Does a Nice Neutral Exist?

I helped one of my former students [Amber Beall] get a position as a Colour Designer at a local Benjamin Moore store here in town. We have become great friends and recently met for dinner.

She said “I get so tired of hearing, ‘I just want a nice neutral’, because there is no such thing’”.

I have trained her well : )

Yellow Beige – Image from Cote de Texas

So I know you want the perfect neutral, but unless it relates to the already existing undertones in your house, it won’t be nice. In fact, that’s when it will really scream “apartment beige” or “boring beige”.

A nice neutral, is one that relates to the existing neutrals in your interior (or exterior). But there’s no such thing as a neutral without an undertone.

If a neutral looks like it doesn’t have an undertone, it’s because it relates to everything and because of that, then looks ‘neutral’.

Pink Beige – Interior by Suzanne Kassler

If you pick a yellow beige for your walls when your broadloom is actually a pink beige, you will wonder why your carpets look dirty and blame it on the ‘boring beige’ you’ve picked.

If the undertones in your house are already pink, you have to work with it—you cannot ignore it no matter how much you dislike it because trust me, if you hate it now, you’ll really hate it later.

Green Beige – Image from Cote de Texas

If you choose a green beige like Manchester Tan (like in this post) but your finishes and sofa are pink beige? You won’t like it any better.

Your beige or neutral needs to relate to other beige tones in the room (including furniture if it’s beige) before it looks pulled together.

Otherwise it can look like you’ve tried to match it and failed. That’s the bottom line.

Need help choosing the right neutral or colour?  My How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s all in the Undertones ebook takes the hundreds of choices down to 9 neutral undertones along with list of all my other go-to best grays, broken down into 3 undertones, green, blue and purple. The beige undertones of pink, yellow, green, gold, orange and taupe along with the best greens and blues. 

My bonus book of  colours is worth the price of the ebook alone but you will also get my system of understanding undertones so you can stop making mistakes when sourcing tile, carpet, countertops, etc.  Download them both here.

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

How to choose the Right Beige

What Everyone should know about Beige

Colour & Condoms (so you think I’m looking at something besides wall color?)

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s All in the Undertones, to get the undertone of your carpet right. 

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

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  1. Khaki is worse. My new dentist's office is done entirely in khaki. It was hard to resist singing about being a military man afterwards. Why are these murky notes so popular? I agree you can zone into your tones but mostly it's pretty awful. Long live crisp white and pure, fresh colour!

  2. Erika @ BluLabel Bungalow

    So true Maria, but all is in vain if the eye isn't "trained" to see the undertone. It takes some practice.

  3. Lesley @ The Design File

    Maria – I really enjoy these posts about "neutrals" and color undertones. It's hard to train your eye to see that way but you are helping!

  4. Everything I learned about beige I learned right here at Colour Me Happy.

    You are so right about pink and yellow beiges. I have a pinky beige wall and if I try to hang a piece of art that has too much yellow beige in it it clashes with the wall and makes the wall look dirty.

    Had I not learned this from your blog I'd still be wondering why a piece of art doesn't work and I wouldn't know the right colours to look for. Knowledge is powerful.

    Thank you Maria.

  5. Well said Maria.
    Clients think that when choosing a beige you are taking the easy path, little do they know how hard it is to get it just right.

  6. You have me rolling.

    It's impossible being asked, "What plant should I put here?" It can't be chosen in a vacuum/void.

    Especially when most of the landscape is bad. How could the right plant work then?

    Similar to painting a kitchen & somehow it became getting a new tub. They are connected. And that makes life fun.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  7. Hmm…I tend to stay away from beige for that very reason.Well that and I like color. Beige is like and anti-color.

    It is like a Khaki pant. A Khaki is a staple in everyone's closet but very rarely can you style it up so it doesn't like you work in an electronics store or a country club.

  8. Southern Aspirations

    I don't comment often but I definitely read often and have learned a ton from you. I have made the mistake with beige (I happen to love the color). I wanted a great distinction of beige walls and my white trim but went with a yellow beige. Looks great with some of the rooms downstairs but horrid with my gray brown bedroom upstairs. (not to mention that the painters I hired- on recommendation from a neighbor- were terrible). Needless to say, the entryway/hallway will get painted again. But my me with help on the color selection!

  9. Well said, just the other day I asked a client to paint a sample of the paint they had used in their home before I get there for the measure because they want to keep it and not repaint…the answer was "it is just a beige"…my answer to this was pinky beige?…yellow beige?…green beige? There was a long pause…oh I will find the paint can and paint a you a sample, most do not understand that keeping the colour you have is not a easy fix, that the paint comes last…after working out the fabrics etc in the room. Most of the time working backwards from the paint to fabrics makes for a…this room could be alot better but the client would not repaint!

