The #1 Rule of Thumb for picking the right paint color for your wall.

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#1 Rule of Thumb for choosing the right paint color

(Keep reading and I’ll include #2, #3, #4, and #5)

I’ll preface this blogpost by saying if you are someone who likes bright, bold colors on your wall, this tip is NOT for you!  But if you like neutral, serene colors, read on!

Drumroll please!  The color you like will almost always be more pleasing to the eye when it is less saturated or with a gray undertone.  If that makes no sense to you, don’t worry, I’ll explain further.

If you look through Pinterest and swoon over the beautiful wall colors, you’d sometimes be surprised when you see those colors on the paint chips (the cards usually in a big display case in your paint store).  They are usually much less vibrant than what you’d expect, but instead very muted.  Many have a gray undertone to them.  I know this by experience.  Let me tell you about my first experience trying to pick out a blue paint color for my bedroom.  I knew the look I wanted.  I had been seeing these beautiful, calming blue rooms on the internet, tv, and in the magazines and I wanted that look.  So, I went to the paint store and started bringing home blue paint samples.  They just weren’t right.  They looked on the paint chip like the blue I was trying to achieve, but on my wall it just wasn’t giving me that serene look I was going for.  I finally, on a whim, picked up a sample pot of Benjamin Moore Quiet Moments (you can see a swatch of the color below).

Benjamin Moore Quiet Moments

Benjamin Moore Quiet Moments

As you can see in the swatch, this is not a color that completely reads blue, there is a lot of gray in it.  But…. this was it!  I finally had that calming, serene feeling I was going for.  You can see below a picture of this color in my bedroom.  It definitely looks blue when it’s on the walls (even more so in person).  This is the reason I wanted to share this information with all of you, so you don’t have to go through the headaches I did trying to find those magazine worthy paint colors.  Keep reading and I’ll give you an easy way to get this right.

DIY Pottery Barn Bed Angle 1

Bedroom painted with Benjamin Moore Quiet Moments

If you’re thinking, that sounds great, but how am I supposed to get this right, I do have a tip.  I am going to tell you what I know from my experience, which is with Sherwin Williams paints.  Since I’ve painted my bedroom, I’ve painted numerous pieces of furniture, many more rooms, and have helped friends and family pick out paint colors.  When I open up my Sherwin Williams paint deck, I immediately go to a section called Fundamentally Neutral and I almost always pick a color from this section.  This has these neutral, serene colors in all shades already grouped together for you.

Most paint retailers (even the big box stores) will often have the paint decks for other brands behind the counter.  So, if you are trying to pick a paint color and don’t want to go to a Sherwin Williams store, you probably don’t have to.  Also, other stores can normally mix colors from other brands, so don’t dismiss a paint color because it’s not the brand you’re buying.  They normally will only need either a paint chip, or the color on the paint deck to mix the color.

So, if you can get your hands on a Sherwin Williams paint deck, in the front there are two sections Essentials and Fundamentally Neutral.  I would recommend that unless you want a pop of color on your walls, to pick a wall color from these sections.  If you are looking for a white or gray color, you will find those colors in the Essentials section.  All other colors are in the Fundamentally Neutral section.  If you are looking at the paint chips on their wall you can go by the numbers.  The Essentials are  7000-7083, and the Fundamentally Neutrals are from 6000-6280.

Below I’ve included some pictures of rooms with colors from this Fundamentally Neutral section (there are some that are only links, I apologize for this.  I’m working on getting permission to showcase photos with these colors).  By keeping with a muted color, you can have color on your wall, but it is not overpowering.  I also have a board on Pinterest labeled Sherwin Williams Paint.  This is jam-packed full of almost 400 Sherwin Williams colors, some neutral and some not.  Here is a link to the board.

