Skip to main content
Understanding Undertones

Secrets to Choosing Neutrals that will Always Take Your Side

By 02/20/2013April 21st, 202228 Comments

Awhile back when I posted an Open Letter to All Paint Companies, I outlined how they should all distinguish their colours by undertone to make it easier for the consumer to choose the right colour. And soon after this press release from Beauti-tone (a Canadian paint company) landed in my in-box.

Here it is below:

“When it comes to paint colour, a great neutral is like a movie’s musical score – you don’t necessarily realize it’s there, but it heightens the experience of whatever it is you are seeing. Home Hardware Stores Limited, through its Beauti-Tone Paint Division, is 
paying tribute to the power of neutrals with 14 beautiful shades that will make your décor sing. 

‘A great neutral is your BFF for home décor,’ says Bev Bell, Creative Director, Beauti-Tone Paint and Home Products Division, Home Hardware Stores Limited. ‘They are incredibly versatile, inspiring looks that are luxe and sophisticated, or casual and cozy.’

A neutral colour scheme can paint a harmonious atmosphere in your home and perhaps even make it appear more spacious. ‘The challenge in choosing the perfect neutral is that they have complex personalities,’ notes Bell. ‘Selecting the correct neutral colour family is important. Understanding undertones is the answer to this challenge. If the undertones are in conflict, the colours in the room will appear to clash, even if they are in the same colour group.’

Undercover Undertones

Pink Beige Interior

Almost all colours, other than those that are pure, have an undertone.  Olive green, for instance, is green with a yellow undertone. What makes turquoise a beautiful shade of blue is its green undertone. But, those are easy. Neutrals, on the other hand, like to disguise their undertones. A taupe can go pink or purple, but you may not notice it until it’s on your walls. A grey can be warm, cool, blue, green, or red influenced. Browns that look similar on the surface can have yellow, red or green undertones. Beige can tend towards 
yellow, green, pink and occasionally orange undertones.

So, how can you make sure you end up choosing the right shade? Once you have selected the colour family you want, the secret to choosing the perfect neutral shade is to compare it, side-by-side to another neutral in the same colour family.  This helps you to see the subtle undertones which you may not have noticed in a single colour swatch. For whites, the best way to bring out a near invisible undertone is to compare the paint chip to the whitest white. Why worry about undertones with whites? Rooms that are ‘white on white’ really work if the whites have similar undertones. You will likely be disappointed, if you combine warm whites that have a hint of a yellow undertone, with cool whites that have a hint of blue, in the same space.

Choosing a Warm or Cool Undertone

When decorating a room that feels cold and uninviting, you would normally balance it by using colours from the warm side of the spectrum.  But what if you love cool colours because they make you feel relaxed?  The easy solution is to choose a green with yellow undertones or a blue with red undertones and your cool hues have warming characteristics. On the flip side, cool down hot colours by adding cool undertones. ‘Just don’t try this with orange. That’s the one colour that will always fight back with its warm and outgoing personality,’ Bell notes.

Of course, the very best way to know a neutral’s undertone is to have someone figure it out for you! Here are 14 beautiful Beauti-Tone neutrals for your home, including their undertones – music to your ears:



White Smile SC080, From the Simon Chang Colour Collection

This is a white that brings out your home’s best features.  It works for Simon Chang, famous Canadian fashion designer, who partnered with Home Hardware to create a paint collection celebrating Canada. Simon features White Smile on the walls of all of his signature stores. Besides the stunning fashions, it just may be the reason everything you try on makes you look slim and gorgeous. Undertone: this colour does have a touch of warm comfort value thanks to a whisper of yellow

Tennis Whites FD018

A warm white, perfect where sunshine washes the space. This is an excellent choice for trim and ceiling when using colours from the warm side of the spectrum. Undertone: yellow

Hotel Ware FD046 

White has never been so cool.  Excellent with hues from the cool side of the spectrum. Undertone: grey


Nickel Black SC075

An updated classic, softened to temper the harsh reality of pure, intense black. Undertone: This is a pure black
softened by grey 



Thunder Grey SC072

This stately, saturated true grey commands respect. A great shade for people who love grey but don’t like the cool feeling often associated with the colour. Undertone: Warm, leaning toward red

Flannel CD026:

This very cool shade is a mid-tone grey. Undertone: blue

Distinctive CD010:

A grey you don’t have to call Mr., it’s distinguished with a 
warm cuddly side. Undertone: yellow



