The perfect shade of grey

The perfect shade of grey.

When we moved into our house I knew that our walls needed to be repainted grey in our living room / dining room / entryway. It seemed simple: pick a light grey shade and commence painting. If only.

I started out by identifying the conditions unique to our space:

  1. The room is very large (~650 sq. feet), so we needed to go with a neutral colour that could compliment a lot of different defined spaces.
  2. This room is not a normal rectangular shape, it’s an L-shape with so many weird jut-ins. There are 10 corners, and I’ll get to why that matters in a moment.
  3. We’re planning on taking down the wall between the dining room and the kitchen in the spring, so the paint colour needs to work with the heavy wood tones in there too.
  4. We have pretty ceiling moulding and trim around our doors and windows and I didn’t want them to recede if we went with too light a wall colour.
  5. The room gets both northern and southern light, not so much eastern or western light.
  6. The hardwood floors can read a bit orange-y, so I wanted a cool tone that would offset the warmth they bring into the space. I also have a preference for warm metals (aka brass), so a cool tone was needed to make them pop.

So, given all of the above, I knew I was on the hunt for a light, but not too light, shade of grey.

Getting back to why the corners matter, grey (and all non-white colours) reflect less light than white, so when you look at the corners in a grey room, they’ll be more defined than those in  a white room. The darker the shade, the more contrast you’re going to see in the room. In a room with 10 corners, you really want to downplay all that chaos, so painting the walls as light as possible will help draw the attention away from all the weird dimension in the room.

And on to the actual paint selection process:

I started out by researching grey rooms on my favourite design sites (Domino, Lonny, Design Sponge), on Instagram and Pinterest. As soon as I identified a colour, I would Google it and see how it looked in different spaces. Colours that made the shortlist:

Stonington Gray by Benjamin Moore
Gray Cloud by Benjamin Moore
Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore
Cornforth White by Farrow and Ball
Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore

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From top to bottom: BM Paper White, BM Gray Owl, F&B Cornforth White, BM Stonington Gray

I then painted those swatches on my wall and quickly realized that next to one another you can see immediately the undertones. Some veered too purple, others too blue and some too creamy. I really thought Farrow and Ball’s Cornforth White was going to be the winner that I had to beat, but it was just too brown-purple on our walls. Stonington Gray was the closest in reading as a true gray, but it was too dark for our space.  My backup plan, if we couldn’t find the right shade was to have the paint store cut Stonington Gray with white to lighten it up, but I was worried about inconsistency from can to can.

I then went back again to Benjamin Moore with some new colours in mind and landed on Paper White. Once I got the samples up on all our walls, I knew it was the winner. It was by far the brightest and closest to white, but the grey was present enough to allow the white trim-work to pop. So, I proceeded to paint giant swatches because I couldn’t get enough of it. When my husband got home from hockey that night, I asked him what he thought, to which he responded with “it’s the first sample that looks like grey”. Done and done.

Just a note, paint colours look so different in everyone’s room. Some of the ones I thought would win are highly recommended by designers I admire (Emily Henderson loves BM Grey Owl, Danielle Moss has used Cornforth White in several apartments), and the colour will look great in some rooms but completely wrong in others. It’s 100% unique to every space, which is what makes picking the right colour so challenging.

We set aside our Thanksgiving long weekend to paint the room, don’t worry we still made it to Thanksgiving dinner. I’m so obsessed with the new colour – it reminds me of a chic Parisian apartment and looks great as the light changes through the day. We also painted our ceiling and trim Decorator’s White, so everything is feeling especially fresh. We’ve also swapped out all our outlets and switches for new bright white ones, so the room feels totally fresh.

And for some side by side shots:

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