If you ask a thousand people to name their favourite colour, you might get one that would say grey.
But look at any lifestyle or shelter magazine and you’ll see that grey is hot and seemingly here to stay.
Though white remains the bestselling colour for most categories of home furnishings, grey is catching up. Not only have homeowners embraced grey for things that are easy to change — such as wall colours or throw pillows — they also have embraced grey for things they expect to be using 10, 20 and even 30 years from now, including kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures.
Grey has even gone global, influencing traditional crafts that most of us assume to be impervious to fashion and trends. For example, carpet weavers in Tibet, Nepal and northern India are still producing patterns that are hundreds of years old, but now the colours are contrasting shades of grey. These same weavers also produce contemporary designs with a strong grey presence, said Salesh Adhikhary of Globalcraft Rugs, a carpeting wholesaler based in Houston.
How could a colour more often associated with bad weather, sombre moods and illness acquire such broad appeal? Its astonishingly broad range, design experts said.
As a colour, grey encompasses everything from a soft silver to a stark, dark charcoal. It’s the perfect neutral because it’s compatible with almost every other colour, and it folds easily into every style of decor. Dee Schlotter, colour brand manager for Glidden Paints, succinctly summed it up: “Grey plays well with other colours.”
Though most people think of grey as a 50-50 mix of equal parts black and white, most grays are actually a mix of other colours that give it a unique, chameleonlike quality. A grey wall paint that appears to be slightly greenish when upholstered furniture with a strong green theme is placed against it will acquire a slightly bluish cast if the furniture is reupholstered in blue tones.
All this has obvious advantages: As London-based interiors blogger Kate Watson-Smyth pointed out, “You don’t have to worry about redecorating every time you change a piece of furniture.”
Scott Bodenner, a Brooklyn-based textile designer (who said of himself: “I am that one in a thousand who says that my favourite colour is grey”) explained that when grey is the backdrop, small changes can produce a big effect.
“It gives people the ability to change the mood of a space by changing the accent colours of small things like throw pillows and small rugs,” he said. “Switch out a soft, calming blue for bright colours like red, yellow or orange and you add pop and action.”
Watson-Smyth, whose affection for grey is evident in nearly every room in her own London home, offered yet another reason to favour it: “Grey gives life to everything in a room. Grey makes everything look more modern and fresh. Grey makes all your possessions pop out. It gives them presence. A good picture on a grey wall — it’s amazing!”
Grey’s trajectory toward a central position in the home-decorating pantheon began about six or seven years ago as a desire for a “new neutral.” After nearly two decades of nothing but “beige, beige, beige,” said Jackie Jordan, director of colour marketing at Sherwin-Williams, “We were beiged out.”
Grey was first promoted by celebrity interior designers, whose work was widely published in the shelter magazines that focus on upscale interiors. This initial coverage conveyed an important truth long known by colourists like herself, Jordan said. It showed that grey can be inspiring.
“They showed that grey is not cold, industrial or boring, that it can be calming and sophisticated,” Jordan said.
Jennifer Gilmer of Gilmer Kitchen & Bath in Bethesda, Md., said many of her clients are interested in a grey kitchen but fearful that it will make a kitchen feel and look dark. They become convinced that it’s a great idea when she shows them examples that combine grey with other colours.
For example, combining dark charcoal cabinets with white cabinetry and counters and lighter greys for walls, backsplashes and an island counter produces a “happy” kitchen, she said.