(Re)painting the Great Room + Tips on working with Swatches

November 19, 2014

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Several weeks ago, we posted a photo over on Instagram of a few swatches painted on our great room walls. We stared at them for a while, probably too long because we ran out of time to actually paint the walls before our Halloween party. Now the project has resurfaced again and with Thanksgiving next week, I am absolutely getting it done this week.


From top to bottom: Aloof Gray, Gray Owl, Horizon, and Silver Thistle Down. And yes, I always paint my swatches in alphabetical order so I can be sure to keep track. Horizon was immediately nixed for being too light; something we’re trying to get away from. The truth is we like our current color (Clark+Kensington’s Richland) that we picked out and painted over dark dark brown/black just over a year ago. It’s a warm and neutral off-white. It brightens our whole house without feeling cold. However, something we didn’t anticipate is how incompatible our very light walls are with our big, dare I say dirty?, dog and children. Charly loves snuggling up to certain walls and I found myself scrubbing them/painting them too frequently. Do people with dogs and children and light walls just spend their days washing walls? Finally, I threw my hands up in the air and decided I would much rather paint the main area in our house a couple shades darker than continually babysit the walls. White walls are pretty, but I have learned the hard way, they are not for us at this time in our lives.

So the hunt started. I pulled a couple swatches and got samples up on the wall for us to decide and I wanted to share another tip about choosing a paint color besides alphabetizing your paint swatches on the wall. Ha!


Above, we have a sample of Repose Gray painted on the wall and a large piece of poster board. Isn’t it crazy that both are the same gray?! The one on the wall looks purple-y and the one on the poster board looks like a perfect muddy gray. The difference is our walls have warm yellow undertones which are making the gray look purple because the two are complementary colors. Super quick art lesson:


When complementary colors are placed next to each other, they create the strongest contrast and will start making other colors look like their complement or opposite.  If you put a neutral next to something orange-y, even wood trim!–it might look a little blue. This is the reason coppery eye-shadow is perfect for bringing out blue eyes. It’s the reason gray paint often turns purple if your baseboards are more yellow than white.

Side note: Another cool thing about complementary paint colors is they are great for toning one another. My mother in law recently picked a coral for one of her guest rooms and a teal for the other. The teal was perfect, but once she started painting the coral bedroom it was neon! She panicked and asked me is she could lighten it with some white. The thing is, white wouldn’t change the vibrancy. She was apprehensive, but I poured a little bit of the teal into the coral bucket and it toned the neon paint down into the coral she was originally hoping for. A knowledge of complementary colors is power when it comes to paint colors!

Back to the picking-a-gray task at hand. If your trim is white, painting a swatch on a white board instead of the wall will give you a more accurate idea of what the end color will look like. Take it a step further and paint a poster board the color of your trim first and then paint a swatch on the board if you’re unsure. I came across a blog post recently where a blogger had painted a gray swatch on a piece of white poster board and she liked it and then when she painted the whole room, it looked blue/purple. What she didn’t take into account was her ivory trim. She ended up repainting the whole room. Of course light has a lot to do with how a paint color looks, too, which is why it is important to choose a color in the room you’ll be painting. Let’s save the light color chat for another post, ‘kay?

Hopefully I’ll have photos of a freshly painted great room to share with you in the next few days! Any guesses as to which one we went with?

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What do you think?

  1. Ciara Stone says:

    Do you have a recommendation of a gray that will still look like a cool toned gray (Not too dark) against a yellowy/creamy trim? Most everything I’ve tried has ended up looking too blue for my preference. And unfortunately we’re working with a lot of red in the hardwood stain, and some orangey tones with the kitchen cabinetry.
    Trying to keep the projects to a minimum and just paint the walls, but I’m wondering if we might have to end up taking on more of a renovation in order to make it look ok.

  2. Meg says:

    Hoping you can give me some advice…we recently moved into a new house and our master bath has old yellowed tile. I want to paint until we can save up for major changes, but am not sure what color undertones would help make the tile look more neutral? Is yellow undertones the correct answer? Thanks Julia!

