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March 5, 2017

Grey, the cool 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 touch of character to their rooms. Except they never really worked did they? Walls either looked faintly dirty, or 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’.

Grey @michelleogundehin Instagram moodboard

Grey @michelleogundehin Instagram moodboard

So where does grey sit in all this? Well, although earlier posts stated quite clearly that we’re seeing the emergence of The New Modern – all exuberance, boldness and making a statement – I’d like to 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 quieter revolution. With grey, we can quite rightly applaud ourselves for evolving beyond the pale, but remain secure in the knowledge that we’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 for grey. The very connotation of the colour has also undergone something of a siesmic change over the last decade. It’s not for nothing it used to denote the staid, boring and dull (remember those cartoons of John Major? He was always painted as grey, with his pants over his trousers). It’s also traditionally been associated with old age, decripitude 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 pale grey sweater, my recently completed kitchen has glossy grey doors and, according to the fashion mavens on ELLE magazine, even grey hair has become something of an alternative style statement for young women! Thus, updated interpretations of grey refer to it as the colour of wisdom, intellect and knowledge. They speak of its dignity and authority. And in the home, it’s a colour that also goes fantastically well with softer tones like powder pink, as well as sharp shades that give it a lift, like chartreuse. So you really can have the best of all interior worlds with grey… it’s the new neutral that’s a step up from just white, but still allows room to add a little colour on top. Herewith my top tips for its successful usage…

  1. For hard surfaces: go gloss wherever possible. I love the tone of IKEA’s Ringhult gloss grey cabinet doors; a perfect warm shade of grey. Although I’ve just heard that it is to be replaced with a new lighter tone… can’t wait to see!
  2. For floors: If you introduce grey as poured concrete floors, definitely finish them to a high shine, and install underfloor heating, otherwise they’ll look, and feel, like a carpark. Whereas polished and heated, it will be über luxe and elegant (check out the gallery for examples).
  3. For paints: Use greys with tones of pink in them rather than blue (Little Owl by Fired Earth is a good example, or Farrow & Ball’s Cornforth White), think dove grey, unless you’re contemplating its usage in a particularly sunny room, in which case you might employ a blue-hued tone to deliberately cool it down (try Mylands Mid Wedgwood).
  4. For textiles: All velvets are sublime in grey for upholstery or curtaining as the pile adds richness and depth. With other fabrics, it’s essential to layer contrasting finishes and weights to get that up-market feel, think linen with oversize knits or smooth silks, especially in bedrooms. It’s laid-back cool you’re going for, not cold.



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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.