Design, DIY, Home, My Home

How To Pick Foolproof Farmhouse Paint Colors!

Hey friends! If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen me take you along today as I chose paint colors for a project I’m doing in our guest room.  The awesome people at Sherwin Williams reached out to help me with this project, and it’s a perfect fit: I’ve been using their paint products in my home and for clients for years now!  They make my very favorite white EVER, plus the colors are just so thick and creamy.  Match made in heaven!  

Pictured above are my very favorite farmhouse paint colors that I’ve ever used for my interiors clients and in my own homes.  Let me tell you why!

Alabaster: This is my ride or die white.  If you see white in my home, it’s this color.  The reason I love it so much is that it is literally the perfect balance between cool and warm…meaning it doesn’t pull too far into icy, sterile white, nor does it put off yellow pee undertones.  If I HAD to pick a direction it leans towards one way or the other, I’d say it’s just the tiniest bit on the warm side…which, in my opinion, is just what you want in a farmhouse style home!  Cozy white shiplap….ahhhhh.  πŸ˜

Sea Salt:  This is my very favorite colorful color from Sherwin Williams, and, where there’s no Alabaster on my walls, there’s Sea Salt!! πŸ˜‰  This color is perfect if you get bored easily: it shifts and moves between a very muted blue-grey, a pale green-blue, and sometimes just a light grey depending on the natural light, placement of lamps, location of windows, weather forecast, you name it.  It’s so much fun and just the perfect pop of subtle, pale farmhouse cottage blue/green/grey.  It’s quickly becoming my signature color, and I think you’d like it as yours, too!  πŸ’™

Rain Washed: If you want a real deal pop of cottage farmhouse color, Rain Washed by Sherwin Williams is it!  It’s like Sea Salt’s bubbly, bright, talkative best friend…. πŸ˜‰  Just a bit more vibrant and saturated, but still in that same blue/green color family.

Light French Grey:  After choosing white paint, I’d say the next hardest for me has been finding the right grey/greige color.  If you want a cooler, more cement-tone grey, this is it!  If you like the tone, but the actual color is too saturated, you can always ask them to lighten it for you!  Try lightening by 25-50% for the same tone but less saturation, or find the next swatch up from Light French Grey on the color swatch at Sherwin Williams!  Same color tone family.  πŸ™ŒπŸ»

Mindful Grey:  Okay so if you want your grey/greige to pull just a little bit warmer in undertone, this color is for you!  This is truly one of my very favorites of all if you are looking for a neutral grey-beige farmhouse color for your walls!

Let me show you how my top two favorite colors (Alabaster and Sea Salt) work together in my own home, and my Insta Stories paint-picking adventure is recapped below! 

(Walls and shiplap headboard are SW Alabaster…a warm, creamy farmhouse white.)

(SW Alabaster on cabinets against walls of Sea Salt)

(SW Sea Salt on walls…the perfect farmhouse cottage pale blue green…love!)

(SW Sea Salt on the walls and ceiling |  SW Alabaster on cabinets, trim, beams, island)

Instagram Stories Paint Picking Recap:
If you missed IG stories and my paint picking adventure with Sherwin Williams, I’ve screen-grabbed some shots and rounded up the seven main tips I gave to my Insta-buddies!  See the recap below!

1. Go Up One
Once you’ve determined the basic color you want (grey, green, white, etc), and you find your eyes drawn to a specific swatch in that color family, maybe go up one lighter on the swatch card.  You certainly can go with the richer color….just remember: you’re looking at just a two inch square of that color.  Imagine it alllllll over alllllll the walls….is it going to be too much and overwhelm the space?  Could you get the same tone/effect by just going one lighter within the same color family?  Something to consider if you’ve ever chosen “the one,” put it on the walls….and it was WAY TOO MUCH.  πŸ™‹πŸ»  Been there.

2.  Lighten It
A similar tip would be to lighten the color a bit.  If you just love a certain color but think it might be too saturated for the space, and you’re not wanting to start the paint color search all over again, just ask the paint pros to help by lightening the color anywhere from 25%-50%.  This might alter the tone just the ittiest bit, but it won’t turn a red into a brown or anything crazy.  This is what I do when I want to use one of my signature colors in a space that might need something a bit lighter: I ask the pros to lighten it for me!

