Is gray STILL popular? Maybe that’s not the right question. Popular is a moving target and not really the best yardstick for any interior decorating decision. You SHOULD be asking, is it right for the space? And does it spark joy?…no wait, that’s Marie Kondo decision making…but it IS relevant to choosing colors – you SHOULD love what you choose!
HGTV has been touting gray in Every. Single. Room. for the last 5+ years. And honestly, even THEY are getting tired of it. There is a turn to warmer grays and greiges - the grays that dance on the line between the dreaded beige someone decided was passé and the more recent darling, gray. So there it is – we are working our way back to beige as a neutral if you are using popularity as your decision-making criteria!
Looking for a Neutral Color?
Gray is, by definition, a neutral color. Back in design school color theory class we painstakingly made gradients of gray by mixing together watercolors in opposite colors on the color wheel. (which we then had to mat with a series of individual windows in a single mat for our OCD teacher, but that is another whole subject!) The problem is, there are infinite variations in amounts and purity of hue of the original pigments even black and white pigments have other tints in them, leading to grays with undertones of any number of other colors. A truly neutral gray is as rare as a unicorn indeed! Anything else is somewhere on either the warm or cool side of neutral.
Too many people choose gray without really thinking, figuring it will be a neutral and go with everything just fine. But all grays don’t necessarily work together well. Your gray paint may look more green (or blue or purple or brown…or pink) than gray once it is on the walls and next to other colors. That innocent color on the paint chip may evoke battleship interior once it is on the walls, which, I assume, is not what you were aiming for - choose carefully. On a side note - a couple of paint companies actually have colors named BATTLESHIP GRAY?! Who does that and WHY?? As always, follow THESE guidelines to make smart paint color choices.
Lighting also makes a big difference in what we see in paint colors. The whole experience that sparked this post was a recent visit to a commercial space that had just jumped on the gray bandwagon to update their common areas. In a space with little to no natural light, they had chosen a cool pale gray and a chalky white and added LED lighting in the daylight spectrum. They were after lighter and brighter, but it had all the warmth of an operating room. I would have chosen differently, especially since it is likely to be there for the next 20 years, but just changing the light bulbs would help radically! See THIS post for a helpful guide to the right light bulbs.
Here are some ways to use gray in your decor…
Decorating with Gray Fabrics
Sometimes, you don’t want to commit to a whole wall (or ceiling or floor) of gray. Incorporating this color in fabrics is a great solution in this case. Gray can be tailored or softer - it all depends on the fabric and the application. In the apartment living room below, quiet, menswear-inspired fabrics mix nicely with a rich paisley jacquard pattern in the same quiet tones.
And in this bedroom by Suzanne Kasler, a playful, organic pattern in gray and white used on beds, benches, and draperies, has a fresh, graphic feel but is softer than a high contrast black and white fabric would be.
Here are a few classic gray fabrics (click on image for more info):
Using Gray on Cabinetry
Painting cabinetry gray is another way to incorporate gray into your decor. We have used Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal on an island in an all white kitchen and on the lower cabinets and island in a two tone kitchen.
This GORGEOUS kitchen by the talented Marshall Watson features all gray cabinetry.
Adding Gray Stone, Quartz, or Tile
Gray stone comes in all sorts of options - from deepest slate to nearly white marble or quartzite. Carrera and Calacata marble and marble-look quartz and tile are classics that are having a huge revival right now. If you are doing a bathroom renovation, you cannot go wrong with this classic look.
A selection of gray tiles is shown below. Large format tiles are more contemporary, hex mosaic and basketweave tiles are more classic (click on each image for details):
Adding Gray with Wallpaper
Wallpaper in shades of gray can be a wonderful neutral that adds pattern and interest to a space. Wallpapers are available in any style pattern from traditional to edgy and everything in between. They are even available in temporary, removable papers for rental situations or just so it is easier to change your mind or your style later on! Below is a lovely classic paper from Christopher Farr in this beautiful cottage bathroom by Philip Mitchell.
Here are some gray wallcoverings to add pattern while keeping a neutral color scheme (click on each image for more info):
And finally, here are some of my favorite shades of gray paint.
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