In some camps, beige is something of a bad word. A query to designers and the design-minded yielded responses such as: “First of all, don’t call it beige” and “beige needs a new name.” And yet, drop the bland connotations and you see that the color can be a complex, yet soothing backdrop.
So complex, in fact, it’s difficult to define. The dictionary describes it as a “pale, sandy, yellowish-brown color.” But the color range can be better understood by looking at the synonyms that follow the listing: “fawn, pale brown, buff, sand, sandy, oatmeal, khaki, coffee, cafe au lait, ecru...” Add to that the popularity of the gray-beige color dubbed “greige” and the nearly, but not quite, white shade called “off-white” and you are glimpsing the tip of the iceberg.
“Beige is a beautiful French word meaning the color of undyed wool,” says interior designer Sarah Reid of Small Victories Design. “Sadly, the worst of American design tendencies got its grips on the word and now it means bland, bland, bland. It's like ordering the chicken on a menu: very safe.”
In order to get her clients to consider the hue, Reid uses almost any other moniker. “I use the words biscuit, camel, or taupe mostly. If I suggest we use beige to a client they look at me like ‘why did I hire you?’ so I have to use synonyms and a lot of adjectives to get people to be open to it.”
But as William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” No matter what you call beige, it remains a popular choice and these design pros tell us why. —Mary Jo Bowling
When she selects beige colors, Jennifer Jones of Niche Interiors opts for the grayer side of the shade. “Cumulus Cloud is a tried and true favorite,” she says. “It has just the right mix of warmth and earthiness without looking drab."
Despite the “gray” in the name, this color is described by architect Risa Boyer Leritz of Risa Boyer Architecture as a “dark, gray-beige.”
She used it in this living room because it worked well with the other mushroom-colored furniture and and tied the space together. “The color made the room feel more intimate,” she says.
Another Leritz favorite is this neutral color. “It’s light, it works with many different colors, and it is gorgeous in all lighting conditions,” she says.
This is another gray-beige or greige. It’s so grayish, that designers called it out for our article about best gray hues for interiors. But when asked about favorite beige tones, we had several designers and architects also cite this color, including Tim Barber.
The architect used it in the living room above, explaining: “We chose it for this room to temper the warm-colored southwest flooding through the windows and French doors.”
This is a color Barber chooses that displays the browner side of beige. He says that the key to beige’s versatility lies in its earthiness. “Beige is really brown, and brown includes all other colors in it. So, like the earth, it makes a strong foundation for the other colors in a room,” he says.
For a beige with a rosy outlook, Barber says he often opts for this color.
Interior designer Brian Dittmar uses this beige shade as a “visual rest” between a salmon-colored living room and a dusty-blue dining room. “It wound up being the perfect bridge between the two more colorful spaces,” he says.
As a bonus, the darker color allows the space’s assets to shine. “In this space, we had a lot of nice trim—the staircase railing as well as deep crown molding and baseboard—which was all painted a crisp white. It provided great contrast against the beige walls.”
When color consultant Shannon Kaye was asked to create a video project for Kelly-Moore Paints that would show how a room could be easily transformed by changing the art, she chose Abbey Road as the background color.
“The key to making this color successful with almost any interior plan is to add contrast with light, dark, and bright colors for definition and unique furnishings and art for a personal touch,” she says.
Kenny Grono of Buckminster Green worked with interior designer Jamie Swidler on this window-lined family room. Swidler chose this beige color to keep the space from being too cold. “The room gets so much light that during the day the beige acts white, and a white would be too stark,” says Grono. “At night, with the warm colored stained concrete floor, the beige makes the room an inviting place to curl up and read or sit on the radiant heated floor and play video games.”
Grono says that while a lot of his clients are using gray as a neutral, he recently had a client opt for this sophisticated beige for the whole house.
Interior designer Martha Angus calls this beige hue her “absolutely favorite go-to color.” The fact that it goes with everything has earned it a place on her best-of list. To her the name is apt, as she compares it to a warm limestone.
Dittmar is using the neutral color in other projects as well. “I'm loving any shade that has a pink tone (or undertone) to it,” he says. “Maybe that's the antidote to the last few years of gray this and gray that which we've been seeing.”
He found such a color in Frosted Toffee. “It's not quite beige and it's not quite gray, and it's not really taupe either. But it is a warm neutral and has a rosy glow at night,” Dittmar says. “Colors that you can't quite define are great options that don't box you into a certain color scheme.”