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March 1, 2017

Letter: The New Neutral

Think neutral, and you generally think tones of beige or taupe. And not so terribly long ago, neutral also connoted those awful ‘white-with-a-hint-of-bleurgh’ shades too. They were a way for those who knew they wanted to go beyond white, but lacked the confidence to graduate to full colour, to add a subtle touch of character to their rooms. Except they never really worked did they? Walls either looked faintly dirty, old or, if you were lucky, slightly tobacco-stained. But the point was, we were all having a go, drinking tentatively at the fountain of colour.

So where does grey sit in all this? Well, although in last month’s Trends special issue I stated quite equivocally that we’re seeing the emergence of The New Modern – all exuberance, boldness and making a statement – I’d like to also propose that grey is its close relation. Think of it as the introverted cousin, if you will. After all, sitting at the vanguard of the homes trends frontier is not a comfortable spot for everyone. Grey enables a much quieter revolution. With grey, the consumer can quite rightly applaud themselves for evolving beyond the pale, but remain secure in the knowledge that they’ve not gone overboard. In short, with grey, you’re doing something different, but not too much.

But it’s not been a straight run to cool. The very connotation of grey has also undergone something of a seismic change over the last decade. It’s not for nothing that it used to denote the staid, boring and dull (remember those cartoons of John Major? He was always drawn as grey, with his pants over his trousers). It’s also traditionally been associated with old age and conformism. Even I used to intensely dislike it, seeing it as a sort of non-colour choice suitable only for jumpers if you really couldn’t ‘do’ black or navy. I’d certainly never have used in it my home. In our northern hemisphere light, I dismissed it as too cold, recalling concrete and car parks. As I write though, I’m sporting a grey sweater, my recently completed kitchen has glossy grey doors and, according to the fashion mags, even grey hair has become a style statement for young women. Thus, updated interpretations of grey call it the colour of wisdom, intellect and knowledge. They state that it’s dignified and carries authority. In the home, it’s a colour that also goes fantastically well with soft tones like powder pink, as well as sharp hues that give it a lift, like chartreuse. So you really can have the best of all interior worlds with grey… it’s a step  up from just white, a new neutral, and still with room to add a little colour on top.


First featured as my Editor’s Letter in the March 2017 edition of ELLE Decoration UK

ELLE Decoration Subscriber cover March 2017

ELLE Decoration Subscriber cover March 2017


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Writer, Author, Brand Consultant & TV Presenter

Michelle Ogundehin is internationally renowned as an authority on interiors, trends and style. She is an influencer with expertise and the multi award-winning former Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Decoration UK.