“Gray is absolutely increasing in popularity,” says interior designer Joanna Cohlan, owner of highly rated Fresh Eyes for Your Home in Ossining, New York. “People are tired of beige, and there are more than 50 shades of gray, that’s for sure. They run the spectrum, and are a good neutral because they work well with a lot of colors.”
Andrea Magno, a color and design expert with Benjamin Moore paints, says the increased usage is due to a better understanding of the color.
“It’s not necessarily the color gray we think of from a box of crayons. Instead, ‘gray’ represents a wide range of hues with variations in undertone that make it anything but flat, cold or boring,” she says. “Plus, gray serves as a wonderful background color for a room that allows for accents of color and opportunities to create contrast by accentuating millwork or trim, or as the ideal backdrop for artwork.”
How do you choose the right gray?
Grays have a misconception of being cold and impersonal, but nothing could be further from the truth. The color range includes hazy grays, smoky grays, cool grays and warm grays.
“A warm gray is a mushroom gray,” Cohlan says. “A gray that has browns, yellows and a warmer undertones. Grays you may see in rocks and stones. Cool grays you see in the sky and have more blue or green undertones.”
Determining the right undertone for your room is key to selecting the right gray.
“If it sounds confusing, it can become very clear when you directly compare colors,” Magno says. “Choose your color chips and lay them right next to one another in the room you’re painting. You’ll be able to see the subtle differences between each gray, which will help in the narrowing down process to make the right choice for your color goals.”
Patricia Jewell, principle partner of highly rated Greystone Interiors in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, recommends choosing an inspiration piece to help guide your color selection.
“If you’re in doubt, many decorators help with paint selections for a reasonable fee. It could save you money in the long run, particularly if you choose the wrong shade first and invest in the project only to find it wasn’t the right one.”
“Grays are very versatile and are a great choice for all spaces from the living room or kitchen, to the bedroom and bathroom,” Magno says. “Evaluate the architecture to decide if there’s an opportunity for an accent wall, or more than one shade of gray.”
And if you want to go gray, but your house is currently besieged by beige tones, don’t worry. You can slowly tie-in a gray hue without having to overhaul the entire color scheme at once.
“Start with accessories,” says Jodie Amerell, owner of highly rated Inner View in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. “Bring in a gray drape with a beige wall. Or try gray and yellow pillows on a brown sofa.
Metallics also work well. Gray has been around forever, it’s a classic color. It’s not offensive and it’s an easy bridge to make.”
Melanie Murphy, owner of Redecorating by Melanie in Reading, Massachusetts, suggests bringing in a third color to help with the beige-to-gray phase.
“You could introduce it in pillows, some pictures or an ottoman,” she says. “Use shades of gray ranging from a charcoal up to a silver-gray.”
What colors complement grays the best?
As a true neutral, all colors will go well with gray. But be sure to determine if you want to work with warmer or cooler undertones for the most comprehensive look.
“It’s a very relaxing color,” Murphy says. “Especially when mixed with white and silver tones. It gives it a clean, crisp look. You can throw some black in there too. Black is gorgeous, dramatic and different.”
Jewell says using gray in design reminds her of her grandmother.
“She was a huge fan of gray,” she says. “Gray and yellow, gray and tan, gray and pinks – proving all color schemes reinvent themselves after a period of years.”
Shelly McNaughton, owner of Shelley McNaughton Design Associates in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says gray works well in any style.
“Contemporary, classic, it goes with stainless steel, woods, pewter,” she says. “It’s a great neutral color.”