Sherwin Williams Rainwashed

Sherwin Williams Rainwashed

Image by Jimmy Nash Homes via

Sherwin Williams Tradewind

Sherwin Williams Tradewind

Image by Case Design and Remodeling Indy via

Sherwin Williams Samovar Silver

Click on this link to view a room painted with Sherwin Williams Samovar Silver

Sherwin Williams Krypton

SW Krypton

Image by Pine Street Carpenters & The Kitchen Studio via

Sherwin Williams Contented

SW Contented

Image by William Johnson Architect via

Sherwin Williams Sea Salt

Sherwin Williams Sea Salt

Image by Echelon Custom Homes via

SW Sea Salt

Image via

Sherwin Williams Austere Gray

Click on this link to view a room painted with Sherwin Williams Austere Gray

Sherwin Williams Svelte Sage

sherwin williams svelte sage

Image by Blue Sky Building Company via

Sherwin Williams Softened Green

Sherwin Williams Softened Green

Image by S. J. Janis Company, Inc. via

Sherwin Williams Ivoire

Sherwin Williams Ivoire

Image by Tina Kuhlmann via 

Sherwin Williams Netsuke

Sherwin Williams Netsuke_2

Image by Guidi Homes via

Sherwin Williams Veiled Violet

SW Veiled Violet

Sherwin Williams Veiled Violet_2

Images via Color Chic

Sherwin Williams Chaise Mauve

SW Chaise Mauve

Image by Echelon Custom Homes via

#2 Rule of Thumb for choosing the right paint color

Find a few colors that you like, pull out the paint chips and lay them down next to each other.  It’s amazing how you really notice how different they are when they are right next to each other.  Pull out the ones that you thought you liked when you picked it out, but now that you see it next to others it’s not so appealing.  AND… you have eliminated a few options.  Score!

#3 Rule of Thumb for choosing the right paint color

Once you find the ones you like, take them home.  The lighting in a room can make a HUGE difference.  Don’t be too hasty to eliminate everything in the paint store because you may get one home and realize it looks better in your living room than it did in the paint store.  Take a look at the color in all lighting conditions, day and night.

#4 Rule of Thumb for choosing the right paint color

Almost always go one shade darker!  Find the shade that you like on the paint chip, and then go one shade darker.  I have made the mistake a million times of getting the shade that I like on the paint chip, getting it home and it’s too light.  More saturation in the same color family is almost always better than less.  The exception to this rule is when the color you want is a dark color (at the bottom of the paint chip).  In this scenario, you’ll normally want to go one shade lighter.  I do not have as much experience with dark colors though.

#5 Rule of Thumb for choosing the right paint color

Once you have eliminated a few that you don’t like in your lighting, go back to the store and pick up samples of the ones that are left.  This is a VERY important step.  You may have liked it on the paint chip in a very small dose, but when you get a large swatch on your wall you may find it’s not so appealing.  Trust me, it is much better to spend $5 on a sample quart (that’s the price at Sherwin Williams) and find out you don’t like it, than to buy a gallon or two, take the time to paint, and then decide you don’t like it.  DO NOT skip this step.

Good luck finding your perfect paint color!  I hope I’ve bestowed some wisdom that might help.  If you’d like to see any more things that I have to share please like my Facebook page or follow my blog via wordpress or e-mail (below).  If you would like to see what inspires me you can follow me on Pinterest.


30 responses to “The #1 Rule of Thumb for picking the right paint color for your wall.

  1. Pingback: Perfect Shades of Navy Blue Paint. Simply Made by Rebecca·

  2. Pingback: How to get the vintage farmhouse look? Think Fixer Upper! | Simply made by rebecca·

  3. Great tips to finding the right paint colors! I also have BM Quiet Moments in my MBR… Beautiful serene color! I would love to know where you purchased your upholstered bed, it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for 🙂
    Thank You


  4. I love the tip about the undertone of gray for more serene, muted, tranquil colors. I’m repainting my master bathroom for the second time and I’m afraid to commit to a color. I purchased a gallon of Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue color number HC-144 thinking it did have a gray undertone before reading your article without realizing that was the trick to creating a more serene wall color. Then read your article. If I can ask your opinion, do you think this HC-144 has enough gray in it to provide that serene feeling? The color is very close to an accent color in the glass tile backsplash. I’ve seen it used on a wall but I’m a little concerned it has a little bit too much vibrant color.


