Happy August One and All!  
The dog days of summer are upon us.  Hopefully you've spent plenty of time outside enjoying the weather, a vacation, family activities, the beach, fun parties and good eats. Summer is a lively, active time, hence why bright colors are typically associated with this season - yellow sun, blue skies, green grass, turquoise water, red lobsters, purple flowers, and hot pink tank tops. But we find homeowners are not always as receptive to bold color when it comes to their interiors. That's why we see so much neutral decor among the homes we visit - neutrals are safer and more flexible to work with. 

But neutral color schemes also get a bad reputation for being boring and blah.  Designers, on the other hand, see the underlying chicness to using off-whites, browns and grays in decor.  We contend that neutrals can be very sophisticated in look and soothing in feel.  So if you're not comfortable with a lot of color, but bored by the monotony of typical neutrals, here are five easy ways to freshen up a neutral palette:

1. Go gray:  Tans, beiges, and ivory have been the long standing neutral of choice for years, but the new favorite neutral is gray. Don't think of it in association with cement, storm clouds or prison cells that have a cold, gloomy connotation, but be open minded to the sophistication potential of the hues within this base color, from light (e.g. silver and fieldstone) to dark (e.g. charcoal and raven).  And remember, the color doesn't have to come through just in wall colors, but in other decorative elements as well.    

2. Vary the shades within the palette:   Just as there many shades of blues or reds, so are there of creams, browns and grays to choose from and mix and match.   In fact, we recommend incorporating multiple shades of your preferred palette in order to break up the tedium of the scheme to add depth and more visual interest to the space.  This may be achieved with accent walls, patterns in window treatments and upholstery, the colors in the area rug, accessories and even the furniture.  A good guide is the multi-color paint cards that display the lightest and darkest shades within a coordinated color family.

3. Balance warm and cool:  Browns will feel warm and grays will feel cool, but too much of one can be overbearing.  The easy way to offset that, and add more visual interest, is to counter balance the primary with the opposite tones.   For example, in a blue-gray room, you might want to soften it with accents in off-white, creams or light browns; in another gray space, balancing it with a taupe will warm it up. A mostly white/cream room needs some contribution from another neutral palette to give it dimension.

4. Add pop with contrasting color:   Monotone color schemes can always be made more dramatic with pops of color in small doses and the more contrast, the more drama.  (This technique also applies to palettes that are not necessarily based in brown or gray, but are still mostly monotone.)  Practically any color can work with neutrals, but some of my favorites are blue, green, red and orange with brown, and purple, yellow, red and green with gray.  Again, just small doses will achieve the affect - pillows, vases, throw blanket, artwork, area rug and window treatments.  And don't forget, black alone is a strong punctuation point to any neutral decor. 

5.  Add texture, shape and pattern:  When the color theme alone feels perhaps flat, another way to add dimension is through textures, shapes and patterns.  For example, you wouldn't want all smooth surfaces composing the room - offset leather with a wool fabric in another chair; balance a glass table with natural wood accents; use a shiny fabric in your drapes against the matte wall. It's the lighting that will pull out the hues and shadows of the textures to give the pieces more character. Incorporating large and unique shapes in the furnishings (think accent tables, ottomans, area rugs, bed boards, counter curves) and wall decor (think round mirrors, clocks, metal sculptures) contrast nicely with otherwise straight lines. Finally, if there are large areas of solids (like the sofa and chairs or bedding), get a rug that is tone-on-tone and window treatments in a large, yet soft, pattern; black and white photography for wall art is also a great option.                                        

If you need a more soothing, calming atmosphere in your living room, bedroom, office or dining room, neutral color schemes are a very good solution.  The monotone nature of this decor approach minimizes busyness in a space, thus exuding more serenity.  

Neutral does not have to be bland or sterile - in fact, quite the opposite: with the right implementation and balance of color, texture, and pattern, your space can be very fresh, inviting, and classy looking.  We realize it's easier said than done, so don't be afraid to call on us if you need assistance in achieving this look.       

Have a great rest of the summer! 

AuthorPaul Allegro