Ten Colorful Paint Colors That Act Like Neutral Paint Colors


Dear Laurel,

My Husband Todd would love to paint our entire home beige because he says that it goes with everything. He finds it soothing and he needs calm. I asked him about white, but white shows the dirt he says. I HATE beige. It depresses me. I LOVE color! What am I going to do?


Coloratura Soprano


Dear Coloratura,

I gather that you’re planning on staying married to this curmudgeon prince? Fine. I think that we can find a way to keep him happy and give you more of what you want. How? I’m going to give you ten non-beige colors that act like neutral paint colors. What that means is that they go with pretty much every other color. That is—most colors that you’d want to use.

Sometimes people have certain mindsets about colors based on some prior experience. Perhaps  his childhood home looked like Barney and Big Bird shacked up together. That’ll do it. I find that once people are exposed to beautiful, interesting colors, they can reprogram their mindset to some extent. Well, we can only hope. :]

How Can You Tell Which Colors Will Act Like Neutral Paint Colors

Because I’m going to tell you. ;]

But really, the easiest way to tell for certain is to take a color and if it exists abundantly in nature, you’re good to go. These colors don’t shout out madly like a toddler demanding attention, “LOOK AT ME OVER HERE!!! I’M A COLOR DAMN IT! STOP LOOKING AT THAT 18TH CENTURY OVERPRICED ANTIQUE. OVER HERE! ME!!!” No, they are confident to know that their place is to sit quietly on your five walls in the background harmonizing with all that is before and around them.

All colors via Benjamin Moore. And no, that’s not an affiliate link. I’m too chickenshit to ask them for money for helping to sell hundreds (maybe thousands!) of gallons of their lovely paint. I did ask a while back and was turned down with a “we don’t do that.”  :/  Any ideas?

Back to the program.

Ten Colorful Paint Colors That Act Like Neutral Paint Colors

The first color is the palest warm pretty pink.

Yes, pink.

joanna-goddard-bedroom-home-house-tour-apartment-nyc-cupofjo-1A Cup of Jo


(I have to share a little secret with you. Men LOVE pink! They really do!)

Pink is a wonderful neutral too!

bohemian-babies-sea-frothBohemian Babies

SEA FROTH 2107-60 is a wonderful color we did a couple years ago. I don’t have any good photos of it but here it is done in a nursery. And below too. It is vaguely mauve.

benjamin-moore-sea-frothHal Williamson via House Beautiful

MAUVE, you say? Yes, mauve. Oh poor mauve. It is such a crying shame what they did to it in the 80’s that makes us want to hurl just hearing the word. But please give it a chance. When done right with lots of browns and white and a touch of chartreuse perhaps, it’s a glorious color.

billy-cotton-deep-mauve-wallsBilly Cotton

at-the-ball-1898-vaclav-brozikAt The Ball Vaclav Brozik 1898

tiffany-eastman-tempestTiffany Eastman


Tempest is a deep gray-brown-purple. It’s a very relaxing color. It’s perfect for a bedroom. Just trust me on that one.


Louis Emile Pinel de Grandchamp “Lady With A Fan” 1831-1894


bad photo by Laurel Bern


My number one pick for a soft yellowy-green is Benjamin Moore RAIN FOREST DEW. Depending on the light, this soft color can look more yellow or more green, but in either case, it is a wonderful colorful neutral that’s uplifting without being blinding. This is from a recent job and I really need to go over and take some proper photos. This was just a quick cell phone shot while we were hanging the window treatments.

phoebe-howard-benjamin-moore-brown-horse-middlebury-brown (1)Phoebe Howard


Brown horse is like the perfect brown. It’s not too sticky or red or dead and dreary. Again, brown brings on connotations of a horrid kitchen that’s beige on brown on beige on brown on…Brown LOVES white! And it really loves all of the other colors. It is mad about every shade of pink. Or blue. And only if you are Miles Redd can you do them both in the same room. ;]



Florencia – John Singer Sargent 1856

benjamin-moore-dolphins-cove-722-aqua-dining-roomoriginal source unknown

lonny+cork+board-parlange-benjamin-moore-dolphins-cove-722-grace-homeAngele Parlange


Dolphin’s Cove is the color of the walls in the Grace Home stores. I’ve never been in one but apparently, it is very popular. It makes for a fabulous backdrop. It’s turquoise but not on steroids, ya know?


those colors!



