Best gray paint shades

Gray is the new black. This multitonal neutral is genderless, sophisticated yet simple and clashes with almost nothing. That’s why I LOVE using it in interiors. But paint colors can be tricky. Grays have multiple personalities. What looks good in a photo or in a paint can looks very different on the wall, in natural light, at night and with the blue sofa pulled up in front of it.

I always tell clients to get samples, paint a swatch on two walls in a room—one that gets loads of natural light and one that does not—and look at the paint at different times of the day and with other colors to see how it’s going to look living in your room day after day. Then commit to painting.

So which are the best gray paint shades for you? Believe it or not, look in your closet first. Do you gravitate towards classic, preppy, edgy or laid-back silhouettes?

Here are my favorite go-to grays based on the styles you may be drawn to:

1. Behr’s Cathedral Gray. If you consider yourself classic (not at all boring!), like Victoria Beckham, this shade’s for you.

Cathedral Gray - Classic(Room photos by Jennie J Sullins)

I’ve painted furnishings and interiors this perfect gray. Grays have three undertones—blue, purple and green. It’s very hard to tell the undertones when you’re staring at samples side by side but much easier to tell when they go on the wall. Cathedral Gray has just the right combination. It doesn’t lean too blue or too green.

2. Sherwin Williams’ Gray Clouds. If you favor a fresh, preppy style, modeled by Alexa Chung, this gray with the slightest hint of blue is for you.

Gray Clouds - PreppyI paired this happy, soothing, calming, fresh shade with the faux-wood pallet wall in Scott’s and my bedroom and in my brother’s powder room.

3. Martha Stewart’s Gabardine. If you fancy Kate Moss’ edgier look, a rich dramatic gray might suit you.

Gabardine - Edgy

Gabardine has lots of blue undertones that can instantly cozy up a den or set the mood in the bedroom. I painted our kitchen this dramatic blue gray to add a bit of edge to the adjoining room’s grasscloth-covered walls.

4. Behr’s Shale Gray. If you like a more laid-back look, like Jennifer Anniston, this beachier gray with blue would be great for you.

Shale Gray - Beachy

Living so close to the beach, this blue gray was kind of a no-brainer to paint the beige stucco walls of our patio. But this gray also has a little bit of French-country thing to it, and it would look amazing in a house with bright white trim and shabby chic furnishings.

Now tell me: What shades of gray have you used in your home that you love—or not?


How to make drip art

Top Design’s season two winner, Nathan Thomas, created original art for the season finale. The concept was simple: One canvas painted a creamy white and several paint colors to drip down the side of the canvas. It seemed so easy on TV; I decided to try it out in a client’s living room.
A better bachelor pad
I picked up three canvases from a thrift store for 50 cents a piece. True, they were a bit yellowed and dirty, but one coat of flat white paint (paint all four edges too), which I already had on hand, did the trick.

Once the canvases were dry, I stood them up in cardboard boxes so that the left edge of each of the canvases faced me. I used oops sample paints from Home Depot, which I shook vigorously before starting. The small containers made it very easy to control the amount of paint coming out.

Concentrating on one canvas at a time, I slowly started to drip paint down the canvas, making sure it started on the left edge and dripped down the canvas towards the right edge. The key here is to do this part slowly, moving the jar methodically along the edge so you can control how much comes out.

I repeated this same process with each jar of paint until the entire edge of my canvas had paint on it—and streaming across it too. I didn’t touch the canvas after that. My advice: Don’t mess with the drips. Let the paint do its thing. Trying to control the flow with tools or brushes is just going to look messy rather than organic.
Closeup art
After completing all three canvases, I let them dry completely (the edges take a long time to completely dry), then hung them above the couch.

Paint an allover stencil on the wall

I love wallpaper, but it’s definitely a commitment. It requires more time and effort to hang wallpaper than it does to paint a wall, and it’s more of a process when you change your mind and decide to redecorate.

But an allover pattern in a room or even on just one wall makes an impact that paint alone can’t achieve. My solution? Make a stencil, and paint your own wallpaper. Note: This is not a quick process. This is going to take a lot of time, patience, precision and coats of paint, but the result will be dramatic and fabulous.

