What first comes to mind when you think of neutral colours? Black, grey and white?
In the interiors’ world, neutrals actually cover a really broad spectrum and can be used to create wonderful colour schemes. While they’re often mistakenly viewed as devoid of colour, if you look closely, you’ll find that many beautiful neutral colours exist – and they’re far from boring.
There is a knack to putting neutrals together successfully, however. Start by looking at the colour ‘families’. By families I mean the underlying characteristics of a colour which link it to others. There are three families of neutral: cool, warm and mid.
Cool Neutrals: these colours will be cool in appearance, created by a blue undertone. They work well in warmer light. In cold light, they can look quite chilly and drab.
Warm Neutrals: these colours have a warm undertone, such as red, lilac or cream. They have a warm golden hue but are not yellow. They work well in cool lit spaces, creating a warm cosy feeling.
Mid neutrals: these colours sit somewhere between cool and warm and have grey-green undertones. They are often called chameleon neutrals as the tones transition through a broad spectrum of colour as the light changes throughout the day. This colour changing can have a great effect on a space.
It’s all in the family
Next, pick a colour palette that sits in the same family – this is key. Never mix cool and warm neutrals, for example; they will feel discordant, and you are looking for harmony! Within the same family there will be many colours ranging from very light to very dark. When you are working with your sample pots, look at the underlying tone to make sure the colours you are selecting sit well together.
Contrast is key
For a stand-out space, contrast – within the same colour palette – is important. Imagine a room painted in the same safe neutral with white trim, and then think about how the effect can be elevated by putting together light and dark tones from the same palette.
A distinctive, sophisticated look
Never use a brilliant pure white in a neutral scheme – it will jar and look poorly put together. If you have always been a traditionalist and painted your ceilings and skirting white, I would encourage you to try a colour from a neutral palette – it will give you a far more sophisticated outcome. And if you have decorative architectural features like cornice and ceiling roses, pick them out in a darker tone to make a feature of them.
Vary the finish
When it comes to choosing paint, using the same neutral colour in different finishes will create interest. Different paint finishes reflect the light in varying amounts, so will have distinct looks. Gloss, for example, is not just for woodwork – it can be used to great effect on walls and ceilings. It’s also very durable, so it’s a great choice for the lower part of a wall in high traffic areas, like stairs and hallways.
Finally, think about layering. If you opt for a neutral paint scheme, consider the other layers such as furniture and soft furnishings. You might want to add colour and contrast here against the neutral back drop – or keep it in the same tones. If you want to create an achromatic scheme, bring in contrasting textures and patterns in your furnishings.
Challenge your vision for a scheme you love
Used creatively, neutrals are exciting colours that can make striking interior schemes. Follow the principles I’ve described, pushing the boundaries of what you may have thought was possible, and you will create something unique to love for years to come.