Has Gray Had Its Day? Designers Dish
We know you're dying to know because we were, too. Is gray totally yay, kind-of nay or altogether passé?
Photo By: Julie Soefer
Photo By: Julie Soefer
Photo By: Amy Bartlam
Photo By: Mia Baxter Smail
Photo By: Colin Price Photography
Photo By: Breeze Giannasio
Photo By: Stacy Zarin Goldberg
Photo By: Laura Metzler
Photo By: Mike Schwartz
Photo By: Mike Schwartz
Photo By: Chipper Hatter
Photo By: Chipper Hatter
Photo By: Morgan Blake Beatton
Photo By: John Woodcock
"Neutral hues boast a timeless quality that transcends trend, but the days of monochromatic gray interiors appear to be dwindling," says interior designer Marie Flanigan. "Although we’re seeing less full-on gray spaces, people continue to be drawn to the thoughtful use of the hue. It serves as a calming accent and can be layered in through varied textures, like velvet, linen and sateen, to enhance depth and interest in any space." The lesson here? A little goes a long way.
Bright + White
If the all-gray color craze is fading, which neutral is taking gray’s place? Marie has an answer for that, too. "As far as hot neutrals are concerned, we’re noticing a shift back to white, and it’s a shift we absolutely adore! Bright and refreshing, white has a classic appeal that offers the eye a respite, expertly balancing out any stronger colors and textures found within a space," she says.
Interior designer Jenn Feldman deems gray an expert in harmony, and for this reason, she plans to keep it around — especially in her California designs. "California is graced with blue skies and green trees 365 days a year; therefore, gray is an amazing color to use in design in our California projects because it balances the saturation of the colors coming from outside so well," she explains. "When the tones are too icy or too red, gray can be a very moody color, so we gravitate to the 'greige' category quite a bit, making sure there's a beige undertone to complement the colors reflected by the warmer climates."
While interior designer Sarah Wittenbraker may be leaning toward warmer grays and taupes nowadays, she still has a soft spot for classic gray when it comes to stone. "My favorite use of gray is in natural stone and marble," she says. "In fabric and paint, gray is still reigning over, say, chocolate brown, but I think the tone is leaning warmer, more into the taupe arena. I’m loving touches of warm taupey-gray mixed with rich, saturated greens and blues much more than the standard, crisp gray-and-white combo that has been popular this past decade. Colors are getting a bit muddier and moodier, and I’m loving the drama!"
Navy as a Neutral
"My clients are a big mix, and some definitely still love grays, from nearly-whites to deep charcoals," says interior designer Noz Nozawa. "It's been on-trend in the real estate market for years, too, so for clients who are looking to spruce up their homes before putting them on the market, light grays are a safe, attractive choice."
While Noz is still happy to use gray, she also loves the chance to play with fresh, moody neutrals, too. "I am lucky to have clients who also want to explore what other colors can read as neutrals, so probably as often as I use grays, I'm using inky, indigo navy shades, too. Navy in a home is like jeans for your outfit: It goes with everything." Personally, I dig this dining room almost as much as I dig my favorite denim, and that’s saying something.
Warm It Up
"There's still a lot to love about gray," says interior designer Breeze Giannasio, "but I find that when I use it these days, I'm always looking for ways to diversify the spectrum, often adding warmth through pops of wood, leather and colorful abstract art or rugs with a lovely patina, etc. Texture and earthy, natural tones are the way to make it feel multidimensional." Breeze suggests you follow her lead to avoid an unsightly outcome. "Without those elements, you risk being stuck in a cold time capsule circa 2015 - 2017," she says.
So where is Breeze’s color compass guiding her? As she says herself, it’s complex. "I do love a soft, de-saturated neutral that leans gray — the color story becomes so complex — but I find myself leaning into purer whites for a more modern look. I use a lot of Farrow and Ball paint in my work, and honestly, it's hard to tell sometimes where a complex white ends, and a soft gray begins."
"Gray is forever and will never go out of style," says interior designer Kerra Michele Huerta. "Because it comes in so many shades and tones, you can pair it with any other color, and it serves as a perfect neutral in any palette or design." Her soft gray and white kitchen design speaks to this, and a peep out the kitchen window speaks to her next point. "For those in search of a neutral that’s a little more unexpected, however, they may look no further than their own backyards. Natural shades of green and blue are nature’s neutrals and can also be added to most any color grouping as a neutral base that’s a bit more vibrant."
A Chicago Shade
"Since we are based in Chicago, using gray feels natural, and many of our clients are comfortable with us creating a scheme off of gray as a neutral," says interior designer Janelle Kando of Elizabeth Krueger Design. She speculates client preferences may be different on the coast, but, nevertheless, she considers gray a timeless choice for any place, anywhere. "The color gray has so many hues within it, it’s hard not to find one that can work with any project."
Down to the Details
"It's important to consider several things before deciding whether gray will be the best fit for your space," says interior designer Aarti Patel of Elizabeth Krueger Design, "like the architecture and history of the home, the client's personal style and aesthetic, as well as the overall room as a whole." But don’t worry, diehard gray fans — Aarti has good news. "The beauty of gray is that the options are endless. There's something for everyone, so it's easy to incorporate it into various rooms. Gray is one of the most versatile hues in the spectrum, so I think that while other colors might come in as the 'next big thing,' gray will always stay 'in' for the long."
Turn Up the Heat
Interior designer Corine Maggio shares her insight into the design world’s gray dilemma: "Gray is still very popular, but the cooler grays may not be as popular moving forward as they have been. We often specify warm grays that are more versatile and less cold. These will likely be longer lasting," she explains. Warm or cold, gray is a color Corine will keep in her color wheel for the long term. "Gray will always be an important color when designing. It can offer balance and contrast in a neutral way, which can be very effective. Though less people are asking for cool grays on their walls, we still use these tones in upholstery, rugs and even cabinetry!"
Dare to Go Dark
Don’t let Corine’s soft (gray) side fool you, though. She’s not afraid to embrace fresh, new neutrals. And she does the dark side well, friends. Here’s what she has to say about it: "Black has been pretty popular for a while but is not for the faint of heart. Soft greens seem to be coming into the fold and being used as a neutral, and we use certain blues, like navy, as a neutral all the time!"
A Background Basic
"I think gray is still very much a go-to neutral," says interior designer Sandie Tsai. "It's a good palette to use as a jumping-off point for other colors that are trending right now: pink, sage green, jewel tones, etc. I'm also seeing more designs where gray is used as an undertone for colors: bluish grays, greens with hints of gray, dark, dramatic grays, etc."
Paint It White (Or Paint It Light)
"I love gray; I think I always will," says interior designer Lexi Westergard. "However, I am definitely using it differently than I have in the past. I still love it for bathroom cabinet colors, pillows, rugs and accents. I am loving more of a greige or white for wall colors. I think this year we will see white as the dominant, go-to neutral color for walls."
If bright, white walls are a bit out of your comfort zone, try a warm gray tone that’s light enough to almost look white, like Lexi did in this living room. She chose Benjamin Moore’s Classic Gray, one of her favorite paint colors.
More Is More
"I think the overall gray trend is dying down slightly but is still going to be a classic, as it is a neutral," says interior designer Joe Human. Though he’s not ready to say goodbye to classic gray, he is ready to say hello to dynamic design. "I am personally seeing a lot more 'more is more' trends, where color and pattern are prevalent (which I love), but that can still be used effectively with gray. Gray is such a unique color, because it can combine and unify so many different types of design and color choices, just like in fashion. A light-colored sofa with colorful pillows and accessories will always be a classic."