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Los Angeles–based interior designer Amber Lewis—whose iconic, lived-in, California-cool style has gained a cult following of 1.5 million on Instagram—has been known to cover every wall in a house a different shade of white, from eggshell to cream. “There’s no such thing as one white paint,” she says, noting it’s the most difficult color to get right because it is the most layered. “Is it warm? Is it cold? Does it read more green or red? You could add one drop of another hue and it would change the entire tone,” she adds.
But Lewis has been shying away from the bright staple as of late, coating her own place in Portola Paints’s Piano Room, a muddy gray-green plaster, revealing a newfound appreciation for all neutrals. In fact, she devotes an entire chapter to her top tricks for picking the right color in her recent book, Made for Living. So if you’re struggling with decision paralysis, give one of Lewis’s all-time favorite neutral shades a try—from the best brights to the best darks and everything in between—all of which are excerpted from her book, below.
- Farrow & Ball Wevet
- Dunn-Edwards Milk Glass
- Farrow & Ball Wimborne White
- Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace
- Dunn-Edwards Warm White
- Sherwin-Williams Green Black
- Portola Paints Nitty Gritty
- Dunn-Edwards Black Pool
- Farrow & Ball Down Pipe
- Portola Paints Maison
- Dunn-Edwards Midnight Spruce
- Farrow & Ball Manor House Gray
- Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone
- Portola Paints Revere
- Farrow & Ball Hague Blue
Best White Paints
Described by Lewis in her book as the “prettiest, warmest white,” Wevet works great in a crisp, contemporary space. This paint’s name is fitting, considering it’s the old Dorset word for a spiderweb. It has a translucent quality for a barely there moment, distinguishable only by its gray undertones, making it the perfect blank canvas. “It can go a little beige and yellow if paired with a brighter white trim,” shares Lewis. “Try painting the trim the same color as the walls for a tonal and serene look.”
Lewis covered every wall of her Canyon Cool client’s home with this creamy white shade. “Like its name, this has a very milky and fresh feel to it,” she says. The soft undertones pair best with earthy tones, especially warm wood accents, though it isn’t the perfect all-rounder. “Avoid using it in rooms where green grass or a blue pool could reflect inside,” warns Lewis.
Team Domino is just as obsessed with this versatile shade as Lewis. “This is a moody white, if you will,” she explains in her book. “It’s great in a Spanish-style home or if you want a space to feel like it has some history, but it’s definitely not my pick for a contemporary or modern home. This can read very yellow and may not be a bright enough white if there is not enough natural light. Don’t use it in a room without windows, like a powder room.”
A linen-like hue, this delicate color is perfect for achieving a cozy farmhouse aesthetic. Defined by Lewis as a crisp white, it’s the ideal blend of cool tones. “Its hints of green and gray will easily brighten a dark space,” says the designer, though she warns it may have the opposite brightening effect in small spaces like the bathroom: “The green and blue tones are not great in rooms with mirrors!”
“I like to use this in a velvet or satin sheen, because it has a slight luster without feeling too shiny,” says Lewis. And that’s what makes it so great for millwork—for textured surfaces, a glossier finish helps mask any imperfections, while simultaneously providing a hint of contrast with matte walls.
Best Dark Paints
For those who can’t quite commit to a bold black, this shade from Sherwin-Williams is the next best thing. It’s the perfect statement maker, adding depth and drama, without being too flashy. “[It’s] almost black with a green undertone that looks amazing on a front door or kitchen cabinets,” adds Lewis.
For those interested in achieving a super-rustic vibe, give this smoky, dusted green a try in the company’s signature Roman Clay finish that mimics the look of limewash, plaster, or stucco. “If you want to add some interesting texture to your space, start small and go for a powder room or a child’s bedroom with this amazing blue-green plaster clay specialty paint,” suggests Lewis. The ultralow sheen gives it that ideal organic appeal.
“Is it black or is it dark navy? Actually, it’s both. This color is first on our list for painting millwork in a library, and can be a perfect accent color on a bathroom vanity,” shares Lewis. And we’d even argue that in certain lighting, it looks a little green, too. But that’s part of the allure of this playful paint—it can change color throughout the day.
Although known to be “daringly dark,” Lewis relies on Down Pipe for all. “This color is the perfect combo of a blue-black and gray; use it on anything, from cabinetry to an exterior,” she says. “This one is hard to get wrong, so paint it on everything and never look back.” In this long list of neutrals, it’s a bit on the rich and bold side but is definitely an all-purpose gray.
For the look of cool cement, Maison has the depth of a granite countertop and a textural clay finish. “Another texture-friendly option, a deep gray with subtle hints of a blue mix that’s perfectly dramatic,” says Lewis, who swathed the walls of a powder room—complete with a chiseled-edge sink made of limestone—in the shade to add movement to the small space.
Best In-Between Paints
No matter if you fancy yourself partial to an all-white kitchen, Lewis’s iconic Ojai, California, project is good enough to change your mind, and it’s one of the designer’s favorite uses of the color yet. “This is a dark forest green with a hint of olive, which makes it a classic for painting cabinetry or furniture pieces,” she notes.
No matter if you have north- or south-facing windows, this gray promises to keep its color as if it’s completely free of undertones. “A dramatic, true gray. No matter the lighting in your space, this gray will hold its hue,” affirms Lewis. So if you’re worried about how a nearby window or warm pendant light might cast and mix with your cooler-toned decor, this paint is fail-proof.
Named after the gray stones found on Dorset, England’s Isle of Purbeck, it’s a great midtone shade that feels as if it’s been made for the walls and millwork, including stairwell railings, of traditional homes. Lewis describes it as a
“calming gray that gives me serious British design vibes.”
This tanlike greige gets more complex the longer you look at it. “A gorgeous gray with hints of blue and green and all the texture you’d ever need,” says Lewis, who loves using the plasterlike finish of Portola Paints’s Roman Clay (you can spot it in her own home on the walls, baseboards, doors, and trim).
Green undertones provide a bit of glamour and dramatic flair to Hague Blue, but it’s a classic color Lewis has relied on for years and a favorite in the U.K. for good reason. “It’s a statement-making deep blue that I find to be timeless and a little moody,” she notes.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Undertones: In a space that doesn’t get a lot of natural light, stay away from blue and red, and look for brown or yellow undertones, advises Lewis. In a modern home, go for a white with blue notes. If you’re trying for a more traditional feel, opt for warmth.
Color: Lewis’s best tip for selecting a bold color choice: Stay away from primary hues, which can read as too intense. “You always have to do a toned-down neutral version of whatever color you’re going for,” she says. For instance, never go for a pure black—instead choose a chalky, faded option that won’t seem too harsh.
Light: Picking out the best paint colors should always be based on the light in a room, shares Lewis. A nearby pendant or lamp can highlight every uneven surface, whether it’s the walls, trim, or kitchen cabinetry, so be mindful of your finish, too—high gloss will feel more modern, whereas a matte works better with a traditional, timeless vibe.
Q: What exactly are neutral colors?
In layman’s terms, a neutral is a color that lacks saturation, making it a more subtle choice and, in hand, a shade that goes well with pretty much any palette or decor scheme. Neutral paint colors are often light (like tan, ivory, and greige), and can be dark, too (such as blacks and greens), but creamier as opposed to rich and intense, making them a better choice for an accent wall or ceiling.
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