  3. Olivia Pfeiler says:

    I recently painted the stairway walls sherwin Williams light French gray in our living room and the rest of the walls are super tall and they are painted Navajo white so I don’t want to mess with this. The problem is the light French gray looks so blue next to the Navajo white. The rooms recieves light from the east and west and even a little south. What gray undertones will work with Navajo white which is very yellow gold? I’m having trouble figuring it out. Should I choose a warm gray? thanks!!

  4. Chantal says:

    I’m wondering a similar thing to Ann – I just painted my kitchen and living room repose grey! I’m wondering about what colour to do the baseboards. I’d like to know how to make the room look the warm grey but yet go with off whites, taupes and greys as throw cushions? we have a dark brown leather sectional.

  5. Anne says:

    I’m having such a hard time with white, I painted my girls room simply white and it has a green yellow glowing look. What undertone white would work better? It’s a northwest facing room with lots of trees outside. I can’t figure out how the color wheel would help me

  6. Ann says:

    I would like to know if you paint the entire wall Repose Gray AND
    change the trim to white will the end result be like the color on the poster board OR more purpel-y due to the yellow undertones of the current paint.

    • Heidi says:

      I know this is an old post, but I would also like an answer to this one! I don’t completely understand the sentence “If your trim is white, painting a swatch on a white board instead of the wall will give you a more accurate idea of what the end color will look like.” It seems that if you have white trim, you’d want to paint a swatch on the WALL so you can see how the wall undertone will affect the new color… UNLESS painting multiple coats on the wall hides all residual undertones from the original paint color anyway?

      • Julia says:

        Current paint colors on a wall can actually effect the way you see color. If your current walls are tan, for instance, they can make a gray paint that could be perfectly neutral skew purple due to the yellow undertones. That’s why if your trim is white, the best way to see a paint color is to paint it on a white board and hold it up. Otherwise, an untrained eye could be heavily influenced by existing paint colors.

  7. I have Revere Pewter walls in my house and little fingerprints are everywhere on it! And then when I wipe them off I see where I wiped the walls. I repainted all the walls about once a year. Super time inefficient :( This is a great post though on remembering complimentary colors.

  8. I totally do my samples in alphabetical order too!!! As well as tape the swatch next to each one :) Can’t wait to see the end result!

  9. Sherri says:

    I have used gray owl in our guest bath. Love it. When I painted our living room recently, I think I tried 12 sample paints on poster boards. In the end, it was “storm” by Benjamin Moore. With the lighting, etc. it was the best choice. We LOVE it. I love Home depot paint/primer, Behr’s. It doesn’t drip and the coverage is fabulous, FYI. Good luck!

  10. Brooke says:

    We used Aloof Gray in our main living space and stair way, and it feels really cold. I keep considering going for something a little deeper, but I can’t make myself start again!

  11. Meghan says:

    I was actually just wondering the other day if anyone else had to deal with walls getting dirty because of dogs. I have two big dogs and they love to rub themselves along the wall in the hallway and it is constantly dirty. You are very diligent to wipe it up every day. I’m lucky if I get to it once a week. Our walls are a light blue/gray color and definitely show the dirt, so I’d be interested to know which color you choose and how it holds up to doggy abuse. Dirt is a fact of life in my household. Maybe one day I’ll get to repainting the walls. I’d love white, but that’s obviously not happening.

    • Ciara Stone says:

      This won’t be helpful regarding color choices, but I have that problem with dog mess on the walls, too. I’ve found that the Norwex brand cleaning cloths work WONDERS in taking off slobber/dirt marks from pups. (I should specify- I don’t personally sell these products, but I do use them and love them! They make cleaning so much easier!)

  12. 22209 says:

    I just realized that the color wheel may be able to help me, and that you may be able to help me figure out how it can help me :) I’ve got a cherry wood sleigh bed, and would like to paint my bedroom a color that will help tone down the reddish tone (looking to bring out the brown and tone out the red). Is green the right color to do that since it’s opposite red? Would any other colors work if I don’t want green walls? If you’ve got the time and inclination to help me with this, I’d really appreciate it. Thank you!