Natural Beauti SC081:

This tried and true taupe is perfectly balanced between grey and brown.  This is a Beauti-Tone all-star – in the top ten colours most chosen. Undertone: this is a pure colour

Set the Mood SC076:

A classy colour that looks so great you might be tempted to paint your whole home with it. Undertone: yellow


Chocolate SD020:

Rich, dark and decadent, without the calories. Undertone: made richer with black influences

Still Life ND040:

A mid-tone beige with warm undertones, this is a great shade to warm up rooms that face north or tend to be a bit on the chilly side. Undertone: green

Fieldstone HD045:

The antidote for builder’s beige.  A light, well balanced beige that you could live with forever. Undertone: green

Other nature inspired neutrals

Neutrals are not necessarily tints, tones or shades of black, white or brown. Nature-inspired hues can also offer 
the most beautiful and peaceful design benefits.

Field of Dreams SC080:

A delicate shade of sunlight that basks the walls in optimism. We don’t want to promise beautiful dreams but just maybe… Undertone: green

Directoire CD003

A subtle moss green.  Now and Zen, this is on-trend stylish. Undertone: grey

There are a lot of great things in life that are neutral. Water’s neutral. Lego is a great gender-neutral toy. Switzerland has long been considered neutral and it really is quite spectacularly beautiful. Now, we can add these 14 beautiful Beauti-Tone shades to that list. ‘We’ve done the homework in terms of undertones for these colours, but remember, most color schemes work best when the undertone is carried throughout the space,’ says Bell. ‘Consider the undertones of whatever else you place in the room and you will end up with the most beautiful results.’

Manufactured in Canada by Home Hardware, Beauti-Tone paints are available exclusively at Home Hardware, Home Building Centre and Home Hardware Building Centre locations across Canada. For great ideas and information on Beauti-Tone paint drop in to your local Home Hardware store. Home Hardware Dealers are Canada’s Paint Experts and provide expert advice to help Canadians with their painting projects. Beauti-Tone has earned a reputation for delivering exceptional colours, top quality, innovation, and great value to Canadians for more than 30 years.”


Congratulations to Beauti-tone for being the first to make life easier for the consumer!

P.S. I use many fan-decks when I consult with clients on colours all around the world, but to give them the correct neutral in the fan-deck I’m using, I first compare to the colours in my system. That’s how I know I’ve chosen the correct colour. And it makes my system of Understanding Undertones completely transferrable to any fan deck in the world.

If you have not purchased my eBook How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones, you can download it here and use it to make the right decisions when choosing colours from Beauti-Tone’s colour collection.

*All images from Beauti-Tone.

Related posts:

The Difference Between an Experienced Colourist and a Novice

Does your Colour Consultant Understand Beige?

What Everyone Should Know about Beige

What Everyone should Know about Gray

3 pins


  • Beth says:

    That is brilliant! I hope other manufacturers follow suit. Keep up your crusade, Maria!

  • Momlady says:

    *sighs* Now we need paint companies in the US to get on board!

  • That makes me want a Beauti-Tone fan deck … but luckily I’ve already learned the Maria Killam system!! It’s a shame they don’t sell your book in paint stores or the big box hardware stores … along with a warning label next to the pain chips!!

  • fascinating read, thank you for sharing all your knowledge. I sometimes work with Benjamin Moore (they were kind enough to write a story on my take and inspiration on colors in Nuage magazine) and it is all about the neutrals. I have a sample of their newest deck of neutrals…i think you will be very pleased with their new collection.

  • Julie from Downunder says:

    Well I can’t get Benjamin Moore or Beauti-Tone or any of the other paint brands that are often mentioned. I can only get Dulux, Berger, Taubmans and British Paints along with some smaller Australian paint companies such as Haynes. So when the name of the paint is given – it is not useful to me unless the alternative is given on one of the brands I listed, but that is a big call to try and do that. 🙁

  • Some of that verbiage was so similar to yours, Maria, I did not realize the entire post was quoting the paint company email!

    Clearly someone at Beauti-Tone has been influenced by your (wonderful) colour system.

    Best, Ellen

    • In fact, as I think about this further, isn’t this getting awfully, awfully close to unauthorized use of intellectual property? You’ve worked too hard to perfect this system to have a big corporation co-opt these ideas as their own.