    • I am so sorry that I did not see your comment sooner. I have not used Palladian Blue personally, but I think it is a beautiful color and I do think it contains a gray under shade. If it complements what’s in your room I think it’s a great choice. At this point you’ve probably already made your decision. I apologize and I’d love to help in the future.


  5. maybe you can help me I just bought a house a fixer and for now I don’t have alot of money to put into in but I know paint is the cheapest way to upgrade for now. The house has a light pink carpet and I have a brownish greenish sofa. What do you think would be the best wall color to put up


    • I would try a Sherwin Williams color called Accessible Beige. It is a very clean neutral color. It is a neutral beige, but it has gray undertones. With light pink and a colored sofa I personally wouldn’t go with too much color on the walls. A nice light gray color might also be nice. Another option would be white walls. I know that sounds boring, but white walls are really in. Alabaster is one of Sherwin Williams most popular wall colors right now. You can bring in color with florals or inexpensive art (check out my free printables or others on Pinterest for inexpensive art). I hope that helps some.


  6. Our home has trim stained in walnut, so I find it difficult to choose a color because all pictures and grouping show white trimmed rooms. I chose a red for the living room that was all wrong. I’ve had a couple of the walls re-done in a white but there are still a couple red. Suggestions?


    • I am right there with you on picking a paint color with stained trim being hard. White is easy and you’re right, if you look through Houzz or Pinterest almost every picture has white trim. I’d say that a creamy color is probably your best bet to coordinate with walnut stained trim, but I know that may not sound exciting. A green/gray color may be nice, like Sherwin Williams Grassland or Svelte Sage. There’s also some pretty green/gray/blue colors (there’s a hint of each in these colors) called Austere Gray and Contented. I don’t think those would fight too much with the color of stained wood. Also, a neutral beige could work. I’m looking at the paint deck right now and I think Softer Tan, Wool Skein, or Rice Grain (all SW) may be nice. All of these have a bit of a yellow undertone. A creamy yellow (not too yellow) may be nice too, like Ivoire or Netsuke. My recommendation would be putting samples on your wall though, because some of these may look terrible on your wall. The light in your room will make a big difference. When Sherwin Williams has there 40 or 30% off sale, their samples are also on sale. You get a whole quart. That’s when I get mine, then I share them or pass them on to a theater department at a school.


  7. We live in a small mobile home that has an open living room, dining room/kitchen and I am painting the cabinets a medium gray and want to do the walls a light gray and accent with red. We have north and south facing windows and not a lot of light usually. Do you have suggestions for a gray paint that is truly gray and a red to go with it? I will also need a dark gray for a space around the fireplace. Thanks for all the great tips. I am overwhelmed with even the thought of picking paint colors!


    • I am so sorry I didn’t respond earlier to this. A good light gray that I have been hearing a lot about recently is BM Gray Owl. To me, it’s a pretty true gray. It’s not a bluish or greenish gray, which a lot of popular grays tend to be. I haven’t ever painted with red, so I can’t say a lot about this, but I was looking at the Pottery Barn blog earlier today and one of their reds is Rave Red. It looks like a nice neutral red, not too bright or too pink. I hope that helps a little!


  8. I appreciate your comments. thanks. The one thing I disagree with: i have almost always wished I would have gone one step lighter. I find it interesting you go the other way!


    • You know, I was thinking about this the other day and I think the lighting is so critical. I picked a color out without trying it on the wall, and in the store it was really light (under fluorescent lighting) then when I took it to the home and it was darker, so I agree that would not always ring true.


