Can You Use Gray Paint in a North Facing Room?

A lot of people ask me if they can do gray paint in a north facing room?

Good question, huh?

I wish I could give you a simple yes or no answer, but I can’t.


Here is a room that is an architectural gem with great light. No problemo.

But before you get discouraged, I think that if handled properly, you can paint a room just about any color you like! But there are a lot of IFs to get through first…

Most colors have undertones. And these are affected by the light in the room. And something that I rarely hear discussed is that the light CAN change throughout the day and the undertones can change too!

Therefore, what I’m trying to say is that it’s possible that you’ll like a color in the morning and hate it at night or vice versa. You might like it on a sunny day and hate it on a cloudy day.

Then, there are other variables.

  • How large is the room?
  • How High is the ceiling?
  • How many windows and how large?
  • Is there a big hill outside the window?
  • Are there a lot of trees?
  • A Porch?
  • What part of the country/world do you live in?
  • What season is it?

And we haven’t gotten into personal preferences, the other furniture, the other rooms adjacent, what your husband wants. What your mother [in law] wants. LOL

Actually, it’s not really all that funny, is it?

And when someone says “oh calm down, it’s just paint.”

Don’t you wanna shove a paint roller down their throat?





However, being the consummate professional I‘m pretending to be am, I’m going to tell it to you straight.

I don’t care what anyone tells you.

Choosing a paint color is often a big crap shoot anyh0o.

No matter how much experience one has. No matter what some expert says. We can make an educated guess… but… light has its own rules and it isn’t always very forthcoming about giving up the info either.

However, there are some general rules of thumb when choosing paint colors. Hopefully, these will help you narrow down the choices and understand what will look best.
  • Larger rooms generally look better in pale shades— unless there’s a lot going on architecturally to break it up. More about that in a sec.
  • South facing rooms bring out the warm undertones and so can stand colors with cooler undertones
  • North facing rooms will make any color look darker and grayer. It will also accentuate any blue, purple or green undertones. So, a color that looks taupe [reddish undertones] in a south-facing room might look khaki [greenish] in a north facing room. I have seen colors that switched throughout the day!
  • As a rule, colors with warmer undertones look better in a north facing room.

What is the one color you should never paint a north facing room?



white unless it is a very clear, non-gray white with warm undertones will look gray and dingy in a north facing room. Now, you might want a pale dingy gray. Then go with plain white paint or something like china white. That’ll look nice and dingy.

Can you paint a north facing room a dark color?

Yes, but know that you’ll always need some light on in the room and you might anyway if the room is very dark. But you will also need mirrors, art and some light colors to break it up.

Here’s the deal. And this is true of any room but especially a color like gray.

To make it look fabulous, there needs to be something going on architecturally. This could be windows, mouldings, or high ceilings or all of the above. For my ideas about that please look at this post about architectural detailing and mouldings.

steven-gambrel-graySteven Gambrel

Like this fabulous room; the detailing is so rich. Wonderful!

Here are some other things you will need to make a gray room look rich
  • vary the shades of gray

IMG_1874John Singer-Sargent

john-jacob-gray-living-roomJohn Jacob

This room is a study in beautifully executed interior design. The green plant actually is what makes this room come alive.

adore-home-mag-dark-gray-art-wallAdore Home Magazine

  • break up the walls with windows, doors, mouldings, artwork and furniture
  • always have some black and some white


Queens-Road-Black-and-White-bedroom-john-jacobJohn Jacob

Another handsome room by John Jacob.

  • You need some metallic pieces. Gold is especially wonderful and welcome if the lighting is dim and cold.

hardward life of polarn pervia

  • You need mirrors. Mirrors expand the light.


  • Glass and crystal are all reflective and will add sparkle and light into a darker space.

Go with the flow. You will never be able to turn a dimly, cool lit room into a light airy space.  However, sophisticated and serene works too. I have always loved the look where the drapes coordinate with the wall color.

Edward Postiff

  • Consider lightening up the floors

Oct12a3Loi Thai of Tone on Tone

How can I have a post about gray without having at least one fabulous room by Loi Thai?

windsor-smith-elegant-living-roomWindsor Smith

I’ve posted this room before but it bears repeating. One of my fave Windsor Smith interiors.

There will be another post which will give you some fabulous shades of gray paint in a north facing room—light to dark. And of course, more examples of beautiful gray rooms!

All of the fine art paintings are the work of the magnificent John Singer Sargent.



11 Responses

  1. Hi,

    Do you suggest Simply White or Cloud White for a north facing kitchen? Thank you!

  2. Your info is so timely, applicable and interesting! And your sense of humor is priceless…your site is my new favorite. Thank you…I find myself reading, thinking through and using all of it. Really excellent and so inspiring!

  3. Does this post exist? “There will be another post which will give you some fabulous shades of gray paint in a north facing room—light to dark.”

    I am looking to repaint my cabinets and was hoping to do gray, thought about white. We have a north facing kitchen which is open to the south facing dining area. Still not tons of natural light. Tried some samples but they looked so green, but am afraid to pick something too cool…help?

    1. Hi Bridgette,

      If you scroll down the blog page (first page) you’ll see a few posts about gray. North facing rooms are soooo tricky as you are discovering and it is common for everything to go GREEN. If that doesn’t help and you are in need of a paint consultation, please contact me via the contact tab in the menu. I do long-distance consults all the time. The fee for this is $90.

  4. Great post – I agree gray is tricky. I love that bedroom by John Jacob – the wall of bookcases add a lot of warmth to the room but also love the white bedding and chairs and other accents. I just painted my dining room BM Gray Owl but there is lots of wood and gold accents so it doesn’t present as cold at all.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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