Decorating With Gray
Gray Paint 101
In decorating circles, gray is the new white—and has been for a while. It’s a more elegant neutral that gives depth to subtle colors and makes bold tones pop (rather than shout). But getting gray right is tricky: The “temperature” of a particular shade—cool or warm—can evoke very different feelings and have an enormous impact on the mood of a room.
3 Expert Tricks
1. Use flat paint, not semigloss or high-gloss, on walls. “Otherwise, any beautiful gray you choose will look like industrial metal—imagine a Dumpster,” says Mark Chamberlain, a New York City painter and a color columnist for apartmenttherapy.com. Although flat white wall paint is often avoided because it shows smudges and fingerprints, “gray actually hides flaws.”
2. With gray walls, opt for creamy trim, says Erica Islas, a designer in Culver City, California. Stark white can look too jarring. White Dove paint is a good woodwork choice with both light and dark gray walls (from $41 a gallon, benjaminmoore.com for stores).
3. Introduce lots of light sources, like table lamps, sconces, and floor lamps. Says Jessica Becker, a Rhode Island interior designer: “Gray is already the color of shadow—you don’t want to cast more with an overhead fixture. Layered lighting keeps the room flattering.”
To buy: Revere Pewter HC-172 (similar to shown), from $41 a gallon, benjaminmoore.com for stores.
Soft, Calm, Upscale
With its slightly greenish bent, the gray here pairs well with blues, white, and even a pop of citrus.
Two grays of varying hues on the walls give a room added depth.
Serene and Soothing
Though at face value a palette of grays might seem bleak, it’s actually sophisticated, with a hint of luxury, even.
A Shade Beyond White
Where once white was the go-to, gray has the same go-with-everything nature but it’s far more interesting.
Ethereal and breezy, these grays have undertones of blue. “Think of the darkening sky before a storm,” says New York City interior designer Jennifer Moore. In a sunny room (where some grays could look dull), cool grays hold their color. Zen and peaceful, these are also perfect for a crisp, clean feeling in a bathroom.
Cool Grays: Light
“Like a summer cloud,” says London designer Abigail Ahern. “Wonderful on ceilings as well as walls.”
To buy: Weathered Stone UL25, from $40 a gallon, ralphlaurenpaint.com for stores.
Cool Grays: Dark
“Adds excitement and a sort of modern glamour. I love it for a dining room,” says Ahern.
To buy: Chelsea Gray HC-168, from $41 a gallon, benjaminmoore.com for stores.
The hints of yellow in warm grays telegraph earthiness, comfort, and coziness. When you test on walls, check colors morning, noon, and night, says Moore: “In some light, a yellowish gray can look taupe.” For rooms without much natural light, pick a warm shade; its slight golden hue will make a dark space less dreary.
Warm Grays: Light
“I often see this uplifting color in Parisian homes, "says Ahern. "To me, it conveys low-key luxury and contentment.”
To buy: Elephant’s Breath 229, from $80 a gallon, farrow-ball.com.
Warm Grays: Dark
“I love this strong shade; it has a sense of history. Fantastic with high-voltage patterns and colors,” says Ahern.
To buy: Charleston Gray 243, from $80 a gallon, farrow-ball.com.
Gray and Pale Blue
“These close tones make a natural combination that’s perfect for the color-shy,” says Sally Steponkus, an interior designer in Washington, D.C. “Together they feel subdued and sophisticated.”
Lush antiques counter the starkness of modern prints; the connecting point is the cool palette.
To buy: Granitine 29-30 (similar to shown), from $31 a gallon, prattandlambert.com for stores.
Handblown and almost too exquisite to disturb with flowers.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find a similar vase at calvinklein.com.
Spa-like in the bathroom, stacked with towels.
To buy: Parsons bookshelf, $249, homedecorators.com.
A sweet touch for a gray or white nightstand.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find a similar knob at anthropologie.com.
Functional art, perfectly sized for a desk.
To buy: Lacey Brick lamp, $470, etsy.com.
A special place to stash jewelry.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find a similar style at lazysusanusa.com.
Ivory piping makes a boxy silhouette more refined.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find other sofas at crateandbarrel.com.
Play down the pattern with solid gray sheets.
To buy: Peacock Dove cotton-sateen full-queen duvet set, $280 for a duvet and two shams, dwellstudio.com.
Gray and Red
“Light gray and red can create a variety of moods—historic, nautical, French,” says Nan Kornfeld, an architectural color specialist based in San Francisco. “Darker gray and red is a strong, somewhat heavy combination with a solid, masculine feel.”
Deep gray walls create a cozy haven, making red accents even more dramatic.
To buy: Gray Shower 2125-30 (similar to shown), from $41 a gallon, benjaminmoore.com for stores.
A wow moment against a red entryway wall.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find a similar mirror at bungalow5.com.
Leather Parlor Chair
Lipstick red invigorates a stately (but potentially stuffy) piece.
To buy: Flores chair, $2,999, eliteleather.com for stores.
Ideal for a playroom—hides dirt and works well with bright colors.
To buy: Gray Grain rug, $455 (five by eight feet), claytongrayhome.com.
The color keeps this industrial piece from looking cold.
To buy: Strut console table, $449, bludot.com.
Tailored, with a cheeky sense of humor.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find other pillows at velocityartanddesign.com.
For barware or breakfast in bed.
To buy: Lacquer Hexagon tray, $175, jonathanadler.com.
Gray and Yellow
“Saturated yellows can look intensely modern, especially with darker grays,” says Kornfeld. “Pale gray and pale yellow together can feel opulent and refined.”
Floor-to-ceiling drapes in happy, look-at-me yellow wake up a neutral scene and dial down more serious furnishings.
To buy: Fusion AF-675 (similar to shown), from $41 a gallon, benjaminmoore.com for stores.
Tapestry-inspired and luxuriously tactile.
To buy: Perpetual Blooms hand towel, $18; and bath towel, $36: anthropologie.com.
An updated retro style works in a modern or traditional room.
To buy: Woodhouse bed, $3,095, jonathanadler.com.
Pair it with a low glass coffee table to show off the graphic pattern.
To buy: Chiesa Yellow rug, $4,185 (nine by six feet), therugcompany.info for stores.
Wood Side Table
A round gray lamp would sober up this kooky piece.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find other side tables at ikea.com.
Try two over a kitchen island for some upbeat Brooklyn charm.
To buy: Unfortunately, this item is no longer available, but find a similar light at roomandboard.com.
Tight silk pleats reveal a hint of yellow.
To buy: Kalina pillow, $75 (18 by 18 inches), blisslivinghome.com.
Extra-rich juxtaposed with a charcoal sofa.
To buy: Unfortunately this item is no longer available, but you can see similar products at roomandboard.com.