Mad About . . . 50 Shades Of Grey Paint

This week we are mostly Mad About . . . Grey Paint. Grey has been a fashionable colour for a while now, by which I mean it has been largely in evidence in glossy magazines. Now that we are all used to it, it’s starting to appear in real houses, including mine!

Clockwise from top:;;;;

Grey really is the perfect neutral colour. It goes with everything you can imagine and comes in so many different shades. If you’re nervous you can start pale and then as you get used to it, I guarantee you’ll want to go darker. It’s the reverse of dying your hair. The first time it’s a few highlights and then one day you discover you are completely blonde.

My sitting room is south facing so painting it grey hasn’t made it darker at all but if you have a north-facing room you will need to make sure it’s a warm grey not a cool one. It looks great in the evening with cosy table lamps and really makes any paintings or art work “pop” off the walls. Here it is:

my sitting room; the walls are Farrow & Ball Downpipe, the fireplace is Railings


So, how to choose your shade of grey?

The first point to remember is that yes there really are 50 Shades of Grey (well I had to get that in somewhere didn’t I?) and you can’t choose the right one from a computer screen. You really must buy a sample pot and test it on different parts of wall that receive light at different times of day.

Sarah Cole, the director of Farrow & Ball offers the following advice based on the company’s colours: “Use warm greys like Elephants Breath or Skimming Stone in north facing rooms, as blue greys like Pavilion will feel much colder than in south facing light.

“In rooms that don’t have a lot of natural light, stronger greys like Down Pipe or Plummett will create a dramatic and intimate feel.”

“Cool greys such as Cornforth White and Blackened are particularly good with stainless steel and can be used to great effect in kitchens.”

rooms painted in a selection of Farrow & Ball colours; elephants breath, railings and strong white

Cole adds that a feeling of airiness in grey rooms can be achieved by using two grey-base whites together such as Wimborne White and Strong White or Pavilion with Blackened.

Fans of the Scandi look should use either Pavilion Gray or Lamp Room Gray which will give you the classic Gustavian look.

clockwise from top left:; shades of grey from Farrow & Ball: cornforth white, manor house, lamproom, plummet and downpipe

Elisa Cirulli , an interior stylist based in Harrogate, who has just been nominated for the Livingetc Best Room 2012 Northern Design Award, and who has just done her own bedroom in Farrow & Ball Lamp Room Grey paint,  has the following advice: “Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and use a dark colour even if the room doesn’t receive much natural light. When the walls are dark, the boundaries of a room tend to disappear, creating an illusion of infinite space.

“If a room is south-facing, try Fired Earth Antimony, which has a hint of blue that will add depth and drama while creating a sophisticated feel. Keep the woodwork and ceilings bright white for a fresh and crisp look.

“In a north-facing room try using greys with hints of yellow and brown. Playing with the different shades for walls, ceiling and skirting will create delicate contrasts and optical illusion. The key is in the accessories and artwork used to finish off the room.”

The final piece of advice she adds is that the Farrow & Ball have their own pigmentation process which means that the room changes colour according to the outside light and furniture. This does mean that liking a shade in a friend’s house doesn’t necessarily mean that the same colour will work in your own room.

clockwise from top:;;;;


If you like this you might also like

My Daughter Wants Her Room Painted Grey

Mad About … Monochrome

Painted Floorboards

A Buyer’s Guide to Paint

Mad about 50 Shades of Grey Paint




Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Dear Kate
    My kitchen diner is 11 x 9 metres approx. I have light coming in from both sides, south and north facing. I would like to use Pavilion on my walls and Plummet on my kitchen units with a brilliant white on my skirting, door frames and doors etc.
    Do you think these colours would work together?

    1. Hi Angela, it sounds great in principle but the trouble with those pesky greys is that you need to see them in your house, with the light that you get at different times of day. Sadly there is no way round this. For example Elephant’s Breath is a lovely pale grey in my friend Sophie’s house. In mine it’s dreary beige. I would say that painting the back of the door and the skirtings and door frames in the same colour as the walls will look very fresh and modern as opposed to traditional white, alternatively the Farrow and Ball website suggests pavilion, plummet and dimpse as the pale colour and if they say it then it’s worth a look rather than bright white. Otherwise I might be tempted to go for two more contrasting greys such as plummet with downpipe or railings.

