While the Least Emphatic of Colors, Gray Can Be Used Successfully

When You Use Textures of the Paint, Paper and Fabrics


GRAY, of all the colors, may best be described as neutral ; of all, it is the most colorless the least emphatic. Compared with the variety in other colors, the tones and the shades of gray are inconsiderable; it is weak in contrasts in short, it is the neutral tint par excellence.

Yet, in spite of these negative qualities, gray is by no means a submissive, pliable factor in  decorating scheme; browns can be blended with practically all color combination’s; not so the grays.

Strange though it sounds, it is nevertheless a fact that even with the delicate shades, you get quite surprisingly positive effects; a room needs very careful handling where gray is the keynote.

It is, in the first place, a cold color, taking it as a whole. This quality is valuable in sunny latitudes to temper the strong light and to give the effect of shade and coolness. It has also a sombre not to say a sad propensity; “sad colored” was, in fact, the old word used to describe the color.

The decorative use of gray, then, is beset by certain difficulties, but these should not act as deterrents; rather the contrary, for the gray room has never been overdone, and, when it is well done, distinction and originality are added to its real beauty.

In gray, as in all other colors, there are two scales: the cold shades and the warm.

Cold Gray Colors

Cold grays are made simply from black and white; to white, black is added for the pale tints; to black, white is added for the dark shades.

Some slight variation is produced by the different blacks which are used; pure ivory black has a well-marked blue tinge, while lamp black and gas black are brownish. In iron gray the black and white appear to be fairly evenly balanced; in pearl gray the white predominates; in charcoal gray, the black.

These shades and the like are not sympathetic; tact in dealing with them is necessary in order to exorcise a certain bleakness that they are apt to bring into the home. The lighter tints are easiest to manage. It is a wise precaution to keep the slate, steel, and iron grays on the light side; time so very soon adds grayness to gray.

Warm Gray Colors

The warm shades are produced by the addition of primary colors to the black and white; yellows, reds, and blues, according to the hue required.

French gray, though not strictly a warm shade, is blended in this way:

Crimson lake and ultramarine may be added in small quantities to white that has been grayed with a little drop of black. Or the black may be omitted, and the blue, with Venetian red, used to tint the white.  It is quite accurately a well-known shade with its faint lilac tinge.

Other shades and tints of gray are less definite; color nomenclature is always a little confused and misleading. People do not see color alike; one brand name differs from another when the same thing is intended. There really is no fixed standard.

Elephant gray does certainly convey a clear image, and this may be quoted as a very good color to work with; but it may be confused with smoke gray another valuable shade and both are made much alike, on a basis of white, tinted with lamp black and yellow ochre; a little ultramarine is added to the ingredients for the “elephant” shade.

Iceberg with a hole in the strait between Lang...
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Silver gray is an extraordinary elusive tint; every painter would seem to have his own formula on the matter. It should show a very faint lavender tinge, and white  should form the chief part, tinted with lamp black and a trace of indigo; yellow is sometimes added. The exact proportions cannot be given, but it should always be borne in mind that a little black for tinting purposes goes a long way; it should be added by degrees, in small quantities, and well mixed.

A nice greenish gray can be made with  white tinted with black, and green which is called middle chrome.

Mouse color just verges on brown; this useful tint is also based on white, and toned with black and brown (burnt sienna and raw umber mixed). Another version is made with white  ten parts, burnt umber, five parts, with one part of Prussian blue added or less, according to the blueness or grayness that is desired.

In the successful using of gray much depends on textures; by this means we get contrast, and subtle gradations of tone and tint are stressed. In towns especially the action of smoke and atmosphere has a dulling, flattening effect upon color, which gray least of all   can withstand.

Partly on this account, it is rarely a good choice for painting the woodwork. Certain colors are actually improved and mellowed in use, but never gray; even the more delicate warm tints soon turn leaden-hued and dark enough to mar a carefully considered scheme.

When this has occurred, or when gray-painted doors, windows, and woodwork have been painted an unbearable shade, quality can be restored or added by means of glazing. This is a thin coat of transparent color laid on to tone and modify the groundwork. Gray makes a very satisfactory basis, and is often chosen for this purpose.