This interesting shade of bronzey browny green is Bunny Williams favorite color. That is her fabulous office.

copely-gray-benjamin-mooreBenjamin Moore


Copeley Gray is a deeper bronzey, not brown, not gray, not green, not taupe but all of them put together. A few years ago we did this in a bedroom belonging to a son who was now grown. I walked in and my jaw dropped open. Everything looks great against this color. The wood tones were rich and any color would go with this wonderful deep tone.


It’s not really orange, but the perfect coral. Not peach. Not neon bright, but a coral that’s veering a tad towards red. It’s a soothing AND uplifting color.


A lovely home in Charleston, SC

designmanifest-benjamin-moore-van-deusen-blue-boys-bedroom-interior-design-paint-schemes-ideasDesign Manifest

design-sponge-benjamin-moore-hale-navyDesign Sponge


This is the richest, navy with just the right amount of warmth to it. I don’t generally like navies that are too cold, or that have red in them. Navy is a fabulous neutral. It loves every other color and these days is having a passionate love affair with pink.

Well, there it is…

Ten Colorful Paint Colors That Act Like Neutral Paint Colors

Coloratura and anyone else that’s afraid of anything that isn’t “builder’s beige,” I hope this helps y’all feel more confident in branching out. After all… It’s only paint. ;]

Would I do all of these colors in one home? Well… probably not. At least not all on one floor!

I’m still working on a paint collection. It’s taking a while, because every single color is being scrutinized ruthlessly. There are only going to be 144 colors and I want everyone to be a winner. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I love hearing from you guys! Do you have any favorite colors that go with everything? Colors that act like neutral paint colors? If so, please share!





70 Responses

  1. Wow….Sea Froth and Tempest both speak to me. I see either one in my living room but my question is….if you have a lighter neutral in your dining room across from the foyer, is that okay to do? I am painting the chairrail and wainscoting in the living room the same cottonballs color as in the dining..so would that be enough to unite them?

    So few colors seem to draw me to them but as soon as I saw those, I felt something click! I guess I’m a mauve girl at heart!

  2. Hello Lauren,

    With all of the painted spindles today mixing stained wood with white spindles, do you recommend an off white or Ivory White with medium woodwork. I know you are not a fan of stained woodwork. I am selling my home which has medium stained woodwork throughout. The walls are Benjamin Moore (Ivory White) 925, so would I paint the spindles that same color? I want to leave the handrails and bottom the stained woodwork. Nothing else in white in the house. How about the metal front interior door next to the spindles? Should that match the walls to keep it neutral in the Ivory White? Your opinion would be appreciated.

  3. Hi, I’m having a hard time finding the paint color name for the dark mauve purple room. Can you please pass along that info? I love that color. Thank you!

    1. Hi Caylie,

      Yes, I imagine that you are. And that is because Benjamin Moore has way too many fan decks! Tempest af-590 is in the affinity collection. Is that the one you are talking about? None of these are my rooms so the colors that I’ve listed are lovely colors that look similar to what I see on my monitor, not necessarily what they are. The best thing to do is to match up with you see to the actual color in a fandeck. Colors in magazines and computers are rarely how they actually look in real life.

  4. Hi:) I’ve just found your blog, and has been reading it, all sparkly-eyed, for the last two hours. So cool. Love your posts, informative and fun.
    Except now I worry because I wanted to do our guest room brown, with blue and pink..and I am no Miles Redd)) I actually first saw these colors together in a room in Mary McDonald’s book “Interiors”(deep chocolate walls, bright pink and blue accents) and I thought “Wow. Why didn’t I ever think of it?”, and I’ve dreamed of it ever since.
    But I want to go with softened version-say, milk chocolate, not the 87 % one..
    Well I hope I can pull it off. I’ll see in the process I guess))
    Here I love Tempest, and Copeley Gray, and Cleveland Green..
    Wonderful post. Just wonderful.

