Gray is the new beige. Though don’t call it “greige,” like it’s some cutesy neutral du jour. As color expert Kate Smith explains, over the past decade or so, the design industry and the public have grown to love complex colors, colors that are hard to describe — such as the manifold shades of gray. And, she said, “once you start to appreciate and understand these complex colors, there’s no going back.”
We can trace interest in gray’s versatility back even a few more decades, to the late 1940s and ’50s fashion designs of Christian Dior, who used dove-gray paint and furnishings in his salons as a way to set off his colorful fashions (Benjamin Moore even named a paint color after his obsession: Dior Gray).
But gray’s value goes beyond paint. Smith said gray’s versatility means it can be used to freshen up any color scheme. “There are a few things interesting about gray as an accessory. You can bring in gray without bringing in any other colors,” she said. Being a true neutral, “it also helps you notice the shape and the texture and the surface of furniture and accessories.”
To add just a touch of silvery sophistication to a room or two, here are some home and design finds.
Gray is a chameleon-like color. Not only can it be warm or cool, but it also can be Colonial, Federal or mid-century modern. “I’m very partial to using French, Swedish and Gustavian antiques, and the underlying color is a gray,” said Washington-based designer Paul Corrie. For an antique look at a new-product price, try Wisteria’s mango-wood Swedish Table ($265, www.wisteria.com). If a more-elegant Parisian feel is your preference, Corrie recommends incorporating black-and-white stripes and gilded furniture.
Gray can also be masculine or feminine. Stripes in gray and white (as with Ikea’s Björnloka Duvet Cover and Pillowcase, $30-$50, www.ikea.com), or pinstripes (as with West Elm’s Flannel Sheet Set, $29-$119, www.westelm.com) can set a sporty, menswear-inspired tone.
For a soft, feminine touch, try Anthropologie’s Perpetual Blooms Towel in light gray ($8-$36, www.anthropologie.com). “Gray can be really introspective; it can be calming,” Newport, R.I.-based Smith said. “It seems sort of ephemeral. It can feel light and airy and almost like it’s fleeting.”
Brushed metals, as with Restoration Hardware’s Zinc 5-Drawer Dresser, can also add an industrial feel to a room. “I do quite a bit of zinc case
goods, like metal tables, metal towers. I have been interjecting quite an industrial look into my designs,” Corrie said ($2,095, www.restorationhardware.com).
The industrial vibe not for you? Fear not, Corrie adds. “Those gray, metal, industrial pieces can be worked into all types of environments. It just has to be done creatively and edited appropriately.” The Tolix Marais A Chair was first designed for a 1934 ocean liner, and is now ready for adventurous kitchen tables ($250, www.dwr.com).
Gray will work with any scheme, as long as you match cool tones with cool tones and warm tones with warm tones. “If you go into the cooler tones, there are shades of blue and lilac and lavender or as intense as eggplant that are gorgeous with gray,” Corrie suggests. “With a warmer direction, you can give it a touch of terra cotta or accents of yellow — not a mustard yellow, but just a soft yellow.” West Elm’s Pad Printed Bowls do a little bit of color pairing for you, with gray-and-yellow and gray-and-blue options ($8, www.westelm.com).
Dior used gray to cultivate an environment in his salons that was “chic, sober and pure,” according to Dior Mag, the label’s Web magazine. Add your own dose of chic sobriety to any room this fall and winter with Pine Cone Hill’s textured Candlewick Throw ($134, www.pineconehill.com). Bonus: The throw will also add texture to a space. “You always need a certain amount of interesting contrast,” Smith said. “Often for rooms that are more neutral, texture and finish are a way of adding a layer of decorating and interest to a room.”
A case in point: the pairing of gray wood, bone inlay and a mirrored surface, as with the Parsons Wall Mirror in gray herringbone ($299, www.westelm.com).
The flat-finish Honeycomb Wall Shelf adds a grounding contrast for the shiny trinkets it might hold ($59, www.landofnod.com).
A bit of print and texture can even inject interest into something as utilitarian as a storage bin, such as Garnet Hill’s Hable Storage Bin ($275, www.garnethill.com).
“We used to say every room needs a bit of black, but there’s an idea, too, that every room can be updated with a bit of gray,” Smith said. “It’s a beautiful color. It can update a room and you don’t have to change anything — you can just update your pillows.” Or, just as easily, throw the Shell Bath Mat by Thomas Paul into a bathroom for a quick freshening up ($44, www.2modern.com). “There’s really no end to how you can work with gray in your home,” Smith said.