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Why us Brits love greige so much

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Anyone who has ever stood in front of the Valspar colour card section at B&Q (other DIY shops available) will understand why we are a nation of greige lovers. You can literally hear your neurons blowing one at a time when faced with thousands of colour charts of every colour imaginable. I love colour and if it has that effect on me, imagine Joe Public fancying giving their living room a bit of a refresh and being confronted with that. Cue Joe making a run for it and sticking with greige.

My husband despairs at my choice of eye-wateringly expensive paint, but a big part of me choosing more expensive paints is the limited colour range (imho they also give better coverage and richer colours with better depth). I don't want to be told I can have absolutely any colour in the world, I want to be presented with a carefully curated selection of colours chosen by colour experts.

So how do you narrow it down? Well let's start with the one thing you shouldn't do: see a colour on Instagram, in a magazine, or on a colour chart and immediately buy 5 litres of it and slap it straight on. You will most certainly be disappointed with the result.

Whether you've got a small budget, are interested in the green credentials of the paint you'll use, or you're after a colour to suit a certain period of house, the methodology is the same. Test, test, and test.

But how do you whittle the choice down to start with? By all means take your inspiration from wherever you like, but you need to understand a bit more about your chosen room first. You need to spend a little time thinking about what you will be doing in that room and how you want to feel. For example, in a bedroom you will be mainly sleeping and you want it to be a relaxing space, so it's probably not a good idea to paint it red with a feature wall in a busy wallpaper as this will not be restful (I'll do another blog soon on the psychology of colour and which colours are suited to which functions).

Once you've thought about that, you need to discover which way the room faces and the times of day it will be used. This step is not to be underestimated! (If you're not into geocache or orienteering then you probably don't own a compass so either download a compass app, or do it the old fashioned way and take a look at where the sun rises and sets and work it out for yourself). Northern and eastern light is quite blue and will suck the light out of paint so you will need to choose a warm colour two tones lighter than you think you'll need as it will appear darker in a room facing this direction. The opposite is true of southern and western light as this is quite warm, so you will need to choose a cool colour that is two tones darker than you originally intended.

Light quality has a direct effect on colour and this is why quite often paint will look different in your house to how you imagined it would. Take my dining room for example. It's an east facing room and is used mostly in the evenings, sometimes for family dinners, but mainly for entertaining (pre-Covid obviously) and more in winter than in summer. I was looking for a colour similar to British Racing Green. I'd seen a green in an interior designer's kitchen in a magazine that looked perfect so I got a tester pot of that and 2 others, all of different brands, that looked similar. Once I painted my squares on lining paper and stuck them up though all 3 looked like dead nettles due to the quality of the light. The paint I went with in the end was one that I'd bought on a whim as a contrast to the others just to see how it would turn out. On bright summer mornings when the sun is high early on it is BRIGHT green, like very healthy grass. But as the light moves round towards the south and then west the colour fades to exactly the shade I was looking for. I don't use this room in the morning much so I rarely see the bright green, but when I do, it puts a smile on my face.

Within a room paint will look different on every wall as each wall faces a different direction and therefore the light that bounces around each wall will make it look different. Which brings me to my next point: how to test paint. (This really should be taught in schools, along with other life skills such as how to understand mortgages and pensions).

- Don't paint straight onto the walls: whatever is already on the walls will have an effect on the colour of the paint. The best thing to paint directly onto is lining paper as it doesn't contain any brighteners - if you paint on copy paper for example the colour will be affected by the bleach in the paper itself.

Top tip #1: B&Q has rolls of lining paper open that you can tear some off for free.

- Paint two coats on an area of around 30cm x 30cm, this will allow you to see a decent chunk of the paint colour. Then here comes the really important bit: stick a paint sample onto each wall (Top tip #2: Stick the lining paper to the walls with masking tape) and leave it there for several days. Look at them at different times of day but focus on the times of day you will be mainly using that room.

Well done if you're still reading! Once you've finally chosen the colour, your job is not quite done! You need to think about which finish you need. Do you prefer a flat finish (matt), do you like a slight sheen (silk), or do you like contrast and shine (gloss)? Is it a high-traffic area? Do you have small children? If so, you're likely to need something that's washable or wipeable (the name of this finish will change by brand). Kitchen and bathroom paint is a different formulation for a reason: it is easy to wipe splashes and spills off it and it can cope with steam better than standard paint.

So whether you've got a lemonade or a champagne budget, it doesn't matter, you can find the right colour for you, but it will take a bit of thinking about. Let's make 2021 the year we take a step away from the greige and towards colours that will inspire and enrich our lives (and whilst we're at it, maybe ditch oversized black leather furniture...). And if it all seems too overwhelming to contemplate then get in touch and I'll guide you through it. Once you understand colour, life will start to make more sense.

Colour is NOT the enemy, Greige and clutter are. Join me on my mission to rid this nation of both these things, one room at a time.

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