    1. Thank you so much Jenny! Miles Redd is the Hope Diamond of the interior design world. Precious and rare! Your room is bound to turn out just splendid. Why? You already have the inspiration and vision.

  5. Love this post! Love seeing “return” of color. I painted a secondary bath and my foyer, SW Studio Mauve. I love it, but was feeling insecure about the choice–thanks for bolstering my confidence!
    Btw, that particular color proved the point about light. In the windowless bath, it’s more gray. In the foyer, with natural light, the purple steps up.

  6. I just found your blog a couple months back. I love reading it. Your hilarious. I love the coral! Might be a little to bold for me. The mauve and pink would be my go to. Lovely.

  7. Does size of room matter? Wondering if dark colors will make a room look smaller. Thanks!

  8. I see Google is following your lead in using ‘mauve’ for it’s ‘neutral’ background today on its’ featured cartoon (see google.com).

    As always, LOVE your post. Thank you for inspiring us all.

    1. Hi Jody,

      OMG! That is totally freaky! I love stuff like that! I have this love/hate thing going on with Mr. Googs. It’s definitely a co-dependent thing though. Well, at least on my end. haha! Thank you too!

  9. It’s so nice to find someone else who thinks brown and white look great together. I see so many people who say you need to go with cream or off-white with brown, and it makes me sad, because most of the time cream and off-white make brown look dull and lifeless.

    Great list of neutrals!! Thanks!

    1. Hi Loribeth. I agree with you wholeheartedly about how fresh white looks with brown. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that us humans have a largely sheep mentality. lol I’m sure I do this too… but it’s just going through the motions without really thinking why we do it. Food for thought.

      1. The sheep mentality is a great way to describe it. One person with influence says something, then other people start saying the same thing. After all, it must be right, because someone with influence said it first. That’s why we see so many people trying to make small rooms look larger with white…everyone says it works, so it must be correct. We humans are funny creatures.

    1. Thank you so much Leslie! I think I have a photo somewhere from one of those nice magazines from maybe 10-15 years go, but I couldn’t find it easily and I just wanted to get the post finished. But it was the prettiest room, in shades of mauve. And then, there were these chartreuse vases which made it all come alive in a really interesting beautiful way! Mauve loves brown. It doesn’t like gray or blue, unless it’s a deep rich navy.

    1. Hi Claire,

      Thanks for stopping by! I didn’t realize how much I love pink until recently. I think a lot of us, myself included get caught up in our ways, but once exposed to other things discover that we like those too!

  10. I love your blog! I always think, this is the type of blog post I would have written, if only I weren’t so lazy! Lucky for me, you do all the work, and I get the benefits.

    My faves tend to be on the warmer side. Living in the Midwest, we have changing, colorful landscapes, and IMO, earthy, natural colors tend to look best, inside and out. I confess though to being a pink fanatic, and would personally be very happy to live in a house flooded with a pink glow everywhere. However, my hubby and son would not be thrilled!

    But, for most people, and most houses, I’ve never gone off on the gray phase, unless my clients ask for it. I agree with you, pale to medium yellows, greens, and blues make great backdrops to daily life. They’re the colors most seen in nature, and feel alive and healthy. They look great next to wood tones, and are cheerful and welcoming.

    1. Hi Diane,

      Thank you! Had to laugh about the lazy comment. I am PLENTY lazy about some things, believe me. But I thoroughly enjoy writing the blog and so it’s not a chore at all. Well.. okay, that’s not altogether true. Some of them, while enjoyable are more difficult to produce, either because there’s a lot of research or I’m not finding the right images to express my point. In fact, this one was one of them. But in the end, it’s totally worth it!