  9. Hello, I’m building a new house and I’m about to pick the wall color for it but don’t know what to pick. I like these colors on the pics I have seen on Houzz. SW Sea Salt, BM Abslone, and other grayish colors. I will paint my trim white. Kitchen cabinets will be light gray and counter top will be White Macaubas Quartzite. What color do you recommend doesn’t have to be the ones I listed. I want something bright and calming.



    • I think Sea Salt is a beautiful color and would be calming. I don’t know BM colors as well as SW’s so I can’t comment on Abalone. The granite you chose for the countertop is gorgeous. Are you doing a backsplash? The feel of the rest of the house will determine a lot, but if it was my kitchen, I’d consider painting the walls SW Alabaster. It is basically white. I am loving white kitchens. Check out my Kitchens Pinterest board if you’re on Pinterest.

      I don’t think you’ll go wrong with the colors you listed though. A light gray or light bluish gray would be beautiful too:).


  10. I loved this post! The tips are great. Rebecca is so right about picking muted colors. We just finished building our house a few months ago and choosing paint was both the most fun and difficult at the same time. From the start, I’d fallen in love with SW Sea Salt. Most of the house is painted in that. It goes extremely well with both dark trim and light. I have both. Most of the house is dark trim, but the kitchen cabinets, as well as the ceiling are painted in SW Porcelain, which is a creamy white. Sea Salt is very calming and relaxing and that’s what I wanted. One thing I wish I hadn’t done was use a similar color in a different room that was too close in color to the Sea Salt. When looking from the living room to the bedroom which is SW Tradewind, you can barely tell it’s a different color. It looked much different on the swatch and even the test on the wall. But when it’s the whole room, it’s not much different. I hope it’s ok to link to some pics for examples of the SW Sea Salt with both trim colors. It’s really difficult to get an accurate color depiction of it. In both pics, it’s showing a little too much blue. Hope this helps!


  11. Hi Rebecca!
    Just found your awesome blog. Have you ever seen an exterior of a house painted SW Austere Grey? I’m thinking about it but fear it will be too dark or too grey. Do you have any thoughts? Thank you!


  12. Hi Rebecca,
    I just found this blog post and love it. I am thinking about painting the exterior of my home SW Austere Grey. Have you seen this done? I am concerned it looks too grey or too dull or something. Having the hardest time deciding on a color! They all look SO different from the chip to the sample on the house. And even in different places in the house. Ugh! Any feedback most appreciated.


  13. We just painted the exterior of our house SW austere grey. It is a lot lighter than I thought it would be. I expected something more neutral though it is beautiful. Now having trouble deciding colors for the trim, shutters, door, and foundation bricks. I had planned to use white for trim and have black shutters for a classic look, but now that doesn’t seem right. Any suggestions would be most appreciated!


  14. I want to paint my farmhouse bathroom a muted purple. They had painted the oak wood work, so I need to paint that also. Any suggestions?


  15. hello, we are building and selection of colors are due this week. I have been kind of a rebel and wanted my trim out to be either repose gray or Dorian dray and then use either alabaster or pure white on the walls, I am also using the new porcelain hard wood look plank in a creamy distressed white in the entry, baths, kitchen, & dining. The kitchen has white cabinets and dark wood island . the granite is Avorio White, has whites, dark chocolates and grey veins running through it. The carpet is in a few areas it reads softer silver gray. it looks awesome with the trim that is darker. the coffered ceilings will be trimmed in one of those gray colors I mentioned above.. my question is what color white would you recommend and I know the repose is 50% saturation.. house faced north/south. My dark wood tables pull the dark island and granite together. all the doors in the kitchen will read a putty taupe color I believe.. I just want to know does this sound to daring.. this is complete opposite of my Tuscany old world home I live in now which is all rich dark harwood through out and all dark tone on tone woods. im trying to lighten up.. have I gone totally cray here?


  16. I have to disagree with #4. Only go darker if it’s a very bright room (south facing with large or multiple windows). In a less sunny room, go lighter. Always go with a light wall color in a north facing room.


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