3. Know The LRV (Light Reflective Value)
Flip over your paint card and look at the number next to “Light Reflective Value.”   LRV determines how much light is going to bounce off a certain color, thus how much light is going to be flooded back into the room.  This is graded on a scale from 1-100 with a scale of 100 being VERY BRIGHT.  Colors up towards 70-90 will really bounce that light back into the room and help things brighten up.  Colors with lower LRV tend to sort of absorb the light–this isn’t a bad thing at all, especially if you’re going for a moody, romantic, cozy space or if your room is filled with natural light anyway.  You just need to go to the paint store knowing what kind of lighting you’re working with and what kind of mood you’re trying to create by adding paint.

The folks at Sherwin Williams explain it best, so here’s a link [CLICK HERE] to more info on light and how it affects choosing paint! 

4. It’s Okay To Be “Boring” πŸ˜‰
When you first walk into the paint store, all those deep, rich, bright colors really catch your eye.  Now, if that’s the look you’re trying to create, grab ’em up!  However, for this soft, neutral farmhouse vibe we’re talking about today, don’t be ashamed to spend your time over in the snooze section.  πŸ˜‰  All of my favorite colors sort of pale in comparison to their louder counterparts when clumped together on a wall o’ paint swatches.  But!  Pull them off, lay them on their own, and they are just the perfect subtle, neutral tones (see graphic up top!).  It’s okay to be boring sometimes.  πŸ™ŒπŸ»

5. To Determine Undertones, Line ‘Em Up
Not all colors are created equal, even if they are all called the same name.  Ever picked a grey, for instance, and put on the walls to find that it was actually quite purple or green?  This can be avoided by laying out swatches all within the color family from which you are interested in choosing, and…suddenly their true colors start to show (“Trolls” on repeat over here…can you guess what’s stuck in my head now? DANG IT. 😩)  See the image above?  Once all grouped together, you can see that one of the greys pulls way blue, one reads pretty green, some are more brown, while the top right is a little more like cement in tone.  Same with those whites: look at the top two…so blue and so yellow!  This will help as you try to narrow things down within a color family.  Line ’em up to let their true colors come through!

If you only remember one thing from all this paint talk, remember this tip: budget for samples of the colors you THINK you love.  In my opinion (and from learning the hard way….multiples times πŸ˜©πŸ˜‚), it’s much better to “waste” money on a few sample pints than pick a color, spend $50-100ish and lots of man hours to paint….and then realize you hate the color.  SAMPLES FIRST!!!  I like to narrow things down to four or five choices within the color family I’m interested in, and then I use money from the paint budget to bring home samples.  Which leads me to the next step….

7. I Like Big Swatches And I Cannot Lie
Now that you have your samples back home, slap up BIG swatches on ALL of the walls in the space, preferably keeping the different colors running in the same order on each wall so you can keep track.  Don’t be intimidated by this step: you’re going to paint those walls anyway, and, if you’re using a quality paint, you won’t be able to tell there ever existed swatches!  Live with those swatches for a few days.  Pay attention to the colors at different times of the day, with the lamps/overhead lights on and off, when the weather is sunny or stormy, etc.  Usually after I live with the swatches for a bit, it’s quite clear which one is going to make the cut.  Steps 6 and 7 are my foolproof method for picking the correct color, and I highly recommend swatching for all you’re worth!! πŸ˜‰

Hope my top five favorite farmhouse paint colors and seven paint-picking tips might give you some color inspo/guidance for your own home!  Tell me…any favorite paint colors I should check out?!?  I’d love for you to stop by on Pinterest and say hello, and, if you can catch it, check out my Instagram stories from today where I take you to Sherwin Williams and chat more about the above steps! πŸ’— Hugs, buddies!