  11. Colors that act as neutrals are my favorite! When a green, blue, or coral, etc. is soft and muted, to me, they are beautiful backgrounds for other colors.
    The best though, as a color that is just as neutral as any gray or brown neutral, is a very soft, pale yellow with a bit of light tan in it. (I like to use my light, medium, and dark browns in woods, other natural materials, and metals rather than paint colors.)The light tan in the yellow mellows it, making it a quiet, yet still glorious yellow. Goes with just about everything! One example is ‘Ambience’ by Benjamin Moore. I have it in my LR, it is a light-filled room, so that may account for how wonderful it looks. In a medium dark hallway, I used ‘Downy’ by Behr and cut it 50/50 with ‘Polar Bear’ by Behr on one side of the hall, to lighten it up just a bit, necessary because the two walls are only 3 ft. apart and the color intensifies. The transition from the LR is just right. They appear to all be the same pale yellow, but are tweaked to be the right intensity for the different lighting conditions.
    Using the muted colors allows us to have the beauty of ‘real’ color without all that screaming you were talking about;)! You are so right Laurel, love your blog!

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thanks so much for all of that. I have to look at Ambiance in the light of day. I’ve used other yellows in that vicinity. Americas Heartland 197 is very nice, too.

  12. A go with everything color is BM Sweet Pear 389. I saw this color in a designer’s shop in San Francisco (now closed) and it coordinated with everything in the shop. The lovely designer told me that everyone wanted to know this color. Warning though, I didn’t see any good images via google so don’t be turned off. Check out this link http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/jak-home-san-francisco#cLAFLCsaDwt0y8Wb-pWE0g and you can see a glimpse of the color to the right of the bookcase but know it looked fabulous with the colorful items you see in the photo.

  13. Good morning Laurel! I love all your posts and the great information give with a fantastic, sometimes quirky, sense of humour. Paint colours is a complicated topic but I do have some favourites: CC 700 Smoky Green (LOVE this colour! To me it is a beautiful greyed blue), Summer Harvest – CC 190 (which is similar to F&B Farrow’s Cream) and Pittsfield Buff (for the yellows), and Farrow and Ball’s Pink Ground 202 (which I’d match to BM for a less expensive option). I’m looking forward to your future posts. Cathy

    1. Hi Cathy,

      CC is Canada, right? I think the numbers and names are different too. oye! But thank you for the colors that I do know what they are.

  14. P.S. Laurel, would you please provide the colour code for Adobe Orange? I wasn’t able to find it on my BM fan deck. Nor could I find Tempest, Dolphin Cove or Cleveland Green on it. Are these, perhaps, new colours for BM as my deck is a couple of years old?

    1. Lynn- I stopped at my local lumber yard, where the B.Moore paints are sold.I was able to find the paint chips for Adobe orange #2171-30, but they did not have chips for Tempest AF-590(Affinty colors) nor Cleveland Green-1525 either. They told me that they could make up sample pots though.Hope this helps you..

      1. Dolores- aren’t you SWEET! Thank you very much for this information. I have a very old BM fan deck and found the Cleveland Green there. I guess it was reconfigured with the publication of the new fan deck. However, I’ve got to say that I’d have a little trouble selling Adobe Orange to my husband as a neutral! 😉 Thanks again!

        1. Lyn- he’s a KEEPER 🙂 As long as I don’t touch his desk he’s ok with whatever changes happen around him..nor would he notice 🙂
          I was so seduced by that wonderful Adobe Orange bedroom- but I have to admit looking at the chip- I wouldn’t do that to him.

      2. Hi Dolores, You beat me to it! Thank you! Cleveland Green is in the classic fan deck so should’ve been at the lumber yard unless they were out of that strip which happens sometimes. I guess some places don’t promote the affinity colors. I’ve never specified any of them (except for mascarpone) although I do like some of them.

