A Deep Dive into Color: It’s All in the Undertones

Wanna hear something mind boggling? There is no such thing as Beige or Gray. “But…that makes no sense. I have beige carpet and a gray couch.” Yes – of course Beige, Gray, and White exist. But there are 5 different kinds of beige and 3 different kinds of gray. The differences are in the undertones – the colors that exist “under” the main color.

Color wheel with fabric swatches Lindsey Putzier Design Studio

Beige has 5 different undertones: yellow, green, pink, orange, and gold. Gray has 3 different undertones: green, blue, and violet. There’s also taupe and greige, which are in between beige and gray. And the undertones don’t all play nice together. “Ummm…whaaat? So I can’t just put a bunch of neutral stuff together and make it look good?” Nope – sorry. When you’re picking neutrals, the undertones are king. Sure, you can mix some of them, but not ALL of them. And that’s where True Colour Expert training came into play. I recently had the amazing opportunity to study these undertones with leading color expert, Maria Killam, at the True Colour Expert certification training course. We spent an intense few days discovering, studying, and practicing the art of the undertone.

Maria Killam, at the True Colour Expert certification training course Lindsey Putzier Design Studio

Here’s Maria in her element, during a group exercise. See all of those boards? Those are real paint samples that we use to figure out what colors look best with the fixed elements in a room – all depending on the fixed element’s undertones. What’s a fixed element? It’s a part of a room that can’t be moved, like a counter, floor, cabinet, or back splash. Fixed elements are bossy – they dictate which colors will work in a space. In most spaces, it’s best to keep the undertones to a maximum of two per room.

pink beige tile and the yellow beige wood in Bathroom space Maria Killam, at the True Colour Expert certification training course Lindsey Putzier Design Studio

Except pink beige. Pink beige doesn’t play nicely with any other undertones. Take a look at the pink beige tile and the yellow beige wood in this picture. The yellow beige makes the pink beige look dirty. What would have worked better for this shower? A nice cream or off-white tile. “So since there aren’t really many fixed elements in a family room or bedroom, does that mean I can just go all willy-nilly and mix all the different undertones together?”

Flat lay of paint and fabric options for space Lindsey Putzier Design Studio

I bet you can figure out the answer. …It’s “no.” Sorry. You still have to take into account the different undertones in all your decor. Draperies, pillows, rugs, furniture, and art still have undertones. You still can’t mix all of the undertones together. Try to limit it to two, max. And more importantly, you can’t mix all colors together. Colors are clean or dirty. “Um sorry, but my house is always clean. How can colors be dirty?” I don’t mean literally dirt-filled. The term “dirty” means that the color itself has been mixed with brown to create a more muted tone. Some people prefer clean colors, and others prefer dirtier tones.

Color Hue diagram blocks Lindsey Putzier Design Studio

It’s generally best not to mix clean and dirty. Clean colors look best with gray neutrals. Dirty colors look best with beige neutrals. So that’s a basic overview of the wonderful world of undertones! Need help with the undertones in your room? Contact me to schedule a Color Consultation.

1 Comment
  • Diane
    | 25 February 2023

    Oh my gosh! Somebody who understands me!

    I loathe beiges with pinky-taupe undertones. I love beiges with yellow-green and butterscotch undertones. My husband just says,”They all look like brown to me.” Men!

    Last year I replaced old broken-down living-room furniture with a new sofa and loveseat. I was determined NOT to settle for a pinky-taupe beige, even though those tones seemed to dominate local showrooms.

    Finally I settled on a set in a tweedy beige that didn’t seem too pink. I loved the overall look, and the price was right, so I sprang for it.

    And for a while, that was that.

    Then I had cataract surgery. One benefit of this amazing surgery is that you can see colors more clearly and vividly.

    And guess what I discovered? Yup. My new sofa and loveseat are pinky-beige. Which means they clash with everything else in our cozy enclosed living room. The teal accents and wall art. The orangey brick of the fireplace surround. And the honey gold “oak” of the new LVP floor.

    Replacing the furniture isn’t an option. We’re not made of money. And I love my current wall art.

    Oh well. It may be a moot point anyway. We have a dog, which means the sofa and loveseat are always covered with throws and comforters anyway. 😆

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