clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The best gray paints, recommended by experts

New, 1 comment

This anything-but-gloomy shade continues to dominate interiors

Gray used as a neutral backdrop in a Brooklyn row house.
This Brooklyn row house by CWB Architects uses a color called Gray Owl for a neutral backdrop.
Francis Dzikowski

Grays are so popular, they populate interiors like so many thunderclouds in a stormy sky. The color, once considered somber and gloomy, is seemingly America’s favorite neutral and, unlike those cumulonimbus rain clouds, it shows no signs of dissipating any time soon. We asked interior designers about the shade’s staying power and their favorite gray hues.

Gray Owl, Benjamin Moore

Rachael Stollar and Erin Fearins of CWB Architects say that grays are terrific neutral backdrops and they have a handful that they consider go-tos. "It allows intense colors to really shine," they say. "It's also great in subtle tone-on-tone rooms and can provide an elegant canvas when using multiple textures within a neutral palette."

A complex gray in a Brooklyn townhouse
In this master bedroom, the architects used Rodeo by Benjamin Moore, a complex gray to keep the room from feeling monotonous.
Francis Dzikowski

Rodeo, Benjamin Moore

Stollar and Fearins say that complex grays can be the easiest to work with, such as Rodeo by Benjamin Moore, a shade they used in a master bedroom.

"We tend to select grays that actually have multiple colors within them," they say. "This enlivens the space as the light changes throughout the day keeping the color from feeling one note or gloomy. Testing the color on the walls of the room it will be used in is key to selecting the right shade."

Revere Pewter, Benjamin Moore

Interior designer Tineke Triggs of Artistic Designs for Living says gray’s versatility causes her to select it. "It can be elegant, rustic, tranquil, bright, subtle, or dramatic—there are so many ways to use it," she says.

In this Lake Tahoe kitchen, the designer used Revere Pewter on the walls because of its warm undertones. "The colder the gray, the more gloomy it appears," she says. "By introducing interesting accessories, a range of materials, and unexpected pops of color, you can create chic living spaces that are anything but gloomy."

Iron Mountain, Benjamin Moore

The designer chose a darker gray for the kitchen cabinets. "Iron Mountain is a dramatic, deep gray," she says. "We used this for the cabinets to create a rustic, yet contemporary mood."

Right: The right gray can make a room feel light and airy. This space features walls painted Balboa Mist by Benjamin Moore. Left: The gray background in this room, Seattle Mist by Benjamin Moore, allows other subtle colors to take center stage. Photos courtesy Green Couch.

Balboa Mist, Benjamin Moore

Interior designer Jeff Schlarb of Green Couch agrees that gray’s gloomy reputation is a thing of the past. "We have been selecting warm grays for years," he says. "It keeps things light and airy."

Seattle Mist, Benjamin Moore

Soft grays, such as this shade called Seattle Mist, allows subtle colors to shine, according to Schlarb.

A kitchen with gray cabinets by General Assembly
In rooms with less natural light, architects at General Assembly include reflective surfaces when they use gray. In this kitchen, the cabinetry is painted Marta Gray by Hi-Macs.
Charlie Bennet

Marta Gray, Hi-Macs

Gray’s versatility is due to its large range, according to architect Sarah Zames of General Assembly. She cites the shade’s ability to go warm or cool. They use it in rooms that are sun-filled as well as spaces that are sun-challenged, such as the project above.

Pavilion Gray, Farrow & Ball

Sheri Olson of Sheri Olson Architecture declares gray is her favorite color. "I always say, if it’s not white, it had better be gray," she says. She often selects the shade for interiors, and calls Pavilion Gray by Farrow & Ball one of her nearly foolproof choices.

The architect says that she resisted the grayness of Seattle, where she’s based, for the first few years, but changed her mind. "I started to see what a wonderfully subtle color gray can be as the light changes," she says.

Right: Architect Sheri Olson considers gray a timeless color choice. This living area is painted in Gray Horse by Benjamin Moore. Left: Interior designer Tineke Triggs uses many shades of gray in this room, and selected Benjamin Moore’s Iron Mountain, a darker hue, for the cabinets.

Gray Horse, Benjamin Moore

Olson says this equine-named color is tricky. "It can look a little green, but with the light in this house it works. It’s important to paint large trial samples on the walls to see if the color is right for your home," she says. "The right white trim and ceiling also help to set gray off and make it feel crisp and light."

Dimpse, Farrow & Ball

Dark gray accent wall
For this accent wall, designer Laura Martin Bovard went for dramatic impact with Benjamin Moore’s Witching Hour.
Courtesy LMB Interiors

"I believe gray remains a popular choice for interiors because it is an architectural color," Olson says. "Done right, it appears to be an integral part of the house, not just applied color. It is subtle, sophisticated, and timeless." She considers Farrow & Ball’s Dimpse another choice that works for most interiors.

Witching Hour, Benjamin Moore

Laura Martin Bovard of LMB Interiors went dark and dramatic for this gray accent wall. She agrees that it’s one of the most flexible shades, comparing it to white in that way. However, she finds that many grays need a friend.

"The key to keeping gray from going gloomy is to be daring enough to use some color with it," she says. "I think it’s meant to be a base, it’s a supporting character and not the star."

She says that she loves the color and hopes not to get over it anytime soon. "I keep wondering if I am going to get as tired of it as I did brown," she says. "I wore brown out, and I don’t want to do that with gray."