    2. Hi again Lyn,

      Oh, I’m so sorry, I forgot to put that one in. It’s 2171-30. And it is in the a different fan deck. One of the five. It’s the other big one called “color preview.” Tempest is one of the Affinity colors (Aura) AF 590. It’s all very, very confusing. I don’t know of another paint company that has so many collections!

  15. Will your upcoming list be just regarding Benjamin Moore paints only or will it include various paint companies? I hope that it will include Farrow & Ball Paint colors. I have really come to appreciate this company and when my budget permits, I use it. In fact Laurel, I for one would enjoy a blog just on F&B colors alone. I understand that they are “mineral” based but am not quite sure what this means (less titanium oxide maybe?). What aRe they composed of? What I do know is that they appear to be less meteoric to me. Their “All White” for example does not change tone/shade whether it is on the ceiling of a well lit bedroom or whether it is on the walls of a tiny badly lit bathroom. Thanks for considering.

    1. Hi Emilia,

      That is a great idea and I too love many of the F&B colors, but for now am just sticking to one paint company as I feel it’s already very confusing. However, one day soon, I think I will do a F&B favorite list. That’s a great idea. Thank you!

  16. Good morning Laurel,
    I subscribe (and admit to being something of a junkie) to a LOT of really wonderful design blogs which are at turns entertaining, inspirational, and educational. I actually contribute to your Fireplace board on Pinterest and have long enjoyed following you there. I’m a new subscriber to your blog. But this post, along with your recent post on caring for hardwood floors, are one of the few posts ever received from ANY blogger that I shall keep for future reference as you step outside the usual, neutral paint suggestions found on any number of design blogs. THIS is what a good designer knows and doesn’t always share! Please keep your loyal readers updated as to your paint collection. Will it be within BM’s lineup? Is this a personal list or something far more official (and deservedly lucrative?) Wishing you well and thank you for posts that are not only lovely but truly helpful.

    1. Hi Lyn,

      I knew that name sounded familiar. Yes, “fireplace mantels that will make you plotz.” lol I’m so flattered by all of this! As for the paint collection, yes, I’m planning on charging for that. But it’s going to be more than just the paint colors.

      I would like to keep this one just with BM. With FIVE, yes FIVE fan decks, I think that there’s more than enough to work with. In fact, as I’m working on all of this, I’ll look at a color and go… “wait, that looks just like…” And sure enough, I’ll go to the other fan deck and the difference is so minute that most people would not be able to see it. It actually makes me a little bit angry because it feels like they’re just making life more difficult than it already is!

      Thank you so much and see you on pinterest too!

  17. Wow! Just fabulous! I love all of them and want to reprint every wall a different color in my tiny 700 sq. ft. Co do! Not really but make me want to make some changes! They are all lovely….especially the Copley Gray.

  18. Oh Laurel how I love reading your blog post. Like most while friends and coworkers are at the beach I’m crazed with deadlines so when I got to chill and surf on land tonight your beautiful original content and inspiration photos were a breath of fresh air. Your dry sense of humor gets me every time, loved the ‘bad photo’ credit tag line.

    1. Theresa,

      That is just the sweetest! Just so you know… no beach for me either. I guess I could, but right now, it just doesn’t hold that much interest for me. Thank you again! xoxo

  19. I really enjoy your blog. I discovered it about 2 mos. ago and subscribed right away. This coincided with many interior and exterior painting decisions and projects which are ongoing. Your posts have been very interesting and terrifying, too. To poach a recent blog post title, for me, “Painting is Not for the Faint-hearted”.
    So, thanks, Laurel for sharing your wisdom. A lot of thought and testing -seven colors – went into choosing a SW exterior color. BM Cottonballs wall and trim coats a bedroom that had not been painted in 48 years! Yes, it was oil paint! This is just the beginning of all the painting that needs to be done.

    Just when I thought I couldn’t stand any more decorating stress (self-deprecating font) you published the flooring post! Yikes.

    1. Hi Libby, I guess you’re finding out that it’s not all as easy as it seems to be. Well, neither is having a baby! (for most people) :] But, it can also be a lot of fun! Thanks for your sweet comment!

