Here it is. I can finally do a blog post about our paint colors!
The minute we agreed on a price for our home with our seller I started looking into paint, knowing we’d want to get this mostly done before moving in. I got to choose colors for our rental apartment, but honestly I didn’t have much time or access to the unit to put samples on the walls. The colors turned out a little cooler than I was anticipating, but we were still pleased with the outcome.
You can see above the paint chips from the Benjamin Moore colors we chose. The light gray is Gray Cloud (BM 2121-60), which we used in the master bedroom and most of the living/kitchen space. Top right, Gray Shower (BM 2125-30) we used for the accent wall in the living room. And we chose a soothing tan for the office, Hot Stone Springs (BM AC-31), at bottom right.
I considered my first foray into choosing a color palette a mild success. But now, with a place all our own, I really wanted to get it right. At first I just browsed the internet. Honestly, I didn’t find a whole lot. I know the basics of color to pay attention to – shades, tone, combos, context, etc. – but like designing for the web, which I do for a living, much of it comes down to preference, vision and taste.
So I’ll save you some time:
DON’T spend too much time browsing the internet for paint color advice before you have a basic idea of palette, you’ll drive yourself crazy. It’s better to do searches on specific colors and color combos once you have a few options in mind.
DO spend a lot of time looking at rooms and colors and testing them. I found this article on Hey There, Home early on, and kept returning to it when I needed to center myself. There are not a lot of hard and fast rules, but some of the best advice I kept returning to was:
- Start with colors you love.
- Balance and contrast is key. Don’t be afraid to go bold with your color and don’t be afraid to play with neutrals and introduce bold color elsewhere, including accent walls, furniture, doors, ceilings, etc.
- Use your favorite existing furniture or decor as a guide.
- Look at a LOT of examples of rooms in catalogues and online. See what colors and styles you are attracted to and pull elements from there (I’ve become a Pinterest fiend through this process ugh).
- Don’t think about rooms in a vacuum, consider what rooms are visible from other spaces in the house, especially when you have an open floor plan.
- You can’t go wrong following nature’s pattern (i.e., dark floors, medium walls, light ceiling).
- Consider the light in your rooms. Do they get a lot of natural light or no? Which parts of the day get the most sun?
- Take a lot of paint chips home with you, cut them up and start playing with palettes, keeping in mind the actual color will vary once on your walls (this is where the internet and other people’s experiences are helpful).
- Don’t rely on paint chips. Put samples on the wall and live with them for a while. Make sure to paint them against your trim color or any other color they’ll be next to, to see what undertones get brought out.
I started my journey off with the idea of mimicking the gray colors in our apartment, but going slightly warmer. I did some research on greige tones (at the behest of my HGTV-employed bestie, Liz Gray) and different types of gray undertones. I found these posts on Laurel Home on cool and warm grays to be particularly helpful.
I wanted a gray neutral for my base but didn’t want the house to feel too bland or trendy. I was going for classic, fresh, and easy to decorate with dark furniture and pops of color.
A quick tip: What made it easier for me was sticking with Benjamin Moore colors (or any brand you want to use). We had quick access to a BM retailer in Hoboken and were able to get a discount through family. I highly recommend being disciplined in this sense if looking at paint is at all overwhelming. I’ve never been disappointed by Benjamin Moore; the price is right, and they have a wide range of options.
After I felt like I had done enough research so as to not feel overwhelmed choosing chips, I headed to City Paints & Ace Hardware in Hoboken to pick up some color swatches. It was the first of a couple trips but well worth the time spent. I started off looking at grays that had neutral or slight brown undertones and that felt warmer to me than our first place but still solidly in the gray family.
Of course, the first color I was drawn to was Wrought Iron (BM 2124-10). Joe and I immediately dismissed it as too dark for the wall color but I kept it in the mix. It’s good to put together palettes with a range of light, dark and vibrant colors. As Liz reminded me, you don’t have to use all the colors in your palette – they’re simply guides to help keep you on track.
After flipping through the Benjamin Moore pamphlets showcasing their color trends and historical colors, I started gravitating toward Coventry Gray (BM HC-169) and Stonington Gray (BM HC-170). I also grabbed Hale Navy (BM HC-154) after salivating over the women’s bathroom at Taphaus Hoboken, and a few whites for balance.
Now that I had a few colors I went down more than a few Pinterest rabbit holes looking for as many examples of rooms I could find with these colors. After a little searching, I was pretty sure Stonington was going to be my color.
This whole time we were still pulling together the purchase of the house. The night before closing, Joe and I went over all the palettes I had put together to choose the colors we were going to purchase samples of.
Earlier that day we had gone back for our final walkthrough, which was the first time I had seen the place since we first looked at it. The light! It was brighter and lovelier than I remembered but it didn’t provide me with anymore clarity over the colors or which wall was going to be the accent wall. Joe was also concerned that the colors I was looking at were going to be too dark.
