Choosing a Gray for the Guest Room

June 27, 2014

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We got the guest room painted and the photos aren’t very good. Womp Womp. It’s been pretty rainy and gloomy compounded by the fact this room is on our lower level. I hate to call it a “basement” because it’s so nice and finished and not musty or cold–everything I think of when I say “basement.”  So what I did was pair a before photo with the terrible lighting on and an after photo with the same terrible lighting, so at least there’s that consistency?



Boom! (That light is so harsh. Grr. Sorry. Both of these photos are straight out of the camera.) I decided to paint the room a really light gray, Valspar’s Cool Vapor. I knew I wanted a light color to brighten this room up, but since it doesn’t get a ton of natural light, it wasn’t wise to go with white. White in a room with little natural light just looks dingy because of all the shadows. So even though your instincts might tell you to go all white to make things feel brighter, resist.

I chose the color while in this room. I can’t express how important that is. You may like a paint color you see somewhere else, a blog or otherwise, but it could look totally different in your room. This is how I generally choose colors–I hold several options up individually in the air (not against a wall) facing every direction. When I think I finalized a color, I’ll look at it against the floor. Why don’t I hold it up against a wall? Well, because of this:

photo 1

Because the trim in this room was yellowed, it made a gray (or any color) look purple. And because the walls were blue-ish green, it’s going to trick my eyes into seeing pink. So even though the gray swatch I chose didn’t have any of those undertones, until I clear out all the yellow and blue-green, it won’t look like it’s true color. Basic color theory. In this case, I wasn’t changing out the floor, which is why I always hold it next to the floor, too–to make sure it meshes and the undertones don’t clash. Once I choose my  color, and am confident with it–I can’t let myself change it while looking at swatches in a different room.

This was a lesson I really had to stick to this time around. In the store–it looked white! I started second-guessing my decision while not even in the room. Tsk Tsk. Fortunately, I pulled it together and went with the hue I knew looked the best. Even when you start painting and it looks like the above photo. Pinky-purple mess. Be confident. Once you get everything painted out–it will look just right.

Fortunately, it settled into the perfect light gray after we painted all the trim and closet doors. That made such a difference. Look at that contrast:

photo 2


So fresh, now. Sidenote: Must get new hardware–so at least every door has some. That’s where we are right now. There’s a lot of how-to paint rooms posts out there, but not a whole lot of how-to choose paint colors. I think I might do a more in-depth post about it down the road. Not to brag, but color theory–aced it. Ha!

Happy Weekend!

What do you think?

  1. Colleen says:

    The new color on the trim is especially a huge improvement!

  2. Ashley says:

    How do you paint the trim while still on the wall with carpet?? It’s so frustrating to me so maybe you have some tips?

    • Julia says:

      These baseboards are so tiny, it was trickier than usual. What I like to do is get a piece of thick, sturdy cardstock, ruler or any thing thin that doesn’t bend–an old credit card works great, too–and put it over the carpet near the baseboard and press it down and in so it is flush with the baseboard. Then, paint away.

  3. Jess says:

    Oh,go ahead and brag. You have every reason to be proud of yourself. You’re very talented at this and have a system that obviously works!


  4. Looking good! I love the pairing of white trim with gray!

  5. Lisa | says:

    Good post!! OK, here is a question: Would you follow the same process in a room that gets low-light and is painted a darker color? I’m having a hard time picking a paint color because I feel like all the walls just dominate the room and I can’t get a real feel for the paint swatch.

    • Julia says:

      That’s so tricky, but yes. If you need to, hold a white piece of paper behind the swatch so it kind of clears things and your eyes can see a truer color.

  6. Heidi says:

    Brag all you want girl — your home is beautiful! I look forward to the color theory post. ;)

  7. Meagan Briggs says:

    So smart! The paint and trim/doors look so fresh! Nailed it!

  8. Theresa says:

    I just learned this lesson the hard way! I picked the same color grey for my kitchen as Katie Bower, and my little retro San Francisco kitchen with vintage tile and old floors made it look baby blue as opposed to grey! :( ….I was going for more of a true, light grey like your guest room. Anyways….love the color you chose and the white trim makes a huge difference! Can’t wait to see how the room comes together!

  9. Carrie W says:

    Hello – my parents have a similar floor plan and they refer to their “basement” as the “lower level”. A more fitting term for a more finished space, perhaps? Thanks for sharing your process and your story!

  10. Jennifer R. says:

    Colors can be so tricky. It took me years of making mistakes before learning what works well.

    For our house the perfect gray is Spare White by Sherwin Williams. It is a step below the coveted Sea Salt color. It is really nice and looks bluish grayish but never cold. Perfect. I talked myself out of it 10 times in the store because it looked white as white can be. Tricky colors!

  11. Elisa says:

    Love this post! I took a whole class on color in college, it’s fascinating how easily the brain can be swayed while looking at colors in different situations.

  12. This is so smart! Definitely will be going through this process the next time I pick a paint color. I wish I had read this earlier in life- probably could have saved myself from some big paint mistakes (think a “calming” green that turned out neon. ugh.) Thanks so much!

  13. Great painting tips, thanks for sharing! We’ve painted almost every room in our house, but still have to update all the “almond” trim to a white… so we’ve had to use our imagination when choosing wall colors. I totally agree about the light in a room affecting what color you choose. It looks nice!

    Will you be keeping the carpet? Is it in good condition?

    • Julia says:

      The carpet has quite a few stains on it, but I just don’t think it is in the cards to change it out this year. Hopefully next! We’ll probably go with a lower pile with a nice textural pattern in it when we do.

  14. Linda says:

    This post is perfect timing for me – I am in the process of picking out a paint color for my living room and definitely know it will be gray (I LOVE gray – so classic). The room is west facing with a wall of windows, so it is literally flooded with light in the afternoon. hardwood floors and lots of oak trim around the windows, 6 inch crown molding and 6 inch baseboard and a big oak mantel with built in shelves (all oak) – did I mention there is a lot of oak trim in this house? It’s a 1920’s Chicago bungalow. So far I am liking Morning Fog by Sherwin Williams (I am leaning away from cool shades of gray that have blue undertones – going with a warmer shade of gray) – looking for a shade that is in the medium range to make that oak trim “pop”. Any thoughts? Suggestions on grays you love that I should look at?

    On a personal note: The Hinckley crew from PGH 2nd ward stopped here overnight the other day on their way from Utah to PGH and we were talking about how great your family is and all the wonderful things y’all are into. Good times and good memories!

    • Julia says:

      Sounds like you got it! Any cool shades of gray in your circumstance will turn blue/purple next to your trim. A warm gray with slight green undertones will be perfect!

      And I love the Hinkleys!

  15. Sally G. says:

    I’m so glad you did this post! Our master bedroom is currently a teal blue (a little darker than this room was) on 2 walls, a dark tan on the other 2, and we have the same beige-y carpet. I’ve been wondering if grey walls would look weird with the carpet and you’ve just answered my question for me! (I don’t think it looks odd at all, but after seeing your photos I instantly knew I’d prefer some sort of barely-there blue-green instead of a true grey.)

    I probably need to touch up the dingy paint on our trim too…

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