Choosing the Right Neutral
by Kate Riley on May 16th, 2012
People choose neutrals on their walls for several reasons, sometimes to create a sense of serenity, other times to allow the furnishings and accessories to take the spotlight. Whatever your reason for choosing neutrals, the task of picking just the right one is not as simple as picking up what looks like beige, gray, or taupe on a swatch. Every neutral on the paint deck has an identifiable undertone. It may be readily apparent, it may be subtle, but the trick is to choose the best neutral with the right undertone for your space.
In a recent playroom makeover, the design included bright pops of green and blue in the furnishings and fabrics. With those watery colors in mind, the task was to find a neutral beige that didn’t lean towards yellow or red, but rather one that translated as more gray, like a pale taupe—one that would be the perfect neutral to play backdrop to the fresh layers of color intended for the playful space.
By testing various samples of Glidden paint on the walls (from left to right: “Manuscript,” ”Sand White,” and “Toasty Grey”) I determined that Sand White was that perfect beige, not too yellow (Manuscript) and not too red brown (Toasty Grey).
In design, neutrals typically mean shades of beige, gray and taupe. All neutrals have undertones which can include shades of blue, yellow, green, red and violet—and sometimes they’re incompatible. Knowing the formula for the paint can often tell you the undertone, and it dictates how your neutral will look against other furnishings in your space.
The best way to properly determine the undertones in your selection is to first compare your favorite colors to one another in both the natural and artificial light of the space in which you plan to paint the walls, like in the example above. It is only after comparing your samples next to each other that you can determine the presence of undertones. Referring to the paint formula, as mentioned above, is another useful trick.
Once you’ve identified the colors’ undertones, it’s important to then compare the choices against the fixed elements in the space, such as the carpet, flooring, or larger furnishings to ensure you don’t pick a neutral that will read as “off” against the other choices for the room. A yellow beige will not look right when placed against a red beige, so always compare the undertones against each other before deciding on wall color to complement the fixed furnishings or flooring.
The same concept was used in the choice of Sand White in this playroom space. The neutral beige was chosen after comparison to the similar shade in the sofa. Plus, up on the wall the Sand White pairs well with the cool blues and greens in the wall map, and plays nicely with the tan leather sofa.
The next time you’re choosing a neutral for your walls be sure to 1) compare it with similar samples to identify the undertones and 2) make sure the furnishings and fixed elements complement rather than compete with your chosen neutral for the wall. You’ll be well on your way to choosing the perfect neutral for your home!