Who says beige is boring? Neutral home decor can actually afford you more freedom and help create a cozy, comfortable environment. If you want an inviting and relaxing home, it's essential to consider all the ways that less is more.
This is not to say that your home can’t still have plenty of personality with a neutral color palette. On the contrary, there are many ways to inject life and visual appeal into your neutral home decor.
Neutrals: A Lesson on Color
What does neutral color really mean? We probably think of white or beige when we talk about "neutrals" in design and decor. But many tones, colors, and even some patterns can "read" as neutral making them versatile and easy to incorporate.
Neutral colors are typically shades of white, grey, black, cream, taupe, beige, brown, and even certain blues. As you can imagine, so many levels and tones can fit into those broad color categories. What's more, neutrals will often change depending on the lighting.
Neutral colors are muted, softer, and often play well with each other. Some small patterns and textures will still appear as neutrals, especially if you pair them carefully and focus on ways to add visual interest and layers to the space. Earthy tones can also work as neutrals—think terra cotta and grey-green.
Photography: Jennifer Lavelle
It’s also important to note that neutral doesn’t mean without pattern or texture. Even metal finishes can read as neutral. Wood tones fall into a neutral category, as does marble. You can use even leather, shearling, bouclé and, in some cases, carefully placed animal print as a neutral in home decor.
The key to working with neutrals is to realize that neutrals offer a perfect palette to dress up or down. When you're working with neutrals, you'll usually avoid design that feels chaotic or busy. Instead, the space will feel clean, fresh, modern, carefully curated, and sophisticated. Yet, neutral doesn’t mean boring. A room (or a whole home) can be designed in a neutral color palette and still be very intriguing.
7 Ways to Use Timeless Neutrals in Your Design
We’ve all seen vintage design, where the decade of origin is blatantly obvious. Think of the candy-pink stoves in the 1950s or avocado and mustard yellow that permeated the 1970s. Time periods are often marked with specific color trends.
While there’s nothing wrong with following a decor trend, by their transitory nature, trends can quickly make your home appear dated (or outdated). Instead, neutrals are timeless, easy to work with and create a fun playground for design. Here are a few tips for working with neutrals.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
1. Set Up a Neutral Base
Using a neutral color palette allows you flexibility in your accent pieces. You can invest in a few trend-forward items, and they’ll stand out against the other, neutral decor. A room can be a neutral canvas with furniture and decor items that catch the eye and capture your personality.
Neutral walls and flooring are almost always a sound choice. If you’re building and designing a new home, consider finishes that fall somewhere on the neutral spectrum—browns, greiges, taupes, whites, and sometimes even greens—to name a few. Black can also be considered a neutral base color, but it can be more challenging to work with in terms of walls, flooring, or trim, so use it carefully… but, every room should have at least a pop of black in our opinion!
Design + Image: Three Birds Renovations
2. Mix Materials
When working with neutral colors, you can enjoy a lot of flexibility in mixing different materials. If you choose wood, stone, tile, and textiles in similar tones, you can layer those different materials in a room to set up a base that’s aesthetically pleasing and visually interesting.
I personally love mixing textures and textiles. For example, a shearling blanket, a leather chair, and a tweed ottoman may fall into the same color category but can look so different and appealing when used together. You can also branch out to mix materials in several neutral colors to add depth and dimension.
3. Layer Tones
Speaking of depth, if you really want to add a level of refinement and sophistication to a room, it’s all about layering tones. A tone refers to the level of “grey” that a color contains. So, for example, working with several tones of white or off-white can create such an inviting space.
You can also mix multiple cool or warm-toned neutrals within a room. Cool greys and silvery whites often go well together. Warm browns play well with ivory and cream. Mixing hardware finishes will allow a space to feel more timeless. Consider polished nickel (a cool-toned metal with a warm undertone) paired with the warmer tones of unlacquered brass or gold for even more visual interest.
4. Layer Shades & Tints
The difference between shade, tint, and tone is subtle but crucial. Shade refers to the amount of black added to a pure color or hue. Tint refers to the amount of white. For example, red can be tinted pink. Usually, when we refer to a color as lighter or darker, we're referring to the shade.
You can play with multiple shades of the same color. For example, using different wood pieces within a room’s decor can mean multiple shades of the same brown. Experiment with different shades of beige or varying tints of the same brown color to add contrast to the room while keeping the look cohesive.
5. Lighting is Crucial
Some of the most interesting homes I’ve seen have had neutral-colored walls throughout. You may think creamy white walls sound bland, but with the proper lighting, you can make each room appear very different and unique. Natural light might bring out certain undertones and make a room appear larger.
Conversely, some overhead lights can make a room appear washed out and detract from the subtle differences in a neutral color palette. So it’s important to consider each room's location and type of lighting to make the most of your color scheme.
Photography: Caroline Sharpnack
6. Texture is Everything
I adore texture, whether it’s in clothing or home decor. You can do so much by layering different textures in a space. When you start to incorporate textiles in your decor, you can especially experiment with different texture choices. Try pairing silks with hemp or cotton fabrics. Use a neutral-colored wallpaper with a great raised pattern, or plaster—one of our most favorite wall treatments that's full of natural beauty and organic movement.
Texture can also be a great way to make a space feel warmer and more inviting. You're already on the right path if you gravitate toward natural textures. Natural materials like cotton, linen, bamboo and grasscloth offer excellent texture differences. Layering several textures in similar neutral colors will make your decor feel deliberate and intentional.
7. Change It Up
Using neutral colors in your decor doesn't mean it has to be constant or unchanging. In fact, by changing your decor often and making little adjustments to accent pieces, artwork, and other visual components, you can really make a room feel interesting and exciting.
One of the most essential guidelines for any design is to create a space where you feel happy and comfortable. Focus on items that make a room feel curated and bespoke—pieces that evoke memories and emotions. If you aren’t sure that a color scheme works for you, make a few adjustments until it feels right.
A major benefit of neutral home decor is that it can still feel welcoming. You can make shades of white, grey, taupe, or brown feel warm and personal. Neutrals are flexible and easy to use. It’s like working with a blank canvas to create a space that is uniquely your very own. While color is currently all the rage within the interior design world, I believe there will always be a place for neutrals.
So how do you feel about neutrals? What are your biggest challenges when working with neutral decor? Let me know in the comments below!