50 shades of grey? More like 500. Which to choose?

When thank you E.L James for highlighting the problem, but it’s bigger than, well bigger than that.

There are 50 shades of ‘named’ greys on the Dulux website alone, before you click on the options from Crown, Rylands, Farrow and Ball, Little Greene, Fired Earth, Paint & Paper Library, Designers’ Guild, Paint and Paper Library, Abigail Ahern, Sanderson, Craig &Rose, Zoffany, Albany, Earthborn, Edward Bulmer and so many other brands joining the paint tray, in specialist niches suited to their customers and their profiles.

So I shall try to narrow the choice a little.

In terms of brand, I prefer not to mix within a painting project. If you buy the specialist undercoat from a paint brand you are more likely to achieve a successful finish. They are developed to act in synergy.

So in terms of colour, you need to think about a few elements of each room:

  • The use and users of the space
  • The look or vibe you are heading for
  • The orientation of the room (direction of incoming natural light)


The Use and Users of the Space

There is a certain amount of convention in this, borne out of what people know and are comfortable with. It’s NORMAL to paint nurseries in cheerful pastels, bedrooms in pale relaxing colours, bathrooms in ‘clean’ colours. If painting out a property in swampy 2017 contemporary colours will offend and upset the occupants, its hard (perhaps not impossible) to do it.


The Look or Vibe you are heading for

The Scandi-inspired grey interiors of the modern era tend to be neutral, whereas a midcentury scheme will incorporate specific brights reminiscent of the period. A lot of the paint manufacturers make specific ranges for specific ages of building so you can find a Victorian, or Georgian range to accurately reflect your building’s heritage. If you are looking to create a very clean, contemporary, edgy look go for bluer-toned greys. Laidback and pretty traditional English or French country schemes tend to focus on warm yellow-based shades. Elegant contemporary interiors often feature greeny grey shades that are calm and sit well in the background.


The orientation of the room (direction of incoming natural light)

Very often a room will have two or more aspects. You will have to take a view on which is the more dominant in your space. There is a degree to which schemes are best if they flow too, so consider the colours or background shades of the adjoining rooms. Creating a successful scheme is dependent on choosing the correct base pigment to suit the quality of light that the room receives.


North-facing Rooms

In the UK light coming in from a northern orientation is a harsh cool and blue grey.  To warm up these spaces use more saturated colours and you may wish to head to a the warmer yellow or red-based spectrum of greys to create a more comfortable living space. Avoid lilac- and blue-based greys as they will make the space feel clinical.


East-facing Rooms

In the UK east-facing rooms are very bright in the morning and cooler in the afternoon so consider when you are most likely to use the room. The light tends to be a greeny/bluey hue so choose greys with these bases, but with different intensities and saturations of colour. Warmer red-based greys like the contemporary pinks of 2017 and rosy, coppery shades also work well. If the room is quite dark it may be helpful to paint the woodwork out in a darker shade of the colour you use on the walls.

West-facing Rooms

As with east-facing rooms, the light varies hugely during the day, but are conversely cool in the morning and warmer later in the day, which creates a delightful effect as we transition into the evening and artificial light comes into play, further emphasising the warmth and comfort. These are spaces which work well in neutral greys.


South-facing Rooms


Bathed in sunlight all day, these are easy rooms to decorate and make any grey (or in fact any colour) you love sing.


Light or dark?

For me, I tend to use light colours where there is a lot of natural daylight and deeper more intense colours where the light levels are lower. In a very light-challenged space I tend to remove the focus from the light levels to the drama and beauty of the decoration. It’s not going to be about the view of the garden, is it, so it might as well look good on the inside! This is where your favourite rich shade or glorious statement wallpaper comes to the fore, and as this is a tiny, light-limited space, splurge on the best wallpaper and artwork you can afford because you’ll be up close and personal with it and can really enjoy it.

We have a house on the beach in West Sussex and it has huge windows in every room facing the pool and beach. It would be a shame NOT to paint it in clean white colours and a marine or beachy palette; it would seem odd if it were painted in deeper or more colourful shades. Instead we have fabulous colourful artwork which reflects the vibe we work, and hardworking fabrics which cope with soggy swimsuits, barbecues and the odd splash of rosé!

In the country it’s lovely to reflect the colours of the outside so a greeny or stone-based grey palette sits calmly. In the Cotswolds this will be different from Northumberland: think about your context.

And one quick word on pastiche: this probably should be reserved for another post but if you are going down a particular decorating route … beach, country etc., don’t go and buy nicnacs from the supermarket home aisle. Save your pennies and buy a piece of art you love, or a one-off you find in an antique shop or on holiday. They will add so much character to your space and make it yours, rather than another generic seaside / country home.


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