Going grey is so much more sophisticated than beige

Today's most stylish neutral shade is anything but safe and boring

AKRON, Ohio — Grey, you tempter.

You’ve stirred our passion. You’ve inflamed our desire.

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We want you everywhere. In the bedroom. In the bathroom. In — gasp — the kitchen.

We are held captive by your silken charms, helpless in your grasp.

Oh, wait. You didn’t think we were talking about the protagonist of that steamy novel hidden on countless Kindles, did you?

Heavens, no. This is about grey, small g. The colour.

We can’t get enough of it — all 50 shades or so.

Grey has shown a dramatic increase in popularity since 2010 and particularly in the last year, the National Kitchen & Bath Association reports. In fact, the colour is used in 55 per cent of the kitchens and 56 per cent of the bathrooms decorated by the designers who make up the group’s membership.

It’s a grown-up hue that lends a sophistication consumers crave, the association says.

Grey is more than just a mixture of black and white, said Sonu Mathew, an interior designer who works on the colour team that curates the palette for paint maker Benjamin Moore & Co. Grey can have undertones of red, blue, green or purple, which she said makes it “very complex,” even mysterious.

That characteristic makes grey work well with many colours, Mathew said. Grey gives the eye a chance to rest, she explained, so we can appreciate the other colours in the room more.

Interior designer Amy Douglass believes grey’s ability to play well with others — even other neutrals such as creams, tans and white — is a large part of its popularity. It’s similar to black in that regard but not as stark, said Douglass, owner and senior designer at the Interior Design Studio in Medina, Ohio.

“It’s just a little softer,” she said. “It’s not as dramatic as black and white.”

Douglass has paired grey with yellow and white in a sunroom, and she’s now using a bluish grey in a kitchen she’s designing. It works well with the slate on the room’s fireplace and the maple of its cabinets, she said, as well as the gold, tan and rust in the adjacent great room.

North Canton, Ohio, designer Robin Brechbuhler incorporated grey liberally in a Jackson Township, Ohio, home she decorated for Elizabeth Hoover, chair of the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation and great-granddaughter of Hoover Co. founder W.H. (Boss) Hoover. Brechbuhler said the colour choice was inspired in part by the metal of a couple of vintage Hoover vacuum cleaners displayed in the home.

The neutral palette throughout the house blends greys with beiges and browns, a quiet background for bursts of colour.

In a sitting area off the kitchen, for example, pillows in cream, orange and rust brighten a dark grey sectional. Grey grass cloth panels break up the dark taupe wall in the media room, and a wall covering made from chips of grey ceramic and glass makes one of the bathrooms sparkle.

Brechbuhler loves the way grey sets off the colours of the antique Hoover displays around the house.

“It’s a wonderful neutral,” she said. “It’s sort of taken the place of beige.”

Grey used to be considered cold and masculine, Benjamin Moore’s Mathew said, but its use in fashion and other products such as cars has given us a new appreciation for it. When we see grey used beautifully in, say, a silk blouse, we start to break those old associations and see new possibilities for the colour.

Using grey in our areas that don’t get a lot of sunshine, however, takes a bit of care, Akron interior designer Cynthia J. Hoffman cautioned.

To keep the interior from looking as dull as the bleak mid-winter landscape, grey needs to be accompanied by plenty of light, she said.

Hoffman outfitted a loft for one client with a charcoal floor and chairs covered in charcoal mohair, but she played them against ivory earth-plaster walls that lend warmth. Natural light bathes the space, and “that room feels beautiful, whether it’s winter or summer,” she said.

No natural light? Use plenty of artificial light, she suggested. But make sure it’s dimmable, so you can change the mood of the room to fit the way you’re using it.

Douglass and Hoffman said it’s also important to pay attention to the undertones when choosing a grey. Use a warm grey with warm colours, a cool grey with cool ones.

Hoffman particularly likes the way grey makes bright colours stand out. She showcased one client’s vibrant artwork by using a grey hardwood floor, grey carpeting and a black sofa to form a backdrop, and then brought pops of colour into the room by choosing dining chairs in different hues pulled from the art.

Mathew said grey can also be used successfully in a monochromatic palette, but the trick to pulling that off is contrast. Incorporate lighter and darker shades of grey “so your eye can move around the room,” she said.

It’s not necessary to immerse yourself in grey, however, to be part of the trend. If you just want to experiment with the colour, Mathew suggested using it as an accent, perhaps on a piece of furniture, a door or the inside of a bookcase.

The amount of contrast you use on the walls is important, too. If you want a more energetic room where you notice the individual colours, use shades of grey with a good deal of contrast. If you prefer a more relaxing atmosphere, dial the contrast down.

It all depends on what you like, how you use your space and how you want to feel in it, she said.

As with any paint colour, try grey out in a room first. Mathew recommended painting a large sample on a piece of poster board or foam core and moving it around the room, seeing how it looks in the darkest corner and the brightest spot. Light affects how we perceive colour, so the lighting of your room might make a grey look very different from the one you fell in love with in the paint store.

The good news is that no matter what colour you love, there’s a grey you can use with it, Mathew said. You don’t have to abandon your colour scheme and start from scratch just to be in fashion.

It’s more important that you love your colours, she said. Lust after them, even.

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