Brush-graining and stippling are also quick and excellent devices, which even the amateur may carry out with success. Yellow brushed over the gray has a wonderfully good effect; the yellow enamel should be laid on with one brush”" and lightly “grained” with another kept clean and dry for the purpose.

Stippling needs a special brush, wide and flat, with a leather strap to go over the hand. A thin coat of color is laid on with the usual paint brush, and then patted all over with the stippler; this gives the mottled even effect with the ground showing through. The stippler must be kept as free as possible from accumulation of paint, and sometimes pads made of pile carpet are substituted; this is an excellent plan it saves trouble, answers the purpose well, and each pad can be thrown away directly it begins to thicken.

A violet stipple, or one of emerald green, according to the room, would answer the purpose.

Contrast Color For Woodwork

White woodwork would do here, or better still, black.

Black, contrary though it sounds, is not dingy or dark in this connection; it gives brilliancy and contrast.

Certainly a plain pile carpet is an invaluable help in determining the gray room and giving the basis for lesser features.

The introduction of color is a matter of taste, and the success of the room is largely dependent on it.

Rich yellow would look sharp with mole gray, where lemon yellow might be overwhelmed into feebleness; the grayness must be balanced.

Where light blues would look silly, a blue verging on royal would be entirely charming.

Green with gray is quite pretty and  pink (deep almost fuchsia) in contrast with gray is one of the loveliest schemes imaginable.

Gold and gray combine admirably; with a gold ceiling the difficulty of creating the gray room is cut in half. The scheme will evolve almost of itself.

Use gray velvet for curtains and for covering a few chairs; a gray stripe painted on the walls, yellow lampshades, and rugs in which yellows predominate.


Have you considered painting your dining room 2 tone? What about Brown and Green as your paint color choices?

I always get your e-mail newsletters and enjoy them very much..now I finally have something to send you back.

I painted my dining room today..I picked out the chocolate brown paint color and let my 8 year old son pick the green paint color..I think he did a great job.

Thanks for all your inspiration to start doing thing’s to our house.

We moved to Cumming, Ga 18 months ago from Las Vegas. We bought a 10 yr old home..going from tons of upgrades..to none.

We are finally starting to make this our own.

Take care, Amy

We didn’t have a lot of money to spend..so we went to Ikea..bought butcher block countertops, new farm sink & faucet..$800.00..then to Lowes and bought the Roma Stone (for floors) with a little liquid nails we used it for a backslash..I’m really happy with how it turned out..mini kitchen remodel on a budget..

Do you have any ideas for the kitchen cabinets?..I really do not like the white..Thanks Debra! Amy

Do you just love the brown and green dining room paint colors? I do! And what a great budget kitchen remodel!

Thanks for sharing Amy…  Anyone have any ideas for Amy on Cabinet Paint Colors?

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This question just in…. (remember you can ask me anything if you are a newsletter subscriber) from Joanne:

Hi Ms. Conrad,

I am currently doing the inside of my house.  My style is primitive
country. I am currently putting wainscoting up.  

I need some ideas for colour. The colours I am attracted to are
barn red, blue and mustard yellow.  I love these colour.
My problem is what colour to paint the wainscoting.  

I am really attracted to red, but my daughter thinks I should paint it
the mustard colour.  I have an open style house so I need the colour
to flow from room to room. I have been trying to get ideas off the net
on Rate My Space, but there isn't too much when you look for wainscoting
ideas.  I do have a fireplace also. 

Our house is a four-split level so I need the wainscoting to flow.
I am not crazy about white wainscoting as I prefer more warm tones.

Thank you so much,


Here is my quick answer:


Here is my quick - without "seeing" your house response. :) 

I've used hunter green - cobalt blue - and barn red in my home. 

The only color I have "never" gotten tired of or found great ways
to decorate with is "Barn Red". 

Think about this... if someone were to walk into your home for the
first time - what color would you want to be the predominate color?

The "One" color that they would see "some of" in every room? 

I have red in every room. Some is on the walls. - some rooms it's just
the furniture and some rooms it's just the accent accessories. It all

I found that "RED" is the easiest of the country colors to decorate

And yellow?  Ewww. 


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