Choosing The Right Gray Paint Color…

We usually feel pretty confident in our ability to pick a paint color. But something about choosing the perfect gray color for two major living areas in our house made me extra nervous (we’re going to use the same color in the future dining room, main hallway, and living room for some nice continuity). Sherry had a field day ribbing me about my paint paralysis. I was literally second-guessing every swatch we looked at. “Sure, I like it… no I don’t, I hate it.” Yeah, that was me.

I blame my neurosis on having selected a hideous gray tone to paint my middle school bedroom (I picked it because I liked the name – Cannonball or Cannon Smoke or something else that sounded like blowing stuff up). In retrospect it was too dark, cold, and prison-like. Fortunately I warmed it up with a bright red Looney Tunes rug and Tasmanian Devil throw pillows (don’t be jealous). But somehow I don’t think that’s an acceptable solution this time around.

So I convinced Sherry (who was a lot less gun-shy than I was, she kept saying “let’s just pick one and DO IT!”) that we should buy paint testers and try out a few colors before committing. She recommends this option all the time to nervous-about-painting readers, so it wasn’t too hard to convince her that we should give it a whirl at least once. So we narrowed it down to our top three similar-but-different-enough-to-help-us-make-a-decision contenders:

They are, from left to right: Collingwood, Grey Owl, and Moonshine (all Benjamin Moore colors mixed in Olympic Premium No-VOC samplers from Lowe’s – which are about $2.50 a pop). Of course, in an effort to prove her paint-psychic abilities, Sherry called her favorite before even breaking out the paintbrush. Can you guess which one it is? Hint: it rhymes with “spoon mine.”

Here they are in the future dining room, painted in that same order (with Collingwood on top and Moonshine on the bottom):

We just did one coat with a paintbrush (it had great coverage) doing our best to keep the edges feathered so when we eventually paint over everything we aren’t left with slightly raised squares where we tested (which is why we didn’t use painters tape to make perfect squares that also might be visible after we paint over them).

And ever the overachiever (or just someone who loves to paint), Sherry finally embraced the test square method and went ahead and painted big swatches in the family room too. One set near the TV…

…and another set next to the big window (since it gets a different amount of daylight).

After all, one of the great things about these testers is that you get to see what certain colors look like throughout the day and in varying amounts of daylight and artificial light. We do this with the small paint swatches too, but it certainly was nice to judge a color from across the room for once.

Speaking of different lights, here are all of the colors again at night when things are much yellower from the artificial light (they’re all painted in the same order as listed above, by the way):

So after a couple of days I finally admitted that (say it with me) Sherry was right all along. Moonshine, the one on the bottom, is by far our favorite of the bunch. Collingwood (the top one) almost won us over, but it’s so warm/tan that it reminded us a lot of Glidden’s Sand White, which was in our first house’s living room and office. We love that color, but it’s not gray enough for what we want this time, so in the spirit of doing something fresh and new we crossed it off the list. And Grey Owl (the middle one) read as too green/blue in our house’s light, so we worried it too might not immediately read “gray” and instead might be “muddy blue-gray” which is what we had in our last house’s bedroom and kitchen.

Moonshine is probably the “purist” of the grays we tested, and it almost has a soft shimmery quality to it – like there’s some silver mixed in. We’re excited about it because it’s definitely dark enough to make the moldings pop (especially once we paint the ones in the living room white) but it’s not too bright or saturated to compete with bolder curtains, art, and accessories that we plan to introduce. Now we just have to cross our fingers that we can find the energy to paint the two largest rooms in our house… and the hallway that connects them. We actually started the job today- but with baby & blog duty going on at the same time, it might take us a few days to get ‘er done. We’ll share pics as soon as we’ve got ’em though!

Have any of you used the paint tester method to choose a color? Did it confirm your feelings or send you in a totally new direction? And dare we ask how long the test squares stayed up before the room finally got painted completely? Ours were up nearly a week, but we could totally see how that could turn into a month (or a year) if you still weren’t 100% sure which way to go…


  1. Megan says

    The top grey was the one I would have chosen too! We’ve done the same thing in order to choose the right one. Multiple rooms, multiple times a day.

    Can’t wait to see the finished product! :)

  2. says

    <3 it! I would have chosen Moonshine also. It seems like the most consistent throughout even with the different lightings. I am excited to see it on the wall (the entire wall.)

    Happy Humpday!

  3. says

    I did the same thing when trying to find the perfect sage green. Our kitchen, dining room, and living room all share walls so the color we picked had to look good in every room, and I was very indecisive!

    I had about 10 color squares painted on the wall of each room. My friend’s mom came over and asked, flabbergasted, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

  4. Elisabeth says

    Yep, I’ve used the paint tester method several times, and it works out pretty well for me, I think, although my boyfriend is all, “You are addicted to sample paints! Why are there random squares all over the house?” For example, here’s my cracked-out craft room:

    And I had a lot of trouble finding a decent gray for my boyfriend’s home office. Gray is tough:

    I’m really digging the Moonshine! I’ve been a big fan of your blog forever, so I’m really happy to see that you used the paint tester method as well.

  5. Amy says

    We’ve had some chips up on our wall for about a week now. We started with a dozen (!) and have narrowed it down to three. I think I’m going to get some test paint for the first time. The husband never agrees to paint in the winter, so the test patch will be up until we can open the windows!

    We were ahead of the grey curve and have had it in our living room since we moved in in 2001. We’re staying grey, but going for a more silvery-blue shade now.

  6. says

    We painted samples before doing the trees on our living room wall, and ended up going with the swatch we chose originally – Valspar Mountain Pass. Looking forward to seeing your spaces when they’re all painted!

  7. Sara says

    Typo Alert! Change we to we’re….(we going to use the same color in the future dining room, main hallway, and living room for some nice continuity)

    Sorry, I can’t help myself!

  8. Courtney says

    We usually tape the larger one-color swatches to the wall and live with them for a while. We did just buy three of the test size cans though, so we could paint a tree on the wall of what is soon to be our son’s nursery. They’re the perfect size for smaller projects.

  9. Erin says

    Love Moonshine! It reads as a nice, pure, true gray! I think gray is the toughest color to select because so often it reads as pastel blue or purple or even tan – and you never know until you get it on your walls.

    And we’ve definitely done the paint sample/swatch thing, multiple times. In fact, my office right now has had a splash of Restoration Hardware’s Silver Sage behind the door since last June. I need to do something about that!

  10. Lauren says

    Ugh. I have been trying to pick a grey for my kitchen for literally six months. It’s so hard- I will just keep painting swatches and see what happens!

  11. beth says

    we move in a few days and I made a visit to the BM store a few days ago. I have an embarrassing # of test pots in my possession.

    Great job picking the color. Can’t wait to see how it goes!

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