The idea of an accent wall was quickly becoming less of a priority as I fumbled around gray paint hell. After closing, in a slight frenzy, we grabbed a bunch of samples from City Paint and took the bikes up to the new house with all five samples, and a bottle of champagne Yuan had given us, in my backpack.
This, I was hoping, was the moment of truth. I had nabbed: Stonington Gray; Coventry Gray; Revere Pewter (BM HC-172), which designers online were raving about; White Whisp (BM OC-54), which I picked in the store that day as a whiter color to compare to; and Balboa Mist (BM OC-27), which I picked up on a whim last-minute after re-reading (for the tenth time) Laurel Home’s post about warm grays, even though I wasn’t crazy about the pink undertone I had seen in some photos. Since our beautiful blue Crate & Barrel couch was going to be sitting in the middle of the living room, we were focusing on finding a nice warm, bright color to complement it.
I opened up all the samples and started putting large swaths on various walls in different parts of the house. The front of the house where the common spaces are gets tons of bright, natural light, while the hallway and bedrooms get very little. I put multiple swatches in the living room, kitchen, hallway and master bedroom.
To my horror, Stonington was going on straight up blue, and even Coventry looked much cooler than the chip. I kept calm as I put on several coats, knowing they would dry darker. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t love any of them. The only color that wasn’t disappointing me was Balboa Mist. I didn’t love it but after a couple coats it was looking closer than any of them to the look I was going for.
We left that night, my top two grays having fallen out of favor. I loved Revere Pewter but it still felt a little too dark. I went back to the internet to see if anyone else had trouble with grays looking much cooler on their walls than expected.
Then I found it. A blog called Holy City Chick, where the writer had my exact same problem:
I realized I wanted the wrong color all along. In my mind, I wanted gray, but in all actuality, it was an off white that I really wanted. I feel silly for going through 16 paint samples of true, pigmented grays, but alas. Here we are, with off white walls.
This was the encouragement and spark I needed (thanks Holy City Chick!) We didn’t want a true gray, just a bright, gray-ish toned white. Suddenly, I had a good feeling about how Balboa Mist, part of BM’s Off-White Collection, was drying. But I still wanted to try a couple more. I wasn’t sure that whichever color we picked for the front would work as well in the less well-lit rooms.
I can’t explain it, maybe it was that the shades of that color were very green, but I wasn’t convinced it was worth a $7 sample (by this point I was driving Joe crazy). So after a little more reading about the various Benjamin Moore colors, I went with one of Holy City Chick’s runners-up, Classic Gray (BM OC-23), and another white that designers said had some gray and neutral undertones, Dove Wing (BM OC-18). Both of which, in my opinion, look closer to the Zurich White.
I also seriously considered Edgecomb Gray (BM HC-173), for the front of the house, which I had almost picked up during our first trip for samples. But I was starting to have a good feeling about Balboa Mist and I wanted another option with a slightly higher LRV score for the back of the house.
(The LRV score – Light Reflectance Value – is the percentage of light reflected off of a surface. The number ranges from 0-100, with 0 being pure black and 100 being pure white. The higher the LRV score the brighter and more reflective your color. If you want to brighten up a room, especially one that lacks natural light, look for colors with LRV scores in the 70s and above.)
We were getting to crunch time. The floors were almost done, and Joe was ready to pick up the paint and supplies ahead of our weeklong moving frenzy. As I put the samples of Classic Gray and Dove Wing on the walls, I was feeling much better about my choices. Now comparing all the dried samples, I was really starting to fall for Balboa Mist, and so was Joe. And Classic Gray, was looking just right in the hallway and bedroom, slightly more neutral for all our black bedroom furniture, and brighter in the spaces where we had less natural light, with it’s slightly higher LRV (74 compared to 67 for Balboa Mist).
I went back to Pinterest to look at comparisons of Balboa Mist and Classic Gray to make sure no one had any crazy clashes with the two, and found nothing but praise for both colors.
Final decision: Balboa Mist in the living/dining and kitchen. Classic Gray in the hallway and bedrooms.
But ah, one last wrinkle. That Wrought Iron color kept nagging at me. Use me! And Joe was similarly focused on his idea to paint the doors and windows and their corresponding trim dark. At first I was hesitant. It seemed like too much to take on and I wanted to be realistic about what we could accomplish. But if there’s one thing I admire about Joe, it’s his complete unabashed determination and confidence in his ability to tackle a project. And I really wanted to use Wrought Iron. I was sold.
We jotted down our needs: A five gallon bucket of both Balboa Mist and Classic Gray and a one gallon can of Wrought Iron.
I still have a larger palette that I’m keeping around for inspiration and future projects – including bathrooms, cabinets, etc. – comprised of Hale Navy, Revere Pewter, Classic Burgundy (BM HC-182), Kendall Charcoal (BM HC-166), Decorator’s White (BM CC-20), Chantilly Lace (BM OC-65) and White Dove (BM OC-17).
Coming up: Our marathon painting weekend aided by our parents, and a little professional help, along with some before/after photos!