Going Gray

Seasonal color is not exclusive to the runways, it happens in home décor too. This year’s wall colors follow a theme of subdued tones punctuated by pops of color: Think neutral gray-tones set off with perky accents.

Sherwin-Williams chose Exclusive Plum as their color of the year. Director of color marketing Jackie Jordan described it as “a dusky, filtered violet” that’s “refined without being stuffy, elegant yet easy and layered with romantic potential.” Jordan suggested that the color pairs well with magenta and chartreuse. Benjamin Moore’s 2014 color trends also proposed a new palette of neutrals with names like Distant Gray, White Dove and Clay Beige. And the always-eclectic Farrow & Ball favors a soft gray shade they call Elephant’s Breath.

But not all grays are created equal, there are cool blue-grays to warm brownish-grays because almost any color can take on a new character when mixed with a hint of gray. Farrow & Ball’s Cooking Apple Green and Tunsgate Green are good examples, as well as Pratt & Lambert’s Bay and Downy Gray. Indeed, there are certainly more than 50 shades of gray.

Every season has a neutral color that plays the background. And while earthy tones have been the mood setter for years, gray can be a multitasking team player. Lisa Loesch of Rockville Centre-based Harloe Interiors doesn’t hesitate when asked about the color palette she’s using this season, “Gray, in a big way! While gray may sound dull and dreary, it’s truly the new modern neutral.” Loesch said gray brings an air of sophistication and glamour to the home that is easy to set off with bright color. “We’re especially loving all the shades of pink, from soft petal to strong fuchsia,” she said.

Port Washington-based designer Christina Byers agreed that neutral blue-gray walls mixed beautifully with this season’s bright shades of orchid, deep wine-like pink, cobalt and peacock blue. “Living room walls in a soft gray like Benjamin Moore’s Grey Owl coupled with Simply White trim and accent colors like orchid and navy blue are an unexpected combination that’s show stopping,” she said.

East Hampton interior designer and buyer for Elizabeth Dow Home, Ani Antreasyan, found inspiration in denim after the stock of blue jean boots she ordered sold out three times. “A deep ancient indigo is perfect with a very light gray wall color,” she said. She suggested using patchwork denim to upholster an ottoman or pouf. Using the textured denim on an often-used accessory allows guests to interact with the design, experiencing another level of contrast against a cool wall color.

Changing home décor is not quite as easy as changing the clothes in the closet—and can be far more costly. Design experts suggested introducing the season’s bright accents with pillows, area rugs and lamps and sticking with neutrals like gray, beige, black or white when it comes to large investment pieces like sofas. Crate & Barrel’s Linden pillows in deep indigo and cheery yolk pair beautifully with blue-grays, as does Target’s arc lamp in teal. To make an extra splash, cover a chair or ottoman in Kravet Fabrics’ Seres in tangerine sunset or plumy beet, both part of the Diane von Fürstenberg collection.

The Pantone Color Institute has become very influential over the years and has a hand in determining the colors of the season. “This is a season of atypical colors—more reflective of the imagination and ingenuity, which makes for an artful collection of colors and combinations not bound by the usual hues for fall,” said executive director Leatrice Eiseman. Pantone’s color of the year is Radiant Orchid, a fuchsia with purple and pink undertones. The Institute has been a leader in color systems technology since 1963 and now provides color trend forecasting for fashion and interior design.

In years past, fall color trends tended to mimic nature a little more closely. Warm browns, deep reds, burnt oranges and golden hues were the norm and beige was the perfect neutral. But gray, although it is often seen as cold or industrial, provides a backdrop that is truly outside the box.

This year, the big fashion houses are influencing interior design trends too. Hermès used gray as a staple in their fall/winter 2014-2015 collection and Miu Miu paired gray with bright yellow. Gray dominated the runways of Valentino, Christian Dior, Stella McCartney, Hugo Boss, Chanel and others. Elizabeth Holmes, a Baldwin Harbor-based designer, would rather take a look at a client’s shoes and shirts rather than their scrapbook of magazine ideas because it shows what colors really make them feel most comfortable. “I prefer to see what’s in their closet,” she said. “I pay close attention to what they’re wearing.” Although some may be intimidated by the high-fashion world, often the color combinations used there can work inside the home just as well.

Using grays and other new neutrals as the wall colors allows furniture and accessories to pull the look together. Designers have different ways to incorporate accent colors. “Like I always like to say, a little hot pink goes a long way,” said Loesch. She uses neutral colors for investment pieces like sofas and chairs and sprinkles accent colors around the room. She likes West Elm’s Clover coffee table in red—a mid-century design in a splashy color. Loesch also treats wallpaper as an accent, from covering the backs of bookcases in metallic grass cloth or ikat patterns.

Byers agreed that lighter tones are best for the big items in a room and uses the brighter colors on trim, pillows and small rugs. She’s seeing a trend of large patterns on occasional chairs and a more measured hand with wallpapers in modern colors or geometric patterns. “An accent wall with a large-scale pattern in a foyer can make a grand entrance,” Byers said. De Gourney offers some beautiful examples, like the textured Striee series in rouge and rose or the scaly pattern of tortoiseshell—both would look right with the new neutrals.

Using the new grays as a backdrop on walls and trim—and going bright with the range of pinks the fashion world is showing—any room will look fresh, updated and stylish. Combing the paint samples and color schemes the major paint companies put together is a good place to start, but look to the season’s fashion designers for dazzling color combinations to make your home runway-ready.

annette rose-shapiro

annette rose-shapiro

Annette Rose-Shapiro writes about decor, interior design, art and architecture. She is currently working on a short documentary about the creative process.