Paint Undertones: What You Need to Know


Teen boys bedroom featuring the "The Boss" Springsteen poster by Houston residential design firm Nancy Lane Interiors.

One of the most common questions we get in our email inbox and Instagram DM's is, "What paint color is in that room you just posted?" I hesitate to share that information, not only because that client has invested in custom design work for their home, but also because there are a number of factors that go into whether or not a paint color works for your home! Just because it looks great in that photo on Pinterest doesn't mean it's going to work for your space! Scroll through for some tips about paint undertones and what to look out for when you're wanting to refresh the walls in your home.


Teen boys bedroom featuring outdoorsman theme in deep forest green by Houston residential design firm Nancy Lane Interiors

Every paint color is itself a mix of colors. So, that said, think of a paint color itself as the dominant color, while the subtle nuances “underneath” that color are the undertones, or a color as seen through another color. If you’ve ever painted a room green and on a cloudy or even a bright sunny day you might have thought to yourself is that even the same color? It looks blue today? Well...that my friend is the undertone shining through.


It’s hard to see undertones in pure deep colors but not so much in whites and neutrals like grays and beiges...at least not to a trained eye. When I do color consults for clients, most of the time I can walk in a room and know the perfect color in a hot minute. But I always take the time to go through several options, and if the client is interested, I'll show them those options in comparison to the wrong colors so they can understand why they can't have the blue gray their sister painted her brand new, modern transitional house when she lives in a thirty year old Mediterranean with Spanish Saltillo tile floors and Baltic brown granite countertops.


It’s all about the undertones, both of the paint itself and the hard finishes of the house (the things you can’t move or remove without great effort ie a remodel, like the backsplash, countertop, tile, flooring, carpet) followed by the furniture and soft goods in the space. All that should be taken into consideration, which is why paint consults are a very popular service offering for us!


Modern transitional bedroom featuring custom blue velvet chairs and channel back bed by Houston residential design firm Nancy Lane Interiors

If you're staring down a wall of paint samples trying to decide on the right white paint color, for example, you can open any fan deck and find a plethora of whites. The trick to see the difference in undertones is in comparison - take a true white that forms the basis of all paint mixtures, and then compare that to the whites you're considering. You'll start to see how much blue, yellow, gray, or pink is in the undertone of the "white" paint you like!


One last tip: Don't ever think it's a good idea to just slap paint on the wall, or worse slap multiple "squares" of paint colors on a wall to make your selection. The existing paint color on your wall will skew the other colors...all...day...long. I always tell clients to sample but by that, I mean a whole wall...not the whole room, but a whole wall. Don't feel up to doing that? Get a big piece of poster board from a hobby shop like Michaels and paint it, then let it dry completely. Hang or lean it on different walls within a room on consecutive days and see how light hits it throughout the day to ensure you'll like the color in all of the various lighting situations your home experiences.


If you're interested in setting up a paint consult for your home here in Houston, feel free to reach out here and set up an appointment today!



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