How to decorate with neutrals
Decorating with neutrals has a mixed reputation – we see everyone head that way when they are selling their houses – scared to push any envelopes in case they miss a sale. Decorating with neutrals when done badly can be so truly dull and lacking in depth. This is why it is important to understand the nuances of the neutral schemes in order to pull them off successfully.
Depth of Neutral Tones
One way to make a neutral space sing has a lot to do with not being scared to use depth in your neutrals. Oliver Gustav in Copenhagen does this very successfully. His tone-on-tone spaces are sublime and strong and tend to have gravitas added by inserting another key piece of tonal colour into the mix. The example below shows a strong bone neutral being used with the addition of a rust colour in the same depth of tone – it really works.
Adding a layer of neutral with textures
Another genius of using neutrals to great effect is Vincent Van Duysen, a Belgium Architect. His great use of textures to make a neutral scheme sing is his calling card. In the image below, we have an undoubtedly neutral scheme made special by its use of texture in several strong elements – the bricks, the stone bench and the (real) wooden joinery. Make no mistake – real wood will always enhance a neutral scheme, its tone, texture and elemental nature is always a worthwhile addition. As neutrals are ultimately derived from the colours of nature they all have a natural ability to work together. Note that in both of these schemes mixtures of greys and beiges are being used – don’t feel that you have to be all grey or all beige – mix ‘em up – but for easy success keep tones (depth of colour) similar.
Note in this Vincent Van Duysen space the tones are light and fresh. In the previous Studio Oliver Gustav image the tones are deeper and a bit moodier.
In a similar vein the Sydney based Tribe Studio has used this same technique in the Maher House. Light neutrals encompassing white in the scheme will ultimately be far more successful if you add in texture. As neutrals are ultimately derived from the colours of nature they all have a natural ability to work together. Here neutral colours have been added into this scheme with natural materials rather than paint colour – so the bricks and the chandelier and the wooden floor and even the timber dining chairs are combining as a palette and work hard in bringing this space together.
In the Beaconsfield Residence by Whiting Architects we see a clever use of neutrals. Bringing in the natural elements and textures of the wood and the rattan lampshade along with the textural interest of the tile splash-back has taken this neutral scheme and made it layered and interesting and above all warm. They have also used to great success here black as their contrast accent which I am about to discuss below.
Another way to decorate with neutrals is to add colour accents for interest – here’s a great example of that by Mim Studio here in Australia in their REL residence. You can see that they have used blue in the cushions and the artwork to add a layer of interest to this neutral scheme. Strongly contrasting in both colour and tone it works in a different way to the addition of a tonal contrast such as in Oliver Gustav’s space. Both successful.
Kerford Place – a house by the Melbourne based Whiting Architects is a masterclass in neutrals – here is a detail image showing how a small pop of colour and some texture in the walls and soft furnishings lift the neutral into something special.
Layering textures, tones and materials within decorating is so essential when working with the neutral palette. Think natural materials such as linens, timber, cotton, and leather as well as a handmade or ethnic element to add depth and a point of interest. Linen companies in particular in the current marketplace are creating beautiful palettes and are a great place to look for neutrals inspiration. Try our Bemboka linen and blanket range for an instant neutral palette.