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  1. Shannon says:

    Hello, Erin! I follow you on IG but this is my first time visiting your blog. I loved your stories today regarding the SW paint… I also LOVE Alabaster! I am planning on painting my cabinets soon. I do have a question regarding this shade- In your shiplap room you said the walls were Alabaster. Can you tell me what color your trim is? I thought you said it was the same, but it looked different. Did you possibly use satin or eggshell on the walls and them a semi gloss on the trim? Thank you!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Shannon, you know what–we never repainted the trim up top in there! You’re right! And…I’m so glad you reminded me. πŸ˜‚

  2. Kathleen says:

    I really appreciate you taking the time to explain alllll that paint info. I thought all I had to do was pick a pretty color and paint! I am leaning towards sea salt for my open living room area. I love how that color appears to change depending on the light source. Thanks for all the info and tips!

  3. @thesapplinghome says:

    Hi Erin!

    I am so thankful you did an instastory and this blog!! I picked Sea Salt a few weeks ago, painted it in my bedroom and it was wayyy darker than I expected. But it totally makes sense now because I only have one window in my room. Now I am either going to have them lighten up the color OR try out light french gray. Can’t wait to see what color you pick for your guest room. Question – do you prime your rooms before painting and if so does it change how the paint looks? Thanks!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Isn’t that LRV thing crazy?! If the Sea Salt was too much for the space, I’d recommend lightening the Light French Grey, too. It might be a bit much if you thought Sea Salt was too much–LFG’s LRV is even lower. Just a head’s up! πŸ™ŒπŸ» And I usually buy the primer/paint in one stuff from SW!

  4. Meg says:

    Thanks for explaining LRV. I never knew what those numbers meant on the back of the swatch. Now I know what to look for when painting my sons nursery that only has one tiny window! Love your writing, Erin. You seem so down to earth and normal. Keep it up!

  5. Pam says:

    Thank you so much for taking us on your shopping trips!!!! Especially to Sherwin Williams. We are in the process of building a home and your tips will help so much in selecting paint colors. I’m so happy that I found you on Instagram and love you stories!!!!

  6. Tiffany says:

    Love the shopping trips! Your painting tips were SUUUPER helpful! Thank you so much!

  7. NolaMom says:

    I am currently losing my mind trying to pick a paint color to go with my very pale gray linen sofa. I have a sample of Sea Salt on the wall, but I’m not sure about it with all the natural light I have. Sometimes I feel like it looks too icy in full sun. May I ask which finish you prefer?

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Depends on the room. In a bathroom or kitchen, I go semi-gloss, but in bedrooms, living room, etc, I just use eggshell/satin.

  8. Aida says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of Benjamin Moore’s Simply White but now that you’ve raved about Alabaster from Sherwin… I must give it a try!!! I love Sherwin, I painted my daughter’s cottage with their beautiful paint. It turned out lovely!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      They might be similar–hold up the swatches together and see if you can read undertones! I’d love to hear what you think!

  9. Becky says:

    I used Behr’s Celtic Gray in my kitchen and I love it. I think it’s similar to Sea Salt. Depending on the light it looks either gray, blue, green, or a combination of those colors. Every time I walk in our kitchen, even though the remodel isn’t finished, the paint color makes me happy. I think it’s the first time I’ve chosen the exact paint I wanted.

    I love your tip of going one shade lighter. I think that has been my mistake in the past.

    I love your blog and IG. Thanks for sharing your talents and experience.

  10. Christi says:

    I like to keep my ceilings white instead of painting them the room color just for the fact I change color often. Should the crown molding and ceiling be the same white? I must try Sea Salt. Picked up a color swatch and love it. Thanks sharing your painting tips!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Thanks for reading them, Christi! I don’t really do white ceilings, so I’m not sure on that one. Hmm. You’d have to think about if you paint the ceiling and then the crown moldings one white, are they touching or close to door trim, white doors, window trim that would then be mismatched? Would the two whites really be a noticeable difference? That would be my only hesitation in altering the crown molding white, but if the ceiling white and trim/base board/door white aren’t too different, I doubt it would be too noticeable to do ceiling and crown a diff white. Does that make sense? Appreciate you reading along!

      • Christi says:

        Yes, that does make sense. All the trim in my house is getting repainted so I might try painting the ceiling in one room the same as the trim. I’ll look at it several days and decide from there how I like it. But, I have to admit you have me second guessing the white ceiling theory.

