If you’re still unsure, ask at your paint store as they will be able to help you.

cool grey Scandinavian bedroom

beige walls living room
cool or warm neutral?

Before choosing colors for your walls, it’s important to think about the mood you want to create and whether you want it to feel light and airy or cosy and intimate. Knowing the difference between warm and cool colors is the first step.  Warm neutrals typically have undertones that are orange, yellow or red while cool neutrals have green, blue or purple undertones.

Before deciding between warm or cool neutral paints, consider the lighting – more on this later.  You also need to consider the other colours in your home unless you’re decorating from scratch.

It is possible to go for a mix of warm and cool neutrals in a room but ideally there should be one dominant color which determines the personality of the room.  So if you have a lot of greys and blues, stick to a cool neutral paint colour for your walls or if you have a lot of browns and creams then a warm neutral paint will work better. I definitely wouldn’t recommend going for going for a mix of warm and cool neutrals on your walls. If you do want a bit of contrast you can add accessories like cushions and throws in a contrasting colour like you can see in many of the pictures.

It’s also worth considering any other rooms that can be seen from the room you’re painting. E.g. a living room that has cool grey walls which overlooks another room with warm beige walls won’t work well. You won’t get that cohesive look that everyone wants in their home.

Which then brings me the next question about two completely separate rooms in the home? This is a personal choice and also depends on the colours you plan to use. My preference is for rooms to have some individuality but I like my home to come together as one cohesive space. So I prefer to let either a cool or warm paint colour dominate throughout my home with contrasting accents.

However there are two exceptions to this – you can pair any cool or warm neutrals with pure white (not white with undertones) and it will always work together even in the same room.  Alternatively there are neutrals that are a mix of warm and cool like greige (grey with brown undertones) which will again pair well with either cool or warm tones.

grey green walls living room

cool blue grey neutral walls

grey kids room scandinavian

dark blue bedroom Scandinavian

what kind of lighting do you have?

Before choosing a cool or warm neutral, one other thing to consider is lighting – both natural and artificial.  This is a whole other topic bit in general how much and what type of light a room gets can have a big effect on the undertones that come out of a colour.  If your room gets a lot of natural light then you can go for practically any neutral colour you like. On the other hand, rooms that don’t get much natural light tend to bring out the cooler tones within a colour so a grey paint with a blue undertone will look much bluer than in a room with lots of natural light.

Similarly artificial light can also affect how colours appear. Lights that give off a yellowish hue will make wall colours appear warmer, while cool white bulbs tend to give off a bluer light, giving paint a cooler look.

I wouldn’t get too hung up on lighting as the easiest way to figure out what a colour looks like in a room is to test it which brings me to the next point.

greige wall paint dining room

how to choose neutral paint colours

warm neutral paint colour for living room

test your paints

Once you’ve decided on the colour, get a load of sample pots in similar tones and test in the room you plan to use it in.  This step is absolutely essential.  I recommend testing it in various parts of the room where the lighting can differ. E.g near a window, in the darkest part of the room etc.  Once you’ve got the paint on the wall, observe it at different times of the day for a few days.  Remember to test in every room you are planning to use it in.  This is the best way to determine what the colour will actually look like in your room.

I’ve had a reader say to me that she bought a grey paint and painted her entire room only to find that it looked so blue!  And blue was not what she wanted but she hadn’t bothered to test it first.  It was of course a grey paint with a blue undertone but depending on your lighting, it can definitely look much more blue than grey. She ended up having to repaint the entire room which meant more time and money wasted!  Therefore testing is so important especially to avoid having to repaint or worse, live with a colour you hate!

don’t compromise

With the millions of paint colours out there, there is absolutely no need to compromise. You will find the right neutral tone for your room and your home.  If none of your testers are quite right, start again with a new bunch of testers.  It’s far better to spend a bit of extra time at this stage than to live with a colour you don’t love or end up having to repaint the entire room.

Hopefully these tips above will take the mystery out of how to choose neutral paint colours.  Whether you go for a warm or cool neutral colour, you won’t tire of the colour and decorating around a neutral tone becomes much easier. Which neutral paint colour are you drawn to?

Image Credits: all photos by Bjurfors, Alvhem, Stadshem, Entrance Makleri

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