  20. I feel so validated! I agonized over paint colors for my daughter’s room and settled on Van Deusen Blue. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I was so happy to see it on this list! (PS. I paired it with Cotton Balls for the trim.)

  21. I love VAN DEUSEN BLUE. I think I’ve just found my island color for our beach condo! I’ve read (and re-read) your blog about the best whites and wonder which you would pair with Van Deusen Blue?

  22. It was love at first sight when I saw the Tiffany Eastman – Tempest AF-590 picture. Mwah, dahling, mwah! And as you pointed out, and I heartily agree, it would be perfect in a bedroom. Love the gold frames and “gold” armoire with it. The gray and white floral toile on the chairs is lovely too. I think I pretty much love everything about this room. I’ll be tucking this one away for a future redo for sure.

    1. Hi Catherine, Yes, I love that one too! In fact, that’s why I chose that color! BTW, I don’t always know what a room really is, I just select a good color that looks like the color in the photo. Tempest is a very good purple that isn’t screaming purple.

      1. Glad you brought that to my attention. I guess they don’t always tell you what the color actually is, and sometimes they are custom mixes too, or in a paint brand we don’t even get on this side of the pond. I liked the way you said it was a purple that doesn’t scream purple. It was that very characteristic that I liked about it.

  23. I just added a fresh, new coat of Benjamin Moore Sunshine (a bright yellow-orange) to my black, white and gray kitchen this very afternoon. Sunshine isn’t a neutral but it adds much needed warmth and energy to an otherwise dreary and light starved room.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      That’s very interesting. I think that yellow can also be a neutral. My living room is HC 4 Hawthorne yellow. It’s a bright room though and anything brighter would be overkill but it acts as a neutral.

  24. My dining room is painted Van Deusen blue. Love, love it! You’re right. I plays very well with others. It does fade relatively quickly, however.

    1. My living room has an East-West exposure- so lots morning light and lots afternoon light, and my Van Deusen hasn’t faded at all in the past two years.

        1. Not at all, Laurel; they are still the original 1950’s windows. There are two windows facing West, and two East facing windows plus a door with a paned glass window, which lead out to the deck.

  25. Thanks so much for this post, Laurel. I especially loved what you had to say about pink. I happen to love pink. I am not a design professional, but I know that people have a very emotional reaction to colors, and for some reason this color makes me feel wonderful.

    Love your blog! It is fun to read and so informative.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      Pink is one of those colors that I didn’t know I liked until recently. Or I saw a pink room and thought. “I like THAT pink room.” Thanks so much!

  26. Great ideas! I forgot to breath when I saw that exterior salmon color on the house in Charleston! It must be one of the most beautiful exteriors I have ever seen! Also love the blue that is like “turquoise without steroids”. Do you see that fantastic little line of green around the top of that wall before the white ceiling paint begins? Just fabulous! I love blues and greens together. Lots to look at and to drool over. Thanks Laurel!

    1. Ohh, just noticed that green band of paint is on the bottom too! Love it and filed it away for future use.

    2. Hi Chris,

      I think there are at least two Chris’. No, I didn’t notice the green line until you mentioned it. That is some awesome crazy detailing. I’ve never seen that before!

    3. So did I, Chris; but luckily it meant I didn’t choke on my cup of tea.I love that salmon color; it is divine. Ravishing! I have my living room painted in the Van Deusen blue, and the adjoining dining room is painted in a very similar color, just a bit pinker in tone.Wonder if my husband would notice if I painted his room in the salmon 🙂

    4. So did I, Chris; but luckily it meant I didn’t choke on my cup of tea.I love that salmon color; it is divine. Ravishing! I have my living room painted in the Van Deusen blue, and the adjoining dining room is painted in a very similar color, just a bit pinker in tone.Wonder if my husband would notice if I painted his room in the salmon 🙂

  27. I love the bed in the Brown room. Can you tell me where I could find it?

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