When you don’t want to play it safe with an all-white room but can’t fathom painting the walls pink either, there’s gray: the reigning monarch of all neutrals.
“I’m a big fan of gray,” says designer, wedding planner, and creative consultant Layne Kula. “There’s something so modern and so chic about the right shade—it has this chameleon-like ability to change a space and offer character, dimension, and a richness that can brighten or soften just about anything.”
While gray has long been regarded as a safe and smooth alternative to bolder colors, settling on the right tone is no simple feat. “Too dark and it becomes charcoal. Too light, and it may as well be a dull, lackluster shade of white,” adds Kula.
Not unlike the great white paint dilemma, there’s a lot of talk over the best brands, finishes, and undertones when it comes to picking the right gray. To get to the bottom of the debate, we took our most pressing paint question to the pros and asked interior designers which swatch they stand by. Read on for their no-fail picks.
NYC-based interior designer Maggie Burns of Maggie Richmond Design is a huge fan of this time-honored hue—a swatch that has made it into Benjamin Moore’s Historic Color collection.
“It’s the perfect balance of not too dark and not too light,” says Burns. “I recently used it for the baseboards and doors throughout an entire apartment and it really helped warm up the otherwise very white walls.”
“When it comes to pulling paints, I always opt for a matte gray with cool undertones because I think it catches light perfectly and really works to bring together a space,” suggests Kula. Along with Loft Space by Behr, the pro stands by Cool Gray 1 C.
Considered to be Farrow & Ball’s “understated gray,” Cornforth White sits happily on the spectrum between the paint purveyor’s popular Ammonite gray and Purbeck Stone.
“It is a pale shade of gray that doesn’t pull blue or green hues like many do,” explains designer Hannah Crowell of Crowell & Co. “I’m a lover of bright white walls but when I want a bit of warmth, I always turn to this tried-and-true shade!”
While Katie Gebhardt of Solstice Interiors lives for an all-over white room, when she wants to add depth to a space, she goes for a good gray—like Dunn Edwards’ Cloud.
“I gravitate toward this hue because it’s light and neutral, and I love seeing the contrast against white trim and baseboards,” says Gebhadrt. Living room, dining room, powder room—you name it—the designer will use this gray as her go-to for every type of space. “This color adds a muted sense of warmth to a room that will still prove to be timeless.”
Her tip? Before committing to this color (or any other hue for that matter), paint a swatch on the wall and live with it for a while. Watch how it changes in each type of light throughout the day to make sure you’re happy with it from dusk ’til dawn.
“Sophisticated and moody” is how designer Whitney Durham would sum up her no-fail shade. “I love it in high gloss for a library or study,” she tells Domino. “And on kitchen cabinets for an unexpected surprise.”
The color’s bold blue undertones make it a perfect pick for a smaller room or nook deserving of high visual impact.
This celebrated swatch might just take the cake. Tania Cassill of Huit Laguna and Kelly Lentini and Berkeley Minkhorst, co-owners of House of Nomad in Charlotte, North Carolina, all swear by this zen gray.
“It’s a soft, clear gray. It reads as calm and sophisticated,” explains Cassill. “I love it in living rooms, bathrooms, and even kitchens.” Almost acting as a white, Cassill recently used the hue for the cabinets in the master bathroom of this sunny Emerald Bay project.
“We selected Ammonite for a client who was looking for an overall refresh on their downstairs,” says Lentini. “Their classic bungalow is in Myers Park, a historic neighborhood in Charlotte, and this gray was the perfect fit. It was a nice way to freshen up their color palette without being too contemporary or hinting at any blue.”
Timeless, elegant, and true to its name, Minkhorst also happens to be a big fan of this Benjamin Moore pick. So much so that she used it all over her own home.
“I just love what Classic Gray does to a room. Kitchens and [spaces] with lower ceilings are perfect spots for Classic Gray because it’s lighter and truly brightens up a space. I’d suggest going with Classic Gray for rooms with ceilings that are nine-foot and lower—in certain lights, it tends toward white, which is really refreshing,” suggests the designer.
“As designers, we are drawn to more approachable grays, ones with softer tones that have depth to them,” adds Lentini. The design duo also loves Icy Avalanche by Sherwin-Williams in a room that’s drenched with natural sunlight and surrounded by rich blue tones.
Don’t let its source fool you: This nursery-approved hue can go beyond the kids’ room. “While it was created for kid spaces, it has a depth and sophistication that renders beautifully into a dining room, powder room, or study,” Keri Peterson says of her go-to pick.
Her tip? Play up mixed metals, like brass and chrome accents, for a modern aesthetic. “It truly does feel like cashmere: warm, soft, and unbelievably luxurious,” she adds.
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