  2. Hi Kate! I love your blog!
    So I decided on (after lots of sample pots!) Pavillion gray for my large ball wall in bedroon (the bed sits against it) and I want to keep the other walls (its not a huge room) white. I had initially picked Wimborne White (seemed like a good all rounder and not too cold for a bedroom) because I want to use this in my living room/kitchen and I can use the excess paint up. I’m wondering, is Wimborne White too yellow with Pavillion or do they work? I see many use Strong White or Wevet but I find them a little clinical for my bedroom. (additionally I grew up just down the street from Wimborne before I moved to New York so I’m a little sentimental about the name too!)

    Would love to hear your thoughts!

    1. Hi Sara Louise, I’m a huge fan of wimborne white and have used it throughout my house. However I think it’s possible that the pavilion is turning the wimborne yellow and that’s why you’re hesitating. It can be a slightly yellow – it varies from room to room in my own house. This means, of course, that the wevet and strong white, which are making your nervous, probably won’t be clinical in your bedroom when paired with pavilion for the same reason. Sadly I think the only thing you can do is try them out and let them sit on the wall in different lights for a couple of days and see how you feel. If you’re not scared of the dark then I can tell you (from my own house) that downpipe and wimborne white is a fabulous combination…

  3. Hi Kate
    I am thinking of painting the floor of 2 large light attic rooms do you think Little Greene French Grey would work well on wooden floor boards? . I think white might look a bit stark . So thought a grey colour might look good.
    Kind Regards

  4. Grey Dilemma!!! Im currently renovating a 1960s semi-detached house and want to paint it “50 shades of grey” , however one room is causing me serious heartache ….the living room. Our kitchen/diner is south-facing with loads of light, the cabinets will be Cornforth White and walls Strong White. The bathroom is again south facing and so i’ve decided to go with Ammonite. Our living room on the other hand is north facing, however has loads of natural light floading into the room. Every blog i read says to go for a “warm” grey like “Skimming Stone” and “Elephants Breath”, however to me these colours just look beige and wont really work with the pale grey linen upholstery we’ve chosen. If i could give you an idea of our style it would be danish interior design Lene Bjerre. Would “Cornforth White” work in a north facing room? Is it too grey? We intend on putting touches of gold and deep blue/indigo in the room as finishing touches. Or could you recommend a true grey that wont have that icy feeling in a north facing room, yet one that’s not too warm? You help is greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Grace,

      Those pale shades are tricky aren’t they! I know exactly what you mean about Elephant’s Breath. I know it’s supposed to be grey and, indeed, I have seen it in other houses and it was grey but in my house it’s beige. The problem is you won’t know until you try. Now Cornforth White, I put it in my north-facing kitchen and, while it wasn’t cold, it was a bit drab. Having said that, your instincts are completely right re gold and indigo. Grey absorbs other colours and reflects off them so if you give it warm things to play with it will be happy. Since I used it in a kitchen with a white floor and stainless steel worktops it never really stood a chance Give it gold, give it indigo and give it wood and it should be very happy. Failing that Little Greene do a love shade called French Grey which is very warm and always lovely. Or you could try Nougat Slice by Dulux. As I haven’t seen the room it can be hard to know how the light plays and how many windows you have etc but there are some suggestions. Let me know how you get on. XK

      1. Hi Kate,

        Well the house is finally painted! I searched high-and-low for a stockist of Little Greene but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be stocked anywhere near us in Ireland. Eventually , after all of my earlier giving out, we went with Dulux Silver Moonlight in the living room. This is a very Greige colour and depending on the time of day will change. Having said that i LOVE it. Its got a beautiful tone, and looks incredibly sophisticated. For the hall/kitchen/diner/bathrooms, they were all painted a light grey which looks beautiful as the house is a very light and airy. Thank you for your input it was a great help!

