• Lisa for humble house design

Step 6: Understand what colors you gravitate towards.

In general, natural permanent interior finishes, like stone, granite, or marble, fall into two main color categories: brown and gray. I remember having a huge lightbulb moment after discovering this. It seems so obvious but somehow, I missed the implications of this when applied to interior home finishes. Browns are generally warm in feel and grays cool. Synthetic finishes, on the other hand, come in a rainbow of colors, including black and white. It is helpful to know which color category you gravitate toward when choosing permanent finishes for your home.


Brown reminds me of nature. Wood is the most obvious natural finish and many people who tend toward browns in their interiors love the look of wood. Natural wood cabinetry in kitchens, wood flooring, furnishings with wood details or trim usually come to mind. Sometimes the wood is highly finished or polished and sometimes it is left rough to show texture. In general, these finishes look best with cream whites or off whites.

Older homes can have wonderful wood flooring. The color can range from golden oak or red oak to dark brown. Think 1920s bungalow style or Victorian. Many of these homes have stained trim around interior windows and doors. Traditional Spanish style homes have rough wood beams and heavy, dark wood furnishings. If your home falls in this general description, brown is the color category that will most likely work best in your home.

If the images that you gathered in the previous step reflect lots of wood furnishings, even those that are lime washed with a beachy feel, brown is the permanent finish category that might be right for your renovation.


Grays remind me of gray skies. Concrete is a finish many people think of when leaning towards gray interiors. What most people renovating their homes don’t realize is that there is a lot of gray in Carrara marble. This marble is cool in undertone and looks best with true or blue whites. White granite counters also look best with grays.

Newer homes are currently being designed with gray in many of the permanent interior finishes. These finishes can usually be paired with stronger, bolder colors. Gray looks good with large expanses of glass and metal. Many of these homes have metal window frames in black or white painted trim or no trim at all.

If the images that you gathered in the previous step reflect lots of metal, marble, or bold wall colors or furnishings, gray is the permanent finish category that might be right for your renovation.

Synthetic finishes.

Synthetic permanent finishes, on the other hand, come in all colors imaginable including black and white. This category includes porcelain or ceramic tile and quartz countertops. Tiles can be glazed in any color with gloss or a matte finish. This category has endless choices of color. The trick is to narrow down your color choices and coordinate the finishes throughout your house.

If you own a home that does not have a specific style, like a plain builder home, and you are not choosing natural permanent interior finishes, this category is one where you have lots of color choices.

If the images you gathered in the previous step reflect mid-century modern style homes or Scandinavian interiors, study them to see which colors you naturally gravitate towards. Some people love an all-white interior and others do not. Some people love strong colors. Synthetic hard finishes will give you lots of options.

It is interesting to note that in older homes built in the 1920’s era, the bathroom flooring was tiled in small white or white and black hexagon shaped tile. Black and white interiors fall in this category. If your home is of this vintage, study photos showing original flooring tile shape, color and patterns. Many of these original finishes can be replicated if that is the goal.

Bold verses subtle finishes.

In my opinion natural finishes such as stone and wood are generally subtle in their intensity. Even though there are lots of bold colors in nature, such as flowers and bird feathers, most natural finishes are subtle or soft. By soft, I also mean they look a bit blurred. Soft colors tend to look better with other soft colors or colors with a subtle intensity. These colors look best when there is low contrast between them.

Bold, strong colors have a high intensity to them and are best paired with other bold colors. These colors look best when there is high contrast between them. Black and white are the classic example of this. Other examples include blue and white, gray and pink or yellow.

Patterns can work with either category as well as a variety of whites. Some creams do not look as good with gray or bold colors because they have a yellow undertone. If a bold, strong finish is placed next to a cream white with yellow undertones it tends to make the white look as if it is dirty. A true white will look best when pairing with bold colored finishes.

Paint color.

It is best to determine your permanent finishes before choosing a paint color since paint comes in every color imaginable. If you are having trouble deciding between gray or brown natural permanent finishes, it is helpful to decide if you gravitate towards crisp, clean white painted walls or walls painted in a subdued muted tone, like off-white. If you like brighter, cleaner colored walls, pick natural permanent interior finishes that are in the gray category. If you like off-white or subdued tones for wall paint, pick natural permanent interior finishes that are in the brown category.

Final thoughts.

Color choices are difficult for most people. Many times, I have heard people in the tile stores choosing finishes based solely on the various colors available without truly knowing what their preferences are. If you are choosing a natural finish, determine if you are in the brown category or the gray category. This makes a difference when choosing finishes that coordinate with one another to make your home look cohesive.

If you like color, strong or subtle, and want more color options, synthetic finishes will be best. If you find yourself in this category, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the color choices available. Know the colors that you gravitate towards and limit your choices to those options.