  11. Karen says:

    Hi Erin! Great timing on this blog post, we are starting to paint at our new farmhouse next week. (And right over Sherwin Williams paint sale, ew-la-laa!) Maybe I overlooked it, but what gloss do you recommend for your walls? Thanks!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Oh perfect timing!! πŸ™ŒπŸ» And it kind of depends. I like semi in bathrooms and kitchens or high traffic areas like hallways, but I like less sheen in bedrooms and living spaces, so i usually go with satin/eggshell.

  12. Kathryn says:

    Sherwin Williams white paint color called "White Cotton"…my favorite

  13. Bri Swain says:

    Love this post. My father in law is a contractor & they have always said when you like a color pick one lighter because even those top colors on the swatch will have a distinct color on the walls. I have the swatch that has aesthetic white, accesible beige, tony taupe & virtual taupe all throughout my house (great neutrals more greige than anything) I also love the argos & nebulous white they are in my guest rooms & guest bath (great neutral grays)! Just painted sea salt in our laundry room & I love it. Our workout room will prob get a dose of comfort gray next! Alabstar is an amazing creamy white love all of your choices!! Im obsessed with paint:)

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Oh I’m so glad they can confirm my advice–they are the pros!! πŸ™ŒπŸ»πŸ˜‚ Your home sounds beautiful with all those soft neutrals!

  14. Rachel says:

    We did our entire house in mindful grey, so I wasn’t that off base! We have lots of wood tones and love it! We used dovetail for some accent walls/areas 😍

  15. NolaMommy says:

    Did you use SW Sea Salt full strength, or less saturated?

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      I used it full strength but only in rooms with lots of natural light. It is a mid-level LRV, so if you’re thinking of it for a darker room, it will read much much darker than it does in my home.

  16. Megan says:

    I’m loving all of the colors you mentioned. We just bought a house and are beginning the painting process!! I want to go light all over the house but really want a pretty pop of blue in the kitchen. Do you know of a pretty blue to recommend for the kitchen area? I absolutely love your blog, so happy I found it!!

    • Erin | Cotton Stem says:

      Well, you might have guessed my favorite blue from the above, ha!! SW Sea Salt! πŸ˜‰

      • Megan says:

        Thank you so much for your recommendations! I have enjoyed reading your blog and Instagram posts so much!😊 I love your style!!

  17. Polly says:

    I am getting ready to paint our new farmhouse. What would you suggest for a SW navy to go along with these top 5 color picks?

  18. Gladys says:

    I love your tips on choosing paint, it’s going to be so helpful for me.
    I noticed you said you’d painted your cabinets using Alabaster. Would you mind sharing that process with me? I want to redo our cabinets as well. Maybe yours were new so you just had to paint them. Ours are either pine or oak (I need to figure that out) and so I’ll likely have to strip/sand them first. Thanks again!

  19. Carla says:

    Erin, love your blog!! We are in the process of building and going for a Old New Orleans cottage look. Thinking about using PureWhite for all of my trim, ceilings, and interior doors. Can you suggest what finish I should use?
    Thanks, Carla

  20. Kate says:

    Erin, I love all these colors! We are in the process of finishing an addition on our house which at the same time is greatly opening up our living spaces. So, basically, our kitchen, living room and dining rooms will all share walls. Do I just choose one color to paint it all?! I love Sea Salt but am worried it might be too much color for so much space. Do you have any thoughts on that?

  21. Andrea Briscoe says:

    Hi there friend! Quick question…if using alabaster on the walls, what color would you r commend for baseboards, interior doors, trim etc? Thank you much!

  22. Nakita says:

    Thank you so much for storing all this info as a reference on your blog !!!! So helpful !!!!

  23. Sue says:

    Erin, I came searching for this blog as I remember reading it before. I was wondering which interior paint you use? I thought I read that the paint contained a primer but when I search there website primer only comes up seperate. Also, I would hate to cheat you of any kick back is there a code to give you credit? Your blog was most helpful. I am going with the sw as I have been disappointed with some paint used before. Thanks so much! You rock!