  10. Yes, I know so well what your saying. I once had to choose a beige to go with pumpkin colour, baby blue and pink+lilac and the perfect beige tone was "coconut". I'm still a big fan of this coconut colour because it's purely light brown, if you know what i mean… not yellowish, pinkish greenish or any other ish… it’s just super light brown.

  11. Between you, me and the Fencepost

    If you hadn't picked the right green for the walls in my 90's kitchen it would've looked even worse and a wrecking ball would be the the only thing to make it better.

    Instead the green is so pretty and flows nicely with the room and doesn't accentuate the already dated kitchen but actually picks it up a bit.

  12. Hi Eliana,
    That's so interesting. I would love to know which colour you are talking about? The read of that paint colour may have been hard to distinguish (I can't nail them everytime just by looking at them, because of the light in the room) in my experience though, a light brown usually has some pink in it. I could be wrong though, this is why I love colour, you can never pin it down!!
    Thanks for the comment!
    Maria

  13. Acanthus and Acorn

    Maria,
    You are so right here! I had these very issues with a client in trying to choose paint color for a powder room with no window. I am still unhappy with the result and hope to talk them into wallpaper eventually. I did post their master bath reno today and would be interested on your opinion, good, bad or otherwise of the wall color.

  14. If I have a greeny-beige tone-on-tone sofa (reads solid from a distance with an acanthus pattern) will BM smokey taupe work with it?

    After reading this blog, I think I understand why BM OC-88 indian white dove didn't work. It's too yellow??? and my sofa looks dirty in front of the wall.

  15. Hi Anonymous,
    No smoky taupe will not work with a greeny beige sofa because it's more gray with pink in it (not that you'd see the pink unless you painted an exterior with it) What you need is a greeny beige but there are so many possibilities I would need to see your sofa to suggest one. Email me for more info on an on-line consult.

    Maria

  16. Was reading this post on my BB in bed this morning (as usual) when I read the first sentence and popped up, saying, "Hey,that's me!" out loud. Too funny!

    I LOATHE the words, "Just looking for a nice neutral" so from now on I may pass them a card with a link to this post!
    Well done, as usual Maria

  17. i am chuckling because i know this so well.. i also like people who think white is "just white"… they just dont get it but i guess that is why we have jobs right? i have just found your blog and will love following… thanks for finding the humor in this as do i… x pam

  18. The Blasphemous Fiendess

    these photos really show how when done right, each of those beige tones can look great. I am usually partial to a yellow beige and have a colour similar to the top photo in my own home. I am surprised that I love the second photo; I usually stay away from pink.

    Hugs to you, Maria.

  19. Developing Designs

    As always, you are right on 🙂 The things you teach us all are invaluable. Pointing out and reminding there is not basic beige people….priceless. Much appreciate all that you help bring to light for us. xo

  20. Wow, I had no idea that selecting a color was so complicated. I'm not able to differentiate between the shades. I hope this is something that comes with practice….the paint stores in Northern Virginia do not have color specialists. Great post!

  21. amen to that! such a simple concept once you understand it, but so many people don't realize that every single color has a primary undertone. It also helps to be sensitive to subtle color shifts, as not everyone can "see" the differences.
    Great summary, Maria!

  22. P.s. Note to reader Carla- there's a great organization of color professionals to which Maria and I belong called the International Association of Color Consultants. Paint stores won't necessarily be the best place to get educated color advice. Head to iaccna.org, click on 'contact us', then 'contact a color consultant' to find an IACC-NA-educated color designer in your area (I know 2 or 3 in Norther VA off the top of my head!)

    Good luck!

  23. Is it too late to ask? I love the yellow-beige wall on the photo. Do you know what color it is? Thank you sooo much!I just discovered this blog and love it!

  24. I love that colour too! I would guess that it's something like BM HC-35 Powell Buff or HC-32 Standish white. The light in that room is wonderful so it really makes it look fabulous! Could be either one, it's hard to say depending on the light.

    If you put this colour in a northfacing room it would go green so be careful. Just because it's great in this room doesn't mean it would look exactly the same in your space!

  25. Thank you for this informative post! Beige colors make me lose my mind. I have been trying to decide on a beige for my living room for 6 months now. I have a dark brown couch, cherrywood furnishings and medium oak floors. My hubby tells me to just pick one but I am still unsure.