Selection of right neutrals key to scheme’s success

“Grey is a color that always seems on the eve of changing to some other color.” G. K. Chesterton (1874-1962), English writer, “The Glory of Grey,” “Alarms and Discursions” (1910)

Color versus noncolor. Where do you fall in this decorating dilemma?

Many of us are afraid of color. I’m not totally clear on exactly what that means; what is the fear? Will it hurt you? No. Will it make you sick? No. Will it rob you? No.

Color has a lot of implications, but doing harm is not one of them.

So, OK, you don’t like color. That’s so perfectly OK, but if you’re not going to use color in your home, do the noncolor thing right.

White walls and white furnishings are often used as backdrops for art — sort of “galleryish.” There’s no competition to the color in the art and consequently it really pops against a white wall. If you have the caliber of art collection that yells out for white walls, then by all means, go with the white.

But for all of the other “color-phobes,” a neutral color scheme is just what the decorating doctor ordered for you.

Neutral color schemes are often compared to black and white photography. This type of photography places more emphasis on the subject than anything that could detract from it, i.e., color. The lights and darks of the photo take on more importance.

The same is true in a neutral color scheme. It doesn’t have to be boring or bland; and, in fact, can be very beautiful and interesting. Each piece takes on a major role in the overall look.

The key to a successful neutral color scheme is selection of the proper neutrals. For instance, bright white upholstered furniture, white walls, white shades or window panels can be scary. It’s too stark, cold and uninviting.

Beautiful taupes, grays and off-whites are luxurious, elegant and warm. Any combination in these “color” families, along with a mixture of textures, will create a serene, welcoming space. Amazingly true, just like the quote from Chesterton, grays and other neutrals always look like they could almost be some other color. Ah, the beauty of neutrals.

Soft, textured rugs, a variety of fabrics and finishes in pillows and throws, and subtle color on the walls add up to a perfect palette. And, you can always pop the neutral scheme with a little color, but not too much. If you add too much color, you will ruin the effect of the neutrals.

By the way, there are other benefits to having a neutral color scheme. If your furniture and accessories blend together, it is easier to use them in different rooms or spaces if you should move, or just want to repurpose a room. Keep in mind that you can do that if you have colorful furnishings and accessories, but, oh, I’m not talking about color because it scares some of you.

As usual, I prefer a fun and playful approach to design, just as I do with most other things. Picking colorful belongings, or neutral ones, is a very personal choice. Have fun with your selections, but take a little more time if you go neutral. Selecting just the right tones and textures will make you much happier and be worth the time spent to pull it together.

Carolyn Muse Grant is a founder and president of the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant/stylist specializing in home staging. Her Inside Spaces column appears weekly in the Home section of the Review-Journal. Send questions to

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