Neutral Paint Colors: A Complete Guide to Choosing Subtle Hues | Architectural Digest

Presented by HGTV Home® by Sherwin-Williams

If you thought neutral paint colors were boring, think again. “A neutral paint color isn’t essential; it’s the best quiet player,” says New York-based designer Jennifer Hunter. She emphasizes that wall paint acts as a foundation in the room, anchoring all other design elements. She adds that although neutral colors look very familiar and calm, However, the tones are contrasted to match the surrounding environment.

The range of neutral shades is endless: vanilla cream will have a different effect than pure ivory, while a shift to icy gray will completely change the mood. HGTV Home® From Sherwin-Williams’ Simple Scandinavian color palette, for example, has 16 neutral options that range from cool, misty tones to warm beige tones. To understand how these muted colors can best be used to reflect the design aesthetic you want without flaking, we asked designers to consider the power of rational players. Here are five tips on choosing a neutral color palette without silencing the room.

Get to know the neutrals

Neutral doesn’t unequivocally mean beige, gray, or white—though, of course, they’re all part of the family, says Rosette Arditi, a New York-based designer. It turns out that the neutral palette includes a wide range of paint colors to complement many décor and interior styles. “We often use a darker blush or a paler blue instead of a bright white,” says Melissa Lee, founder and director of Bespoke Only, in New York. “Shapes like this can be very versatile and exhilarating.”

Let the space’s lighting guide your choice in neutral paint.
Photo: Sam Frost

Consider the light

Lighting, whether natural or artificial, is crucial when it comes to choosing the perfect neutral paint color. It shows me that the amount of light a room receives will affect how a certain gradient appears in that particular space. Bright natural sunlight whitens the color, and a darkened room, on the other hand, will saturate the color. You’ll also have to pay attention to how natural light moves around the room throughout the day, notes Fanny Abbas, creative director of the New York Design Project. “It’s important to understand that a neutral gray will look very different in a room that gets natural light versus a room that gets minimal light,” she says. To fully understand the mysterious properties of these colors, paint a section of the wall and live with it for a few days. Play with your light bulbs, too. The overhead lamp and the floor lamp will cast different shades and distort the look of the color.

Group the colors by family

Neutral paint can shine through in vibrantly decorated rooms as well as rooms that lean toward minimalism—think Scandinavian design with blonde wood and streamlined furniture. “The beauty of neutral tones is that they generally go well with anything,” Lee notes. To incorporate a partnership between paint and furniture, stick to similar color temperatures—warm or cool—to avoid any harsh transitions.

Abbas agrees to group the colors inside the room. “If you’re working with a warmer cream palette, you can layer complementing shades of warm brown, gold, and tan, to create diversity and depth within a space,” she says. Unsure whether warm or cool tones are best for your space? Look at the current surroundings, notes Ashley Banbury, senior color designer at HGTV Home® by Sherwin-Williams. “If your home has mainly blues and grays in it, you want a cool neutral color; if your home consists of warmer tones, like terracotta and brown, you might gravitate toward warmer shades,” Banbury says.

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