  • Betty says:

    it would be wonderful if the paint companies would differentiate ‘clean’ vs. ‘dirty’

    (something tells me they would never do that )

    finding ‘clean’ colors seems to be the most difficult for me because i am working with oak hardwood floors that have a reddish undertone

    • Cherill Watkins says:

      Betty, The way I see “clean” and “dirty” is by a comparison with other colours. A first colour may be cleaner than the second but dirtier that a third colour. So I don’t think we can simply label them as clean/dirty. It just depends what other colours are next to them.

      • Kim says:

        If you haven’t already found the right color, try a pale, soft but crisp, yellow Betty. Pale and soft are key here, not bright. It’s clean if it doesn’t have any tan/brown undertones, and yellow is always warm no matter how clean it is. It will be beautiful with the warm undertone of the oak floors.

  • Melissa says:

    Hello Maria,

    What a great post and how validating for you!

    I would love the BM equivalent of Thunder Grey SC072.

    Thanks for all you do:)

  • carol jane says:

    Hello Maria, This has actually nothing to do with neutrals, but I was wondering if you can help me out anyway. I am doing a spare bedroom as kind of a craft/guest room. I have a twin size bed in there. I have a pretty Kate Spade sham that I just picked up so i ca see what color would work best on the walls. Its a coral and pink with white trim. I hope to purchase the duvet also. Can you recommend what color I should do on the walls? I want it to be fun and funky with a fashion/clothing motif. If you can help that would be awesome. Again the colors are pink, coral, and white.Thanks so much!!!!!!

  • Christina says:

    Hello Maria,
    I don’t live in Canada, and don’t have access to this paint collection; however, I believe you’re familiar with Benjamin Moore. What tan or beige would you recommend with a green undertone for a room with small windows, but that get some light from east and south?

    Thank you.

  • Debbie Bruna says:

    Bless you, Maria. I have been feeling a phone/internet consult coming on for some time. What are your rates again? I am going to paint several rooms on the main floor. I have your paint samples but I am not sure about a blue or turquoise I want for my kitchen and I don’t want to get a different color going in every room and lose the flow. Please email me with what you information and pictures you need and rates. Thanks!

  • Kathrine says:

    What are some “warm” blacks to paint doors in rooms with a warm neutral room?

  • JoAnne says:

    I like painting with Behr or Benjamin Moore.
    What is the best neutral to paint throughout the whole house? Tried Shaker Beige but it’s too light. Should I go to the next color up?
    Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

  • lori fischer says:


    i just recently took a class on color and the instructor recommended your blog. I now see undertones everywhere! I find myself constantly practicing detecting the undertone : ) I actually had my first color consultation and felt so much more confident going in that I could actually explain why the colors I was recommending were right. Something that I had definitely struggled to communicate in the past. Thank you for being a huge part of my continuing, adult education!

  • Cammie says:

    I’m trying to see some of these paint colors and I can’t find them. I live in USA and I can’t even figure out what company carries them. The Distinctive CD010 is the one I would really like to see.

  • jackie weaver says:

    looking for the perfect taupe..NO pink undertone… I see you have a Natural Beauti # sc081…who makes this…& where can I get it?

    • Maria Killam says:

      In my system the only way you can have taupe is with a pink or purple undertone, however, unless you are painting it next to greeny beige, you won’t see it. Beauti-tone paint is available at Home Hardware stores in Canada.

  • Judy says:

    I’m a little confused. When choosing paint colours, for instance if I’m painting a room in Dulux Natural White which I think has a pink undertone, do I try and match my accessaries( furnishing etc) in the same undertone? Or is there a system of different undertones that will go with a pink undertone?
    Sorry to sound so dumb lol.

    • Maria Killam says:

      I’m not familiar with that colour but if you paint a room a pink white then yes it would look the best if there was pink in the room. The paint colour you choose should pull the room together so a pink room without any pink in it will look like you’ve just moved in and haven’t painted yet.
      Hope this helps, Maria

  • Alma says:

    Hello Maria-

    Could you offer your advice please?…
    In my kitchen the lower cabinet is painted a dark gray with a blue undertone; (which I feel is too cold.).. The top cabinet is white. What color should I paint the back splash in order to warm it up??
    Please offer a color with its undertone so that I understand..

    Thank you from California, USA ☺️

  • Alma says:

    My couch is brown with a green undertone, what color to paint the wall behind it? (I like warm colors)…. Also my curtains are a burnt orange color … Please help!!

Leave a Reply