    2. We tried millions of greys and also found the owns mentioned too brown a tone we wanted to avoid. In our north facing bedroom we used blackened which has a lavender tone and in our North facing lounge we used Dimpse which is a cooler grey but works with the other colours we have in the room. For Dimpse we used Johnsons colour match as we found the farrow and ball quality not that great on the blackened. Our house is 50 shades of grey so let me know if you need anything else

  5. Hi Kate. Every grey tester I have bought into my house looks too blueish (and the count is up to 30 testers now!). I’ve had the entire place replastered so that ought to change the light but no, from the first room I did to the last, everything is going blue. In the living room at the moment I have the wash coat on of of a paint I used upstairs that was fine with the wash coat but went blue on the second coat. Dulus potters clay 2 seems to be the only colour bordering on grey that looks OK. Any other ideas?

    1. Gosh 30 testers! That is dedication to the cause of a grey room. Without seeing the space it’s very hard to know. Is it a north-facing room? That can turn greys into blues, in which case you need to try a warm, yellow-based grey. Farrow and Ball Elephant’s breath is a warm grey. If you have the grey chart from Little Greene it starts with the cooler greys on the left and warms up as you go across. Pale grey is very hard to get right – have you thought about embracing the dark side? You can paint the walls (up to a picture rail if you have one) in a dark grey such as Down Pipe and keep the ceilings and floors pale. The dark greys are never cold and do make the rest of the room pop out amazingly. Havind said that Potters Clay looks like a good colour so perhaps you should just embrace it?

      1. Hi Kate, I’m loving Down Pipe for my bedroom but don’t like painting with F&B, I love Little Greene and their colour Scree looks exactly the same as Downpipe when I’ve painted it on cardboard. Have you had any reports of how they compare?
        Many thanks

  6. I have bought 7 tester pots frm farrow and ball and still struggling to pick! I want a good strong grey to go in the alcoves in the open plan lounge and dinning area (I have an old red brick chimney breast – think old reclaimed bricks, so thinking the contrast will be good) I am liking Manor House Gray, but still wondering if plummett would be better against the red brick. Just worry it would be a bit too dark when it’s floor to ceiling (I have high ceilings, so it’s a lot of wall!!)

    Then my other dilemma is the contrasting colour for the rest of the room – I like the warmth of calluna but the website always matches it with blackened. Has anyone ever put Manor House Gray with Calluna?
    Any thoughts and top tips would be very welcome

    1. So, I know I keep saying this but the colours might look completely different in your house to mine. I have seen borrowed light in a south facing and a north-facing room in the same house and the difference was incredible. South – ethereal, soft breathtakingly gorgeous colour. North – cold, flat, no subtlety at all. You haven’t given me your orientations or a picture so taking all that into account:
      I think you need to lose Caluna – I think it will be too pink and come up too dark to provide a contrast. I do agree with Blackened as a neutral contrast I’m afraid. Having said that. I’m not sure there’s enough contrast between Blackened and Manor House, they might just leach the colour out of each other. I think if you are thinking of a strong colour then you have to make a strong decision – make a commitment and make it look like you meant it. Down Pipe and Wimborne White or Blackened. Or Plummet with blackened. Wevet is also a good contrast with a darker grey. If you are only doing the alcoves it won’t be too dark, it will look dramatic and strong. Good luck.

  7. HELP! I am going around in circles! I love the cool, clean sophisticated look of grey and I am trying to pull it off in the house we have recently moved into to. I originally painted the bedroom skimming stone but it looks pink! I think it is because the room is south facing and our bedding is beige! I also painted a north facing room cornworth white but it lacks lustre and feels a bit prison cell- would I be better of painting the south room with our beige bedding cornworth white and the north room skimming stone? If so I have 2 other rooms. East facing, which colour should I paint these??? Thanks for any help x x x

    1. DON’T PANIC CAPTAIN MAINWARING! We are going to sort this out! This is a theme that keeps returning so I am going to speak to a few paint experts and ask them for their advice on how to choose a shade of grey depending on which way the room is facing. Check back soon.

