Why grey paint is the ultimate neutral

Once considered conservative, grey has cemented its place as the ultimate neutral, able to imbue a room with equal amounts of warmth and glamour.

Bunnings magazine, July 2019

Grey area

The Switzerland of colours, grey is a neutral, balanced hue that traverses a spectrum of shades. At the warmer end, slate grey, dark taupe and smoky grey create a serene atmosphere, while cooler hues like dove, oyster and pearl make spaces feel bright and spacious. Thanks to its associations with nature (think stormy skies, rough seas, pebbles in a pond), grey also works well with natural materials like timber and stone.

Why we love grey

“Grey is having a major moment in contemporary interiors,” says Rachel Rimmer, founder of colour consultancy Hello Colour. “We’re seeing it used increasingly as the hero hue, not only in living rooms and bedrooms, but in the bathroom too. It’s clearly a colour that people feel confident using.” There’s a shade for every mood; soft, silvery hues with undertones of mauve and blue lend elegance to any interior, while greys with warm, reddy undertones create a cosy feel.

“For rooms where you want to create a relaxing environment, such as bedrooms and living rooms, the darker the grey, the better,” says Jesus Pena, colour marketing manager at Taubmans Australia. “By lowering the amount of light in these rooms, the environment prepares the brain for rest. One of my favourite greys for evoking this sense of relaxation is Taubmans Diesel Engine.”

Pro tip: “Lighter greys like Taubmans Tundra Mist are ideal as an alternative to traditional whites for rooms with less light, and areas where you may prefer to avoid whites, such as stair walls” says Jesus Pena colour marketing manager at Taubmans.

The right grey for your interior

Before you select a grey for your interior, observe the natural light and think about whether you want to create a cool or warm ambience, says Andrea Lucena-Orr, colour expert at Dulux. For spaces with lots of natural light, she recommends a cool grey such as stone, pewter or concrete. “These hues also help make small spaces appear brighter,” she says. Warm greys – such as taupe, pebble and smoke – work best in open-plan areas and where you want to create a cosy ambience. Pair with a crisp white on skirting boards, doors and window frames or, for an industrial look, paint the trim a few shades darker than the walls.

Metallic greys with a hint of sparkle also work wonderfully as accents. A little bit goes a long way, so use small touches to highlight architectural features rather than dominate a room. Accentuate its sheen by pairing with furniture and accessories that have reflective surfaces – for example, glass, copper and polished wood.

grey fireplace

Cool greys work with most palettes and natural textures like marble. Walls in Dulux Winter Fog.

Consider the colours’ undertone

Most greys have an undertone, which happens when you blend two or more hues – the dominant colour is the one you see. “The undertone has a huge impact on how the colour makes a room feel,” says Rachel Rimmer. “If warm and welcoming is your vibe, opt for a grey with a yellow, red or brown undertone. These hues also work well in spaces with limited natural light.” It’s also important to work with what’s already in the room, suggests Andrea Lucena-Orr. “Existing fittings, furnishings and accessories like tapware, benchtops and adjoining rooms may help steer you towards the right warm or cool undertone,” she says.

Mix and match

Grey works with all colours, from jewel tones to citruses. “For an oh-so-pretty combination, pair pale, peachy pinks with soft, powdery greys. Washed timber tones work beautifully with this palette,” says Rachel. “For a cosier feel, combine warm-toned greys with rich, dark blues and rust tones. The subtle combination of dark grey and smoky green is also a winner.” Grey-on-grey is another success story. “A monochromatic interior that combines both light and dark greys can be stunning,” adds Rachel.

When pairing grey with white, check your undertones, says Andrea. “If you’ve chosen a cool grey, opt for a cool white like Lexicon Half or White on White. If you’re using a warm grey, pair with a warm white like Natural White or Whisper White."

grey lounge room

Complement your grey palette with furnishings that incorporate natural materials. Walls in British Paints Silver Treasure.

Coastal charm

Soft mid-strength greys are the cornerstone of the classic Hamptons colour palette, which combines warm neutrals with pops of cool accents. Using grey, not blue, as the base ensures the look doesn’t veer too much into the nautical – think dove grey teamed with warm white and offset with shades of blues and greens, and plenty of natural light wood tones. “I love pairing a soft warmer grey, such as Dulux Flooded Gum, with a white like Lexicon Half to achieve the Hamptons look,” says Andrea.

Step outside and consider your exterior

A failsafe exterior colour, grey suits a variety of house styles, from modern to period-style homes. Darker tones (charcoal, concrete, slate) add an air of drama to your exterior, while lighter greys (silver, dove, oyster) create a tranquil feeling. “Light greys are a great choice if you love softer hues but want to steer clear of a white exterior,” says Rachel. “And mid-tone greys are a super-practical choice as they help to conceal marks and dust.”

For a trend-driven look, veer towards warmer tones. “After the popularity of pale blue-toned greys, we’re now seeing more warm grey tones and greige (grey and beige),” says Rachel. “This hint of beige or brown gives the grey a beautiful earthy quality.” Greys will appear a few shades lighter in bright sunlight, so you may might need to go a shade or two darker to get the depth of colour you need. As always, use sample pots and observe at different times of the day and night, under artificial light, before you buy.

Your colour palette: shades of grey

Warm greys

1 Dulux Malay Grey

2 British Paints Metal Links

3 Dulux Flooded Gum

4 Taubmans Salinger

Cool greys

1 Dulux Baltica

2 Taubmans Private Jet

3 British Paints Cold Metal

4 Taubmans Iron Gate

grey colours

A splash of grey for your home

Add a splash of grey paint into your home. Start by picking up everything you need at your local Bunnings.

Photo credit: Brigid Arnott, British Paints, Taubmans.

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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