Fireplace Makeover: How to Pick the Right Paint Color

In my last post, I shared more details about how I refinished my fireplace mantel, so today I am tackling the topic of painting over the fireplace tiles! As it turns out, the actual process of painting over tile is super easy, and I’ll discuss that in more detail in my next post. However, the issue of picking the right color to paint the tiles turned out to be WAY more difficult than I initially imagined, so I thought I would share a little bit more about how I finally managed to pick the “right” color!

Tile Sample Painted in Quincy Tan by Benjamin Moore

My initial plan for the fireplace tiles, which I discuss here, was to paint them a light beige, something like Quincy Tan by Benjamin Moore. However, when I revisited this idea before starting the project, I realized that color was going to be way too light. I needed a color that would contrast nicely with my walls, which are a light beige with very pink undertones (somewhat similar to Benjamin Moore’s Litchfield Gray). I also needed to find a color that could harmonize with my carpet, which in certain lights has a dusty pink/rust undertone (I hate this carpet with a passion, but replacing it is just not in the budget…yet). So, I went to my favorite wall color guru (Kylie from the blog Kylie M. Interiors), and I started reading through all her posts on beige, greige, taupe and mushroom wall colors.

Tiles Painted in Rockport Gray by Benjamin Moore

After reading through her blog, I settled on three new possible color candidates: Rockport Gray, Pashmina, and Kangaroo. I painted samples of all three on large pieces of poster board, and held them up against my fireplace tiles, and unfortunately, I could tell right away that Pashmina and Kangaroo were still too light. I was in a bit of a rush to push through with this project, and I was tired of trying out different paint colors, so I decided to settle on Rockport Gray. I painted several swatches of poster board in that color as well as several large tile samples, and it looked like a good option. It was dark enough to contrast well with my walls, but not too dark, and it was a nice balanced neutral—not too cool and not too warm. So, I plowed ahead and painted my tiles with two coats of Rockport Gray and then stepped back to admire the finished result…and to my surprise, I completely hated it. While it was admittedly less ugly than the dated orangey-brown color that I had just covered over, it still stuck out like a sore thumb, rather than blending beautifully with the rest of the room. It had this strangle blue-gray-green undertone (which is hardly surprising considering that the title of the color is “Rockport Gray”), which wasn’t at all the look I wanted for the fireplace. Moreover, the blue-green undertone looked horrible with my carpet.

Poster Board Sample Painted in Iron Gate by Benjamin Moore

I was pretty distraught, as you can imagine, however the good news was that picking the WRONG color really helped me to see what the right color needed to be. I finally got a “vision” for what I actually wanted the tiles to look like: “warm, gray stone”. This helped me realize that I needed to find a color that was even darker than I initially realized, and it needed to be on the warmer side of greige. Because my carpet is such a problem, I focused on picking a color that would work well with it, and I found this incredibly helpful post on the best neutral paint colors to camouflage pink. That post led me to Ashley Gray, which finally seemed like it might be the perfect neutral for me, but just in case, I decided to also pick up a sample that was even darker. I looked at the “shades” of Ashley Gray on Benjamin Moore’s website, and I picked out Iron Gate, which was slightly darker but had similar undertones as Ashley Gray. I painted samples of both on LOTS of poster board, and while they were both really lovely, I loved the rich dark tone of Iron Gate. So, I finally took the plunge (again) and painted over my tiles with two coats of Iron Gate, and let me tell you—I absolutely LOVE this color. Even though I initially thought it was really dark from the tiny sample swatch, once I painted it over the whole fireplace, I realized that it really wasn’t that dark and the tiles actually needed that level of depth. It has the right warm neutral undertones to balance out the pink of the carpet, and it’s such a complex and interesting color that I don’t think I will ever get tired of it.

SO, now that I finally found my perfect color, here are some of my takeaway tips:

1) Take your time. Unfortunately, this process takes as long as it takes, and if you try to rush it like I did…you may not be happy with the results. Especially if you are painting a whole room (which will be very time-consuming to correct if you get the color wrong), take the time to fully investigate your options before you pick your paint color.

2). Develop a concrete vision of what you want the finished product to look like. That was really the root of my problem for my fireplace. I knew that I hated the color of the tiles as they were, and I knew I wanted them to be a neutral color that would blend with the rest of my living room…but beyond that, my vision of the finished product was very vague. Once I finally figured out that vision, picking my color was way easier. If possible, gather inspiration images, which can help you get a better sense of what you want your room to look like.

Tiles Painted in Iron Gate by Benjamin Moore

3). Pay attention to the undertones. I know I say that a lot, but it’s really the key to everything. Also, pay very careful attention to the undertones of the other elements in your room that you are trying to coordinate with (like my ugly rust-color carpet). Undertones can be really sneaky and hard to identify sometimes, which brings me to my next point…

4) Paint A LOT of LARGE swatches. If you paint a small sample swatch in order to try out a paint color, it may not be large enough for you to really identify the undertones. I thought I had painted enough samples in Rockport Gray, but it wasn’t until I painted it over all of my tiles that the blue-gray-green undertones finally hit me in the face. Before I painted my tiles a second time, I painted so many swatches with Iron Gate that I could practically cover my entire fireplace with them. But it helped me be 100% sure that this really was the right color.

5) Second (or third) time’s the charm. Sometimes, you may just have to get it wrong before you get it right, especially if you’re not entirely sure how you want it to look in the first place. I would NEVER have been comfortable going with a color as dark as Iron Gate on the first try, and so I’m pretty sure that no matter how much investigating I did, I was going to have to get it wrong once before I got it right. Fortunately, I did my homework thoroughly enough the second time, that at least I didn’t have to paint them a third time!

I really hope these tips are helpful! Choosing the right paint color is SO tricky—in fact, I think it may be the trickiest aspect of decorating! I still have so much more to learn, but I am excited to continue gaining more valuable insights with each project that I tackle. Thanks for reading!