THE RAGE FOR GREIGE: Interior Design Strategies for Using Neutrals Effectively

several sample photos with greigeBeige, gray and everything in between are today’s go-to neutrals for creating subtle and sophisticated spaces. For those who may be wondering, greige is simply a combination of gray and beige, merging the soft, cool tones of gray with the warmth of beige.

Understated gray and beige tones provide easy appeal and are especially valued for their timeless qualities.  However, as is often the case, you can have too much of a good thing so we typically recommend not relying exclusively on neutrals.  We’ve asked a couple of our interior designers to share their thoughts about working with greige.

The navy elements are classic and timeless while the small pops of orange in the accessories really give the space life.

The navy elements are classic and timeless while the small pops of orange in the accessories really give the space life. Source: TraditionalHome.com

What Are the Drawbacks to Playing It Safe?

Jacqueline Fox:  The biggest risk is missing out on a great opportunity to stand out in the crowd. Sticking exclusively to a greige or similar neutral palette is probably not going to support your branding initiatives.  When design concepts are limited to these “safe” options, it’s more difficult to create memorable experiences or provide lasting impact.

Jessica Jack:  While neutral palettes are safe and timeless, playing it too safe prevents your organization from achieving that “wow” moment that sets your brand apart from the competition and makes you memorable. While bold pattern and color can often be intimidating, there are ways to add a little drama and play with trends that are easy to change, such as simple painted accent walls or even removable wallcovering.  You don’t want someone to walk into your space and leave without remembering something noteworthy about it, even if it’s as simple as “remember that lime green chair.”

These neutral palettes are complemented and enlivend with the simple addition of bright pops of color for lighting or other accessories.

These neutral palettes are complemented and enlivend with the simple addition of bright pops of color for lighting or other accessories. Photo Credits L to R: The first two photos are AXO Lighting, and the third is the Olaya Hotetl from Comelite-arcb.com.

What are some of the typical reasons commercial clients want to limit their color palette?  

Jessica Jack:  The number on reason is maintenance. In the long run we want clients to be able to maintain the look and design we give them.  That can mean limiting palettes and materials, but there is a wrong and a right way to create that limit.  Having a single field of color throughout a project makes things easy to touch up, but limiting the accent colors/materials that are used in smaller amounts also limits the final effect and takes away from the big impact that a well-designed space can provide.

Jacqueline Fox:  For many of our clients, renovations and additions are accomplished in different phases.  Particularly if we are working on a small update in anticipation of a larger project down the road, greige is the easy choice to blend with other spaces and avoid limiting color options for the future projects. This is why it’s important to mix in pops of colors to enliven and create a specific identity for individual spaces.

 

There doesn’t have to be a non-griege color scheme. As Jessica Jack puts it, “The better thought is how to add a bit of drama to that neutral palette; maybe you keep the color palette and add pattern.”

There doesn’t have to be a non-griege color scheme. As Jessica Jack puts it, “The better thought is how to add a bit of drama to that neutral palette; maybe you keep the color palette and add pattern.” Photo Credit: Kravet.com.

Is there ever a time when sticking to neutrals is appropriate?

Jessica Jack:  Always!  I believe that neutral palettes are the smartest palette.  They are clean and a calm and TIMELESS and they are the perfect backdrop for small punches of color. The neutrals allow those small accents to have a really big impact.

Jacqueline Fox:  Greige options are the way to go for any spaces where you want furniture, artwork or other accent pieces to stand out. For residential spaces, a neutral palette, without going too bland, is a good choice for home showings.

Accent walls provide a pop of color to complement neutral color schemes and can easily be changed.

Accent walls provide a pop of color to complement neutral color schemes and can easily be changed. Photo credits: HospitalityDesign.com, ArchitecturalDigest.com.

Where is the best place to start for getting beyond the neutrals?

Jacqueline Fox:  If a client is reluctant to try accents or other bold features, paint and accessories are great places to start. I’d also recommend these same elements for clients who want to try something new or feature an especially bold color that perhaps represent a corporate logo or school color. It’s a good idea to make a statement with your design, and these options do not represent a huge financial commitment so they are a great place to experiment with new ideas.

Pillows are the easiest way to embrace color without a long-term commitment.

Pillows are the easiest way to embrace color without a long-term commitment. Photo Credit: Kravet.com.

Another idea for clients who love greige is to introduce texture! I love adding a plush pillow on a couch in front of a textural wood wall or tile wall. Different sheens can also provide the same type of visual pop even though they are the same color. Examples of this would be a metallic lamp or a gloss and matte pattern on an accent wall.

Jessica Jack:  If big color and pattern are intimidating, start small.  Add bold bright art; consider colorful lamps or pillows which can be changed out easily.  Small accent walls with bright pops of color also can be changed with a relatively small cost. When in doubt, be brave with pillows.

 

Are there any particular color schemes that are a good place to start?

Jessica Jack:  When adding color to a neutral palette, there are definitely easier color options than others.  Navy is the neutral of deep colors and is easy to incorporate and timeless.  Likewise for jewel tones, hunter and emerald greens. Bordeaux and golden hues add a warm, timeless pop of color.

a Minneapolis kitchen

According to Houzz contributor Laura Gaskill, “you can’t get more classic than navy” when seeking an alternative to greige as illustrated in this Minneapolis kitchen featured on Houzz.

Conversely, oranges and true reds are tricky, especially with paint.  Their appearance can vary widely in different types of light or times of day, and the wrong shade can skew how the furnishings and space are perceived.  It can be done well, but I would say these colors are the easiest to go wrong in a design scheme.  They are also one of the best colors to use in accessories because a little can have a big impact.

Jacqueline Fox: I would agree that navy blue is a neutral color that has been around for ages, yet is definitely not boring and can help avoid “greige fatigue.” It’s equally sophisticated, easy to work with and typically well received.

 

The undertones that make the various shades of gray interesting can also shift the overall color tone when interacting with your space, and particularly the lighting, so be sure to view a sample in the space or at least an area with similar lighting conditions. We hope this will inspire you to take advantage of the quiet versatility and sophistication that today’s greige options provide while remembering that these neutrals are at their best when they are used to complement other colors in your space.  Not sure where to start?  Give us a call to discuss how we may be able to help your organization.

Jessica Jack, IIDA, LEED AP, has 16 years of experience focusing on commercial interior design.  She loves helping clients set their business and brand apart from the mundane by introducing bold patterns and pops of color. According to Jessica, neutrals definitely have their place, but there is a richness and depth that is achieved by integrating a little something that’s bold.

Jacqueline Fox, IIDA, has five years of experience working with educational clients, office spaces and senior living organizations. She likes to help clients explore a range of options for adding interest and energy by going beyond greige with color, texture and pattern.

Blog Editor – Jodi Kreider, LEED AP