  8. Great article and really useful, thank you. We have just painted our summer room Manor House Grey and it looks lovely during the day but looks green at night and therefore, frustratingly, we want to repaint it. It is a relatively large, high ceiling, bright, north facing room and we want to have a grey that has a sharp contract to the white so quite a rich grey that doesn’t have any green or too brown undertones. We don’t like Elephant’s Breath/skimming stone and feel we have tried all of F&B’s colours but to no avail and wondered if you have another brands of paint and colour name that you can recommend that will achieve this look. We have tried many already and know there are more to try but wondered if you knew of any please. Any help hugely appreciated. Thank you

    1. Hi Amanda, what a shame Manor House isn’t right and you feel you need to start all over again. It is tricky finding the right grey. I’m doing the same thing for my kitchen at the moment, which is also north-facing. I plan to paint the shelves in F&B downpipe and am looking for a paler grey for the walls. One suggestion is Mini Moderns environmentally friendly paint, you might like concrete? It’s a gorgeous rich but pale grey. Otherwise, Fired Earth has lots of greys – how about crom fog or skylon? Finally, I have just been introduced to Siecle Colours which is worth looking at for the names alone. What about If You Think You Get It You Don’t (which is not an insult but the closest to Manor House Grey!) or How Many Times Must I Say I Like This Before I Buy It? Anyway, I hope some of these suggestions will help. Do report back.

    2. Thank you so much for such a quick response and I love the look of Siecle Colours and they are not too far away from us either, thanks. I will get testing this weekend and let you know how we get one. What tone of grey would you recommend for a north facing room please? We want to achieve a contemporary look and are having white modern shutters being installed soon. Thanks again

  9. hi kate. are you really going to paint your kitchen grey? are you keeping the gloss doors white? thanks

    1. HI Sam, yes I am. Well bits of it anyway. The open shelving is going to be Downpipe as I think that will really show off the plates and glasses and all the rest of the stuff. The cupboards will stay white as they are from Ikea and would be tricky to paint, but the walls may be a very pale grey. Having said that, I sense it’s something that may increase by stages. A little grey here to start and a lot more to end with!

  10. Hi Kate.

    Stumbled across your great site after painting my bedroom downpipe grey.

    Would you mind telling me where you got the open shelving in your kitchen?

    Thanks very much.


    1. Hi Lucy, thank you for your kind comments. The kitchen shelves were made by a carpenter fron MDF during the renovation of the whole house. We are about to paint them in Downpipe.

  11. Hi ! Came across this great article whilst seeking reassurance of my choice of kitchen unit colours. Wall units have been painted F&B Pavilion Gray and the island unit F&B Manor House Gray & fear I’ve made major mistake in the pairing. Individually they’re beautiful, together not so sure?! Any thoughts would be appreciated!!!

    1. Hi Ruthie, I rather love them together. Some friends of mine have done a similar thing, dark grey base units and a lighter shade for the wall units. It’s quite a severe look, which I like, but you can always soften with accessories – fruit bowls, wooden candlesticks and chopping boards etc. Stick with it, I say!

      1. Thank you so much for replying Kate and for your reassurance. I had a sleepless night fearing I had ruined the kitchen but having looked again this morning and receiving your thoughtful reply my worries have calmed! Thank you!

  12. We have a beautiful large apartment in Sweden with high ornate ceilings, oak floors and white walls. We are thinking about painting everything grey…..however…..keep hesitating. We want to retain the light and spacious feeling at the same time adding a softness and depth. Have considered FB Pavillion but think it will be too dark. The list is…. Strong white, Blackened, Cornforth white or just keeping it white white. Any tips?
    We were thinking of painting the trims in the wall colour. The kitchen is from Boffi and is white corian. Afraid that the blackened will look too blue , cornforth will look too pretty and the strong white too bland.
    Would love to hear your thoughts. We are using darker greys in our bedrooms.

    1. Hi Anna, your apartment sounds beautiful! I feel that grey is so modern and fresh at the moment and am considering redoing my kitchen – in Pavilion! Do you have picture rails? We have done our sitting room in downpipe but left the wide skirting boards and above the picture rail and ceiling in white which creates a lovely effect and stops it being too dark and cave-like. I think Pavilion is stunning. After all you want to look like you meant it, if you know what I mean. The other colours (and I agree with your analysis of them by the way) might end up looking like you wanted to go grey but didn’t have quite enough courage to really go for it. If you keep the ceilings and skirts white (we used wimborne white – lovely and chalky) that will lighten the Pavilion but still be grey and be a really strong look. Do let me know what you decide. Kate.