Stencil wall

Here’s how:
1. Select a shape. It should be a geometric shape that you have the ability to easily draw or trace. I wouldn’t choose something with lots of curvy lines or small, intricate parts. Large and simple is best. This one is a Moroccan trellis pattern.
2. Draw your chosen shape on a piece of sturdy cardboard.
2011-12-23 01.00.33
3. Cut out with a utility knife.
Cutting stencil
Stencil drawing
4. Lightly mark level vertical and horizontal lines on the wall and line your stencil up to it. If you’re creating the design on more than one wall, start in the upper center of one of the walls so the trellis design is equal around the entire room. If you’re creating just one accent wall, I would start in the upper left corner and work your way down and across, like I did on this small wall.
5. Trace your stencil, vertically all the way down. Start the second row to the right of the first row but don’t begin tracing at the ceiling. It’s best to have an image of your pattern pulled up on the computer so you can mimic it more easily. This pattern was inspired by curtain panel from Ballard Designs.
Drawing the stencil on the wall
6. Use a half-inch, flat artist paintbrush and trace your pencil lines slowly and methodically to keep lines smooth.
Painting the stencil
7. Let dry, recoat, and recoat. This wall required four coats of glossy white paint to get the desired opaqueness.

How to paint wood furniture–with or without an existing varnish

I buy a piece of furniture for its shape. I ignore color, finish and hardware completely and focus on the lines. That’s because I paint almost everything that comes into my possession—chairs, tables, dressers and cabinets.

That being said, I also don’t think it’s necessary to purchase new furnishings if you have a piece that already works. Maybe the color or current purpose doesn’t suit your needs, but a few coats of paint and a little room rework can make you love that old hand-me-down again.

The salon I redid needed a long, narrow table with a few drawers for storage and areas to display merchandise and keep compacts and tools available for guests to sample. My client already owned this dark console.

Sanded console
(This has already been sanded. I forgot a true before shot.)

It was the wrong color for the light, airy feel we were creating in the salon, but the shape and size were perfect. With three coats of Martha Stewart Gingerroot paint in a semi-gloss finish and new mercury-glass hardware, this dark furnishing became a feminine foundation for makeup and merchandise.

Painted console

Here’s how:

1. Sand all surfaces with 150-grit sandpaper. Use 80-grit if you are sanding a furnishing with an existing varnish. Be careful not to gouge the surface.
2. Wipe down the surface with a tack cloth to remove any residue
3. Prime (I like Zinsser) using a mini foam roller. Use a foam brush to get into any hard-to-reach areas. Let dry according to can instructions. Once your primer is fully dry, sand away any drips with a 220-grit sanding block, and wipe your piece down with a soft cloth.

Primed console

4. Use a mini foam roller to apply three thin coats of semi-gloss latex paint. Allow six to eight hours in between coats. It is important that you sand in between coats if you have any drips or residue on the piece. Use the same sanding block I mentioned above.
5. Finally, use a new sponge brush to apply a thin coat of Varathane water-based protectant in gloss. It will seal your piece. Allow 72 hours for it to dry before using.

Close up of the console

Paint your front door

I was in London this weekend strolling through beautiful Notting Hill, and surrounding the famous Portobello Market, quaint restaurants and fantastic boutiques, there’s a neighborhood with some incredible charm. House after house features major curb appeal with the most welcoming facades. Ornate knockers and bright front doors summon you up the steps. And these Londoners have stepped out of the safe zone–very few red, cobalt blue or black doors in this mix. Take a cue from our neighbors across the pond, and bathe your front entrance in a hue that’s bold and inviting. And check out these knockers too.

Orange front door

Draw guests in with a happy deep tangerine.

Orange door brass knocker
One to try: Benjamin Moore’s Orange Rumba and this modern brass knocker (available in several finishes)

Periwinkle front door

Let them come and knock on your pretty periwinkle door.

Periwinkle front door
One to try: Sherwin Williams’ Dazzle and this vintage iron door knocker

Green front door

You’ll be the envy of all your neighbors with a kelly green door.

Green front door
One to try: Sherwin Williams’ Derbyshire and a monogram door knocker (also available in silver)

Pink front door

Visitors will be tickled pink when they arrive at this daring front door.

Pink front door
One to try: Sherwin Williams’ Hibiscus and a cast iron black lion head knocker

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