Psst! Your Undertone Is Showing

As I written about before, picking the right color is tricky. The color you see in the paint store or in your home on that 3×5 piece of paper and ink rendering you are holding up will not look like the same color on your walls. Or even the same color on your walls hours apart. The color you love in your friend’s home probably will not look the same in your house. Unless you live on the exact same side of the street with the exact same amount of north/south/east/west facing light, shade, furnishings, and artificial light. And if you do, don’t call me. That’s just freaky.

See where I’m going here? Picking paint is a tricky, tricky thing. Even for designers. The reason we get it right more often than not is because we know the rules about color and light. But don’t hate us if it even takes us a few tries. We eventually get there, but there is a lot that goes into it.

I won’t go into how light affects color – I’ll save that for a future post. (Besides, weren’t you listening that day to your eighth grade science teacher? You never knew that one day the knowledge would help you paint your condo, did you? ) Today I want to talk about something that comes up all the time in my work: why a seemingly innocent color like gray can go ape sh** all over your walls and end up looking yellow. Or blue. Or green. Anything but a nice, simple gray.

As Meghan Trainor says, it’s all about that base.

Or more specifically mass tones and (base) undertones. The mass tone is the color you are immediately drawn to, be it gray, blue, green, red etc; it’s the first color you see when you pull that swatch from the deck. But every color has an undertone too. Undertones are subtle, “hidden” layers underneath the color you initially picked. You need to discover what the undertones are in your color because they will 100% affect how your color looks overall. Most paint mishaps  – about 90%  I’d say – happen because you didn’t pay attention to the undertone. For example, that gray in your friend’s house that you love: with her beautiful medium toned woodwork, it looks amazing. Paired with your white trim, it looked blue. What your experiencing is the power of the undertone when placed next to different colors. Remember complimentary colors in that science class? (I’ve mentioned science twice in this post. I know half of you have officially stopped reading.) How if you put colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel next to each other they intensify their colors? (Think red and green at Christmastime). Well, that’s what an undertone does. You may not even know that you had green in your gray but put it next to your warm mid tone wood and wham! You now have a lovely moss tint to your walls.

So how do you detect an undertone if you can’t see it, especially in a tough color like a gray? The easiest way is to do what I just explained above: place the gray swatch color next to another color, such as red, orange or yellow. The complementary color – the undertone – will become more vibrant. In the red example, a green undertone will come through. Here are the complimentary colors:

complementary

 

It may take a few tries to get it right, so before you paint, always practice. Paint a little swatch on your wall and make sure that it’s surrounded by white, so it doesn’t pick up any other undertones. And you still can’t get the color right, then it’s time to look at your lighting. But that’s for another post.