  24. Gwen says:

    Most of my house is “Mindful Gray.” It’s a color I never tire of, and it’s so easy to switch up the decor with such a neutral color on the walls.

  25. Luisa says:

    Hello. Just moved into a warm beige house and want to update. Any recommendations for a warm grey that would go with SW Antique White trim? ALL my trim, doors, windows are Antuque White! Thanks!

  26. Kelsey says:

    We’re building our dream modern farmhouse as we speak and I’m getting ready to pick out paint from Sherwin Williams. This has been SO helpful, thank you so much for the photos, color tips, and sampling/swatching advice! I would have made the mistake of buying a full gallon without sampling first. You’ve made my life easier!

  27. Marti says:

    I’m thinking about painting walls of my living room/ dining room alabaster white and the ceilings sea salt in my adorable farmhouse! Any thoughts?…

  28. Robbie Brock says:

    Do you think Dovetail would be too dark for exterior home? Would you suggest having SW lighten by 25%?

  29. Margaret McDermott says:

    I am having so much trouble deciding how Sea Salt will look in my kitchen that has black cabinets and white tile. Have you ever seen this combo together?

  30. Lisa Stack says:

    I have finally decided on my paint colors thanks to Cotton Stem. I cannot tell you how happy I am to have found your Blog! My home is my home even though its a “manufactured home”, I have never referred to it as anything other than my “house.” Were getting ready to remodel the inside and I have decided on the Modern Farmhouse look after finding your Blog. I am so excited! Eventually were going to buy new kitchen cabinets, but for now I’m going to paint my cabinets SW Alabaster and the walls in SW Sea Salt. I picked the SW Sea Salt color out last year and fell head over heels in love with it but could decide on what colors to put with it, and Lord low-n-behold I stumbled upon your Blog. I went into our TJ Maxx store a few weeks ago and stumbled upon Rae Dunn coffee mugs, and a whole lot of other stuff Rae Dunn for my kitchen. I’m on the hunt for some bowls the same or similar color of blue/green ones that you have!

  31. Nancy Perkins says:

    Hi Erin, Love all your tips and design ideas! I’m in the process of remodeling kitchen, dining livingroom etc. I’ve chosen Alabaster for my cabinetry, Revere pewter for my two sided fireplace ( dining room, kitchen/livingroom ) .I have a navy blue with cream and a touch of agua living room rug. I was thinking of Van deusen blue for a accent wall in dining room with my dark wood farm table to bring the blue into that area. Gray sofa , cream chair and ottoman, gray other chair. Also gray with black metal farm style signs in dining area, black stainless appliances and black faucet and hardware. Wondering what color for walls and trim. Or just staying with Alabaster in 50 – 75 % darker. I’m so confused now ….please help….lol!!

  32. Jennifer Borgstrom says:

    We are using Sea Salt, Rising Tide (Valspar-steel blue), and trying to find a Gray color to go with. Looking for a coastal palate. We do need to stick on the gray side versus brown and have had challenges finding a color. Do you have a recommendation? These will be the 3 colors used throughout the house. Does a gray go ok with sea salt and rising tide? We’ve always used more taupes so this is new to us but our tiles and colors are more gray tone. How would the Light French Gray work? Thanks for any suggestions.

  33. Veda Sorrells says:

    I am getting ready to redo my kitchen. My thoughts were to have shiplap along the bottom of the walls, and then paint the top part Sea Salt. I love the way it looks in one of the above pictures. May original thought was to get white shiplap, but now I am thinking I should just paint it the Alabaster. I also am wanting to paint my cabinets Alabaster. Was wondering what your thoughts are on this. What color are your countertops?

  34. Candace Warder says:

    I am re-decorating 2 guest bed rooms (used to be my kids) I have chosen (and purchased) colors but do not like them… The rooms are in my attic so I have those lovely slanted ceilings… with 1 skylight in each room. I want a modern country feel… help!!!!

  35. Rhonda says:

    Loving your colors of your home, I’m also wondering what type of floor is in your kitchen, I’m wanting the farmhouse coastal vibe, but I have medium stained cabinets, so I’m stuck, because my husband is against painting good quality wood!

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