    • Julia says:

      If the colors are next to each other, they’ll only look more vibrant. So if you want to tone down the reddish tone, STEER CLEAR of green! Something like a dark navy blue would make it look more brown and less red since the blue would bring out the more orange. To really nix the red, a purple tone–even a purple gray would probably make it look the least red and the most brown, because it would bring out any yellow tones in the wood–does that make sense?

  13. Beth says:

    I just painted my great room, kitchen + hallways Repose Gray. It is, in my humble opinion, the perfect neutral. More green/yellow than blue, hides dirt exceptionally well…(and I foster rescue dogs, so we know what dirty walls look like!). Not sure if you went with it, but you won’t regret it if you did :)

  14. Samantha says:

    So helpful! By the way, we used Gray Owl in our living room and love it! Sometimes it’s a true gray, other times it reads blue/green undertones. All depends on the time of day and the lighting. You can see it in this post if that’s helpful to you to see it on someone else’s walls.

    Side Note: In my other living room posts, I didn’t take the time to edit the pictures to get the wall color accurate so it looks green or blue in some of my pictures. I was trying to not be such a perfectionist with my posts, but it bugs me! I need to redo the pictures and update the posts. But the above post shows it the most accurately.

    Excited to see what you choose! Grays are SO hard to pick!

  15. Jordan says:

    Really helpful post!! I used to always paint my swatches next to one another on the wall until I realized that over and over I would like a color until I painted another color next to it! I started painting all my swatches on different sheets of leftover plywood that I painted the same white as our trim color. Now I move the plywood swatches around the room and I get a true reading of what the color will look like next to our trim! The other beauty of it is that when I’m done, I just repaint the boards white and I can use them again for my next paint color!

  16. Anya says:

    I noticed that you have quite a few grayish tones in the room already with the couch and those awesome photos of your girls. Are you concerned about everything just kind of blending into the walls once you paint the room gray?

    • Julia says:

      Yes, actually. Haha. I am hoping a lot of wood tones and natural elements (plants, leather, nubby textiles) will help break it up. Luckily although there are some grays in the couch and pictures, we have a big blue rug, art, and some of those natural elements already in place. I think a warm gray/greige is the way to go. Fingers crossed!

  17. What paint finish did you guys have before? I’ve noticed that that also makes a difference. Our house came with flat paint on all the walls, which shows EVERYTHING. I’m constantly having to Magic Erase and/ or retouch smudged and scuffed areas.

    I finally had to break down and re-paint our kitchen island in a satin finish of the same color because it is right next to the little table where my kids eat, and food-smeared handprints were an inevitable part of our lives.

    Now, I just wipe it down with a wet sponge and move on.

    I’m also considering repainting my girls’ bedroom with satin paint because it gets a lot of abuse as well.

    • Julia says:

      Our walls are eggshell and they do (mostly) wipe up really well. The problem is I am literally doing it every day. While I know wiping walls is a part of life–especially with a big dog, I am just hoping to not have to do it quite so much. :)

  18. 22209 says:

    No guesses, but my main floor is Aloof Gray and I love it :) Happy to see it being considered!

  19. Great point to consider trim color when using a neutral wall shade. Our trim is ivory (ick) and it really does have an impact on how the wall colors look, especially since we are using a lot of grays in our house. Another thing to consider is the floor type/color – some of our floors are a dark hardwood and some are gray carpet – those play into the tones of the walls as well.

  20. Charlotte says:

    I was curious, how do you paint with a baby with the fumes? There are painting projects I’ve been wanting to tackle. Our babygirl is 4 months. Any advice?

    • Julia says:

      A lot of paints now are No-Voc, meaning no odor, or Lo-Voc, so low odor. The new Valspar paints at Ace (which we’re gonna use) are no-VOC and really safe to use around babies and pets and the Clark+Kensington line is lo-Voc.

      • Charlotte says:

        Thanks! I’ll look into the No VOC. Can’t wait to see how the new paint looks in your great room!

  21. Emily says:

    We have two Dobermans that used to live inside at our last house (now they stay in the garage!) but I used to have to wipe down every doorway because there would just be dirty marks from them rubbing against it when they passed through. Luckily it was an old house so all the doorways were trimmed out and painted with glossy paint but still. Yuck.

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