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. Jennifer Laferriere says

    Hey, I used Porpoise from Behr. It’s a great all over neutral. But a trick that a designer friend gave me is that you want to look at the darker shades on the paint chip and make sure that you don’t inadvertently pick a shade that is too blue, green or purple. staying with a more neutral true gray is best. I can`t give you any advice since with the screen, I wouldn`t know which is actually best! :) Good luck!

  2. says

    A note about gray from an artist. I love gray. Something to keep in mind: when you put gray next to another color, it will naturally pick up its opposite on the color wheel. Example: Gray next to yellow will look purplish. Gray next to blue will look more orangie/warm. Yes, I said “orangie”. Good luck!

  3. carolyn says

    I love the one you picked! Funny, I just walked in the door from a HD trip with a fist full of gray swatches. Yum!

    And yes, I have 3 paint swatches painted in my bright orange kitchen none of which I’m willing to commit to. Even though I thought I hated the orange, it’s grown on me over the past few years…

  4. Elizabeth says

    When I was choosing a gray to paint my kitchen/dining/living/entry/hall area (which is all connected) I painted samples on some foam core and moved it around to see the colors in different areas at different times of the day.

    And YES…doing this makes you choose different colors than those you like on the little swatches, especially with gray. Some were too blue, too green, too PINK!

    I ultimately went with Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter colormatched into Sherwin Williams Superpaint. (I am apparently not on the no/low VOC bandwagon yet.)

    I also painted all the vaulted ceilings in those areas…and the woodwork…still don’t know where I found the energy, must have been the inspiration from you guys since I completed the painting in about three days ALL BY MYSELF!

    • Alicia Cummings says

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Any chance you can share the formula and or the name of the SW paint color matched from BM Revere Pewter. After much thought I have settled on BM Revere Pewter, but my painter cannot get it (Utah) and wants to use SW. THANK YOU!! Alicia

  5. says

    I love the Moonshine, definitely the right choice. (Not that you need my approval or anything, lol).

    Our house has quite an interesting fireplace, all pastel quartz. I decided the way to go was to paint the room a super pale pink. The Mr. wasn’t having it. We went through three tan testers, a pale yellow, a bright blue, and finally two different pinks before he realized pink was the right choice for us. But those swatches stayed up for… I think 3 months before we came to a decision.

  6. says

    I absolutely recommend this method! When I wanted to paint the master bedroom, I couldn’t decide between 3 different colors. Because my initial choices were wrong, I ended up getting several shades of each color before I was done. If I’d gone just with the paint chips, I would not have chosen the right color. I spent nearly $50 on samples, but I would have spent much more if I’d painted the whole room the wrong color.

    Sadly, the walls looked crazy for months. It took me so long to choose a color, school started before I could get the walls painted and I had to wait until winter break. (I’m a teacher.)

  7. julia says

    Why didn’t you test the one you had in your recent moodboard for the new living room? I think it was soft pewter? I’ve seen you recommend that one a lot before. Any reason you changed your mind and didn’t test that one?

    Also, I’m thinking of painting a room in my house gray with wwhite trim. I decided to do the painter tester method and did the color matching with Lowe’s Olympic paint (BM color). I have to say the paint Lowe’s mixed is similar but definitely not the same color as the BM paint chip. I even went into the BM store and the colorist confirmed what I was thinking – the Lowe’s paint has some purple undertones that aren’t in the BM paint. (fyi – the color I had color matched was soft pewter). Are you at all concerned that you paint isn’t an exact match with the BM colors? I googled around and read that paint matching is rarely exact…

    Anyway, I can’t wait to see the finished rooms! Or even just a finished wall :)

    • says

      Hey Julia,

      We love that color but when we held it up in this house (as opposed to our first one) it looked too brown like the Collingwood one. Just felt too similar to Sand White (which we love, but have already done). As for color matching, our Lowe’s actually has the Benjamin Moore formulas in the computer, so they’re not scanning something, they’re pulling up the exact formula for a great match at your request. Hope it helps!


  8. says

    Love the gray choice! I’ve been wanting to do gray in my big loft, but am so worried about it looking cold a prison-like too! I do like Stonington Gray by BM, but not sure if it’s too deep a tone. Can’t wait to see what colors you use to complement!

  9. bex says

    Oh my goodness! We did the swatch thing for pretty much our entire house. GIANT blocks of paint all over, in a multitude of colors. Our friends would joke that we should just keep going with other colors and make the rooms polka-dotted. :) Har har.

    I’m in love with your Moonshine! We did the gray-all-over-the-biggest-rooms-of-our-house thing, but it ended up looking a little more blue than we wanted. BUT, there’s no way I’m repainting our vaulted-ceiling great room (which is living, dining, and landing – plus hallway and part of the kitchen!) and entryway. It took five people five hours to do it. Never. Again.

  10. sleigh says

    Olympic actually has a a color called “going gray”, that we used in our bathroom. But its more of a blue then a grey. ;)

  11. JenM says

    When I bought home the paint chip samples, my husband said “all 3 look exactly the same color.” After we purchased paint tester samples and did the 3 color blocks he had to admit the colors were very different. We were so excited about the color we picked we started painting the bathroom straight from the tester, then ran right back out to the store and purchased more paint. It was only a small bathroom though, if it had been an actual room would’ve definitely taken a while. I love when you do a paint swatch post b/c I use it as proof that I’m not the only person who use the “tape a million swatches of similar color all over the room” method!

  12. Bill says

    I think the testers are a great way to see what color you like, but I do have a warning for others. Go one room at a time! haha. We picked 1 potential color for our kitchen, bedroom, office, and bathroom and put the tester on each one about 6 weeks ago. So far, we have the kitchen painted! (Luckily, we liked the only color we chose). We weren’t sold on the other colors so we still just have kinda-squares of paint on the walls in those rooms. We did go back and get two other colors for the bedroom and now know what we want in there, so it will be the next to be painted. I think you were smart to pick three colors to try and stick to one room (or rooms that are going to be the same color)!!

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