A Reader’s Color Dilemma
“I enjoy your website! I recently painted my 11×14 living room in Samovar (SW) silvery gray paint. It looks kind of blue in my room with red oak floors with light golden stain. I have an upright brown cherry finish piano in there and cherry end tables. It is a southern exposure with a big picture window and another east facing window. Someone from the paint store came to my home and suggested the paint color that I thought was light blue. With my Alabaster white trim it looks okay though not the blue I anticipated. I like blues, not gray.
In looking for furniture or slipcovers, nothing looks good to me but brown. Paint person thinks chocolate brown on 89″ couch and small Queen Anne chair would be fine. Seems like it may be too stark in contrast. I brought home samples from a furniture store of a cocoa or mocha color and it looked kind of drab. Would off-white slipcovered or upholstery work with brown or blue accents or should I look for varying shades of blue for upholstery and fabric? I don’t like orange but could see soft gold used somewhere. I like blue greens, but don’t know if any would work with this gray color. Thanks for reading my rant.” Diane
Another reader wrote a quickie question in the same vein. Janet wrote: “Are there shades of gray that go with dark brown furniture, stains and woods?”
Working With Gray and Brown
I’ll be including gray in more depth in an upcoming Exploring Color post covering black/white/gray neutrals. But for now and to answer these ladies’ question, yes there are many grays that will work with brown. Although I scanned in the Sherwin Williams color strip, it will likely appear in all shades of blue gray depending on your monitor settings. In actuality it’s a fairly medium gray with very little blue so the appearance of blue that Diane is getting from it is likely because of the contrast against the warm wood flooring and furnishings.
Ladies, as with any color, gray will have undertones, either warming the gray or blue undertones which will cool it down. If your wood tones, stains or furnishings are a brown like espresso or walnut, almost any silvery gray will work. If your woods and furnishings are in the mahogany or cherry color range, choose a gray with warm undertones so everything will blend better. You’ll get maximum impact and drama by choosing high contrast options (lightest gray with darkest browns). If you want something a little calmer, choose tones closer in intensity. Some pretty silvery grays from Sherwin Williams are: #7653 Silverpointe (slight green undertone); #7656 Rhinestone (barely there gray); or #7651 On the Rocks for a good mid-tone.
Other Options to go With Gray
Diane, I agree with the paint person that dark brown on your furniture would look “fine”, but you can do lots better than “fine”. We want excellent, exciting, dazzling! So unless you really want brown, let’s explore other options. The gray that was selected for your walls is a very neutral gray without strong undertones either way. Consequently that leaves you with lots of options. Think of the gray as a neutral – no different than tan or beige – it’s a medium tone but will work with many colors. Since you’re predisposed to blues, let’s look at a few combinations using gray and blue.
This graphic helps illustrate that with a medium gray wall (this is pretty close to the SW color according to my screen), you can brighten the room with any number of blues. The white strip represents your trim and the brown is a medium w/ red undertone similar to a cherry. A crisp navy would be a great alternative to brown and would ground the room. Medium blues (the top one has more green in it) will work as a calmer alternative (less contrast) and the wavy blue/gray/green square shows that even greens can work in this palette.
Your other question about using slipcovers in white is easy to answer. White always looks great and will brighten the gray but don’t feel like you have to use white (or brown) because nothing else works with the color. Yellow and gray is a fabulous combination and your idea of soft golds would warm up the gray and yet be a very current color scheme. I might suggest that your sofa or a large piece of furniture is a deep rich gold and then you could spice it up by adding blue with lighter yellows in a pattern for pillows or draperies.
The Key to Success
Diane, the key for you is going to be finding the right print fabric that combines colors you like. Avoid ‘muddy’ blues that have too much grey without a contrasting color in the pattern and choose something with some clearer tones to enliven your room and avoid the “dull-droms”. It doesn’t necessarily have to have silver or gray in it, but the print should have 2-4 colors in it so that you can pull from it for your upholstery colors. Go to a fabric store like JoAnn’s or Calico Corners and borrow/check-out a few larger fabric samples to try out. Lay them on the floor or drape over an ottoman since that’s mostly how they’ll be viewed – on the horizontal plane – live with it for a couple days and you’ll be amazed at the color options that don’t include brown.