    2. Wow, that is actually a brilliant idea. I had dismissed Pavillion as it seemed too dark for the Swedish climate. I hope that I am brave enough to see it through. We obviously share the same passion for design and colour. Greatly appreciate your warmth and kindness.

      Anna( living in Sweden but from New Zealand)

  13. Hello there, I’ve been wanting to paint our playroom in downpipe for a while now. It is a dark room but was going to put it with a splash of bright pink or a wall of wallpaper. Any ideas on wallpaper that would work well would be much appreciated.
    Many thanks, from a lover of old houses!!

    1. Hi, I think adding a splash of pink would be great. If you look through the photos of my house you will see that we have a wall of downpipe with a bright pink fireplace. Paint is great but lots of wallpapers would also work well – try wallpaperdirect and put pink in the search and I’m sure you’ll find a great one. Also if you put “paint roller” into the search engine on the blog you will see a roller that applies a pattern to a painted wall – you could roll pink over one wall of downpipe. Or downpipe over one wall of pink, or any combination you like such as a pale pink or pale grey. That would be a good compromise between painted and wallpaper perhaps – patterned paint?

  14. Hello, loved this feature and found it really inspiring – I’m so into grey and think dark interiors are about to explode in a big way – hopefully the dark farrow & ball colours will soon be available off the shelf in paint shops rather than needing to be ordered. We’ve used downpipe on 3 walls of our bedroom and are about to have the lounge painted with downpipe under the dado rail and plummett above it.

  15. Hi Kate, we love grey in our house. Currently considering whether its too much to have grey flooring as well as grey walls (our wallpaper is a textured grey similar to the downpipe shade) in our hallway. It’s small with very little natural light, but we’re fed up with cream carpets! Any advice greatly appreciated.

    1. If the walls are dark then a pale grey floor can look great. Does it have to be carpet? I have white painted floorboards in my hall, which might sound impractical but a quick mop and they’re fine. Perhaps you could paint the boards,f you have them, in a pale shade of concrete (of the strong colours for 2013)? However, the thing about grey is that it goes with everything and the thing about halls is that you can afford to be dramatic as people only pass through for a few seconds so it won’t be overwhelming. You could think about a monochrome chevron rug (try urban outfitters) or an orange or lime green carpet? I will come back to this in more detail in a future post if you let me know about the surface. Kate.

      1. Thanks Kate, our black Labrador’s bed is in the hallway so we need something very very easy to clean. I think we’ve settled on a pale grey Amtico with a few tiles in orange, I’ll let you know what it looks like! Rachael

  16. Im loving the paint at Providence. They have shops at Burwash Manor, Barton and central Cambridge. We’ve gone a bit crazy on them. Just painted all the kitchen cabinets and last year, our bed! Their paint goes in like a dream. Even better than some of the big names, which we’ve found a bit inconsistent. They are lively people to deal with and reay know their stuff.

  17. Love this article! Grey is fascinating and so flexible for placing other colours on top. Great examples of the paint available here. Thank you. Grey also works as a colour for the kitchen itself – whether as a laminate, gloss or matt finish, or even aluminium or stainless steel. For example bulthaup have quite a range of greys for kitchens – some can be seen in the Case Studies and Showroom sections of our website at
    We have sold a lot of grey in various forms – what do others think?

  18. Spent the week-end decorating our study at home in grey-Crowm White Mid to be precise !Black office furniture on order and now all that is required is an injection of colour with accessories. The beauty of grey is that it co-ordinates with most other colours and so everyones favouite colour can be introduced!

  19. Great feature Kate, I have bookmarked this one! We are shortly moving to our new house and I love grey so will be referring back to your advice on how to choose the right shade very soon I think! Love the photos of your house too.In fact I recommended to some friends at the weekend to look at your blog as they are about to redo their house!

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