There are two things that you need to be aware of when picking beige: undertones and how the color can be affected by the surrounding colors.
E-Mail Your Color Questions
Have a color challenge you need help with? Our color expert, Kate Smith, will be selecting questions from readers each month and answering them in upcoming articles. E-mail your color question to email@example.com.
More Cool Stuff on Color
Looking for more insights into the fascinating world of color? Check out Kate's website!
Ask Kate: Beige on Beige
When it comes to matching shades of beige, the undertones have it.
- by Kate Smith
Q: I saw a very sophisticated beige-on-beige color scheme for a living room and am trying to re-create it in my own home. I already own a beige linen sofa so I excitedly headed off to buy a few new pieces. The problem is the pillows look too yellow, the rug is a bit too pink and only the drapes seem to blend with the color of the couch. Help!
A: Just by virtue of the name “beige,” you’d think it would be one of the easiest colors to get right. But as you have discovered, that is not always the case. There are two things that you need to be aware of when picking beige: undertones and how the color can be affected by the surrounding colors.
Let's first talk about undertones. A color’s undertone is determined by the colors blended together to create the color. For example, yellow and blue are mixed to make green. Mixing these two colors together can produce not just one hue of green but many depending on the amount of yellow and blue used. Sometimes there is more yellow in the mix, sometimes more blue.
If there is more yellow in the mix, the green has a yellow undertone. You may also hear someone say that a green “leans” or “moves” towards yellow or is “yellowish.” These are just fancy ways of describing the color's undertone. When you know the colors that make up a third color it is much easier to figure out its undertone.
What makes determining the undertone of neutrals such as beige challenging is that they are often a blend of three, four, five or more colors—so the undertone is not as apparent. In fact, the eye often can't see the undertone at all until the color is placed next to similar colors (as you’ve learned). It is the undertones that are revealing themselves as you place the beige pieces you selected side-by-side.
All beiges have an undertone of color—most commonly red, yellow or green. Keep this in mind as you are selecting your pieces. Start by finding the undertone of your sofa and then use that as starting point for finding other beige items with the same undertone.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to pull together a number of paint swatches and find the one that matches or blends best with your sofa. By comparing the swatches that don’t work—too red, too yellow, etc—you should be able to figure out your beige’s undertone. And it will give you a range of beiges that work together in a way that pleases you to help guide you as you shop.
In addition to undertones, it’s helpful to understand the role of outside influences on your color choices. Although two colors may look the same in a store, they often look different once you get them home. Regardless of the type and quality of lighting at your favorite retailer, it’s going to be different than the lighting in your home. As are the wall and flooring colors—both of which can also influence a color’s appearance. So be prepared to bring items home and try them out in your own environment to get your best color match.