There’s a lot to be said for decorating with neutral colors. They’re extraordinarily versatile, setting the stage for any kind of decor. You can create nearly any atmosphere: minimalist and modern, understated and elegant, calming and comfortable. Nothing balances a space as well as neutrals.
There’s also a trick to decorating with neutrals. As with many things, the simpler and more effortless something looks, the more thought and skill are involved in creating it. Here are some tips for creating a neutral-toned decor.
Think Beyond Beige
Many people equate “neutral” with beige, but there are actually hundreds of neutral colors to explore! Some of the most popular neutrals today bring the colors of nature indoors, like rich, earthy deep browns and mineral tones like gray-greens and stone gray-blues.
Another popular neutral is “greige”—a combination of “gray” + “beige.” It has soothing neutrality of beige, but the depth of gray. It’s the perfect compromise when beige would look too warm for the room, but gray would look too stark. “Putty” is another popular neutral color that is similar to greige, but tends to incorporate more of the beige for a warmer look.
Consider Color Temperatures
Colors can either be “cool” or “warm,” and you need to consider these color temperatures when developing your room color palette. Cool colors (blue and green undertones) tend to make a room look lighter and larger, while warm colors (yellow, red and brown undertones) tend to make a space seem cozy and comfortable.
Balance and contrast are important. Use all cool neutrals (basic white, charcoal, black, steel, blue-gray), and your room can look stark and antiseptic instead of light and airy. Use all warm neutrals (beige, tan, chocolate brown, cream) and the room may look “same-y” and blah instead of comforting and cozy.
General rule of thumb? Combine neutrals of the same temperatures for your dominant color scheme, then accent with colors of the opposite temperature. More on that in a bit.
Did you know that neutral colors can be dark? Black, charcoal gray and dark brown can all be considered neutral. Espresso (a color that ranges from deep chocolate brown to nearly black) is a perennial favorite.
You can use dark neutrals to “ground” the lighter neutral tones in the room. It’s a classy combo and creates contrast. When pairing dark and light neutrals, it’s best to combine colors with the same undertones or color temperatures.
Enliven the Space With Color Accents
Once you’ve created your dominant color scheme, you need accent colors to bring it to life. These little pops of color go a long way in adding interest and banishing the blahs. Even better? With a neutral backdrop, you have the freedom to use bold, vivid accent colors you love that that would clash otherwise.
There are any number of ways you can add color to a neutral room, from small decor accessories, wall art and decorative pillows to furniture pieces like accent chairs and painted tables and chests. If you really want to make a statement, you can even add an accent wall in a bold, yet complementary, color.
Choose no more than two or three accent colors—using too many will lessen the effect. Color temperature balance is also important here. If your dominant colors are warm, accent with cool colors, and vice versa. This will create a nice balance. Ever noticed how often designers pair dark brown with light blue? That’s this principle at work.
Work in Textures
In rooms where there are few variations in color, variations in texture become vital in creating an interesting space. Textured neutral tones appear as different shades and colors depending on how the light hits them. This creates the illusion of added depth and a layered effect.
When decorating a neutral-toned room, think textural contrasts. Plush microfiber with dark wood. Textured fabric with polished metal. Woven seagrass with beachy white canvas slipcovers. A glass tabletop atop a carved wooden base. A wooden plank table with steel legs.
Sleek and shiny surfaces such as metal, gleaming glass, cool marble, and polished dark wood tend to work very well with neutral surroundings. So too do richly textured materials such as beautifully grained wood, woven seagrass, rattan, and reclaimed wood. Think how often you see these materials used in contemporary and modern rooms, which tend towards neutral color palettes.
When incorporating metal furnishings or metal accents, you’ll have the best luck if you stick within the same color temperature as the main room. For example, pewter or silver finishes look amazing with cool neutrals, while bronze or gold finishes pair better with warm neutrals.
Perk Things Up With Patterns
Patterns add movement and interest to a space, and they really “pop” when paired with neutrals. Neutrals also help balance bold prints that might otherwise be too overwhelming. Window treatments, area rugs, throw pillows, and upholstered accent chairs are simple ways to incorporate patterns into your decor.
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