Grays are so popular, they populate interiors like so many thunderclouds in a stormy sky. The color, once considered somber and gloomy, is seemingly America’s favorite neutral and, unlike those cumulonimbus rain clouds, it shows no signs of dissipating any time soon. We asked interior designers about the shade’s staying power and their favorite gray hues.
Rachael Stollar and Erin Fearins of CWB Architects say that grays are terrific neutral backdrops and they have a handful that they consider go-tos. "It allows intense colors to really shine," they say. "It's also great in subtle tone-on-tone rooms and can provide an elegant canvas when using multiple textures within a neutral palette."
Stollar and Fearins say that complex grays can be the easiest to work with, such as Rodeo by Benjamin Moore, a shade they used in a master bedroom.
"We tend to select grays that actually have multiple colors within them," they say. "This enlivens the space as the light changes throughout the day keeping the color from feeling one note or gloomy. Testing the color on the walls of the room it will be used in is key to selecting the right shade."
Interior designer Tineke Triggs of Artistic Designs for Living says gray’s versatility causes her to select it. "It can be elegant, rustic, tranquil, bright, subtle, or dramatic—there are so many ways to use it," she says.
In this Lake Tahoe kitchen, the designer used Revere Pewter on the walls because of its warm undertones. "The colder the gray, the more gloomy it appears," she says. "By introducing interesting accessories, a range of materials, and unexpected pops of color, you can create chic living spaces that are anything but gloomy."
The designer chose a darker gray for the kitchen cabinets. "Iron Mountain is a dramatic, deep gray," she says. "We used this for the cabinets to create a rustic, yet contemporary mood."
Interior designer Jeff Schlarb of Green Couch agrees that gray’s gloomy reputation is a thing of the past. "We have been selecting warm grays for years," he says. "It keeps things light and airy."
Soft grays, such as this shade called Seattle Mist, allows subtle colors to shine, according to Schlarb.
Gray’s versatility is due to its large range, according to architect Sarah Zames of General Assembly. She cites the shade’s ability to go warm or cool. They use it in rooms that are sun-filled as well as spaces that are sun-challenged, such as the project above.
Sheri Olson of Sheri Olson Architecture declares gray is her favorite color. "I always say, if it’s not white, it had better be gray," she says. She often selects the shade for interiors, and calls Pavilion Gray by Farrow & Ball one of her nearly foolproof choices.
The architect says that she resisted the grayness of Seattle, where she’s based, for the first few years, but changed her mind. "I started to see what a wonderfully subtle color gray can be as the light changes," she says.
Olson says this equine-named color is tricky. "It can look a little green, but with the light in this house it works. It’s important to paint large trial samples on the walls to see if the color is right for your home," she says. "The right white trim and ceiling also help to set gray off and make it feel crisp and light."
"I believe gray remains a popular choice for interiors because it is an architectural color," Olson says. "Done right, it appears to be an integral part of the house, not just applied color. It is subtle, sophisticated, and timeless." She considers Farrow & Ball’s Dimpse another choice that works for most interiors.
Laura Martin Bovard of LMB Interiors went dark and dramatic for this gray accent wall. She agrees that it’s one of the most flexible shades, comparing it to white in that way. However, she finds that many grays need a friend.
"The key to keeping gray from going gloomy is to be daring enough to use some color with it," she says. "I think it’s meant to be a base, it’s a supporting character and not the star."
She says that she loves the color and hopes not to get over it anytime soon. "I keep wondering if I am going to get as tired of it as I did brown," she says. "I wore brown out, and I don’t want to do that with gray."