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7 shades of gray

By Elizabeth Mayhew,

I, unlike everyone I know, have not read the steamy blockbuster “50 Shades of Grey” by E.L. James, but my current decorating project has the title words ringing through my mind every time I walk in the door.

The project is an old cheese factory, which my husband and I, with the help of our architect, Gil Schafer, have turned into our family home in Dutchess County, N.Y. The house is nearing completion and the rooms (all save one) have just been freshly painted gray. Not the same gray, mind you, but seven different shades that range from stormy to serene.

This is not the first time I have gone gray. I have lived with Benjamin Moore Gray Owl walls in every bedroom I have had in my adult life. The color is soothing and less predictable than a blue would be (blue is the most popular bedroom color) and it is incredibly adaptable. It is pale enough that in bright light it looks white, yet in average light it has enough pigment that it reads as a color.

Note: I am not a paid spokeswoman for Benjamin Moore. It just so happens that I have always used their paints. I have never been let down by their selection or quality.

I have recommended Gray Owl to countless confused paint shoppers, and not one has ever been disappointed. One friend liked it so much she ended up using it in every room of her house. I understand why: It’s the perfect choice if you are, as I currently am, uncommitted to a full decorating scheme, because it goes with everything. So I ended up painting the bulk of the aforementioned cheese factory Gray Owl, which started me on my gray odyssey.

For other rooms, a cozier gray was required. My husband’s office needed to say, “I am serious,” in that charcoal-suit kind of way, so I chose Benjamin Moore’s Chelsea Gray. Now framed in crisp white trim, this darker and more ominous gray looks smart and fresh.

The color was so successful that I borrowed it for the kitchen cabinets, because in the kitchen, I wanted to say, “I am serious, too!” Surrounded by white subway tiles and topped with honed Carrera marble countertops, the gray cabinets gave the otherwise predictably classic kitchen a stylish lift.

Our family room also begged to be dark and cozy, but because I had already committed to a fabric (Robert Kime’s Indian Pear Blue), the gray tone had to have a bit of a blue cast. After some trial and error, (Always buy sample paint pots and test swatches!) I settled on Benjamin Moore’s Whale Gray. Aptly named, the color has that bluish-gray tone that one associates with the world’s largest mammal.

If there is one thing you learn about painting a whole house, it’s that the colors have to flow from one room to the next, which isn’t hard to do if you are sticking to all gray tones. However, my son’s bedroom is the one room in the house that is not painted gray, but rather Benjamin Moore’s Army Green. So for his bathroom, I had to find a shade that bridged the color of his bedroom and the Gray Owl hall. The solution was Benjamin Moore’s Horizon Gray, which has a greenish tone. The color also complemented his bathroom’s ceramic tile floor, which looks like slate and has several earthy green undertones.

Other Benjamin Moore grays I used in the house: Coventry Gray for the trim, doors and paneling in the master bathroom, which has a definite Swedish Gustavian quality, Revere Pewter for the walls in a vestibule and hall, which reads more as a taupe, and lastly Gentleman’s Gray on the powder room walls, which is really more of a deep peacock blue — an ideal backdrop for the room’s nickel fixtures.

I have been exposed to so many paint colors that I have reached color overload. But more than that, gray is the right color for right now. Gray lets you commit without really committing. It’s versatile and ambiguous. It’s the middle of the road between modern and traditional, formal and relaxed. Best of all, gray is adaptable to all color schemes; just like a gray skirt or pair of pants, it goes with everything.

So in an age when our style can change as quickly as our Facebook status, gray provides the perfect backdrop. Pink pillows today, emerald green tomorrow, but gray walls for now.

Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”

Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Mayhew joins Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A. Submit your questions.

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