To understand the role of neutral colours, consider a traditional winter landscape in a temperate climate: snow, bare trees, fragments of dried grass, grey boulders, and leafless shrubs sticking out from the icy terrain on an overcast day.  Without an impression of strong colour, other visual qualities become apparent; details of form and texture seem more pronounced.  This is the power of neutral palette, and the reason it remains an ever-popular strategy for painting rooms. As a recent trend neutral colours are also very popular for the use on exterior painting as they create a timeless scheme which doesn’t go readily out of date.  On the external the landscape is used to decorate these neutral tonal and grey palettes just as the art and furniture is used on the interior.

Black and white and all tones of grey in between, plus the lighter side of the brown family, constitute those hues that are considered neutral.  Yet this label does not mean that using neutral paints in rooms will result in drab or unexciting spaces.  Every paint colour makes a statement, and these shades are no exception.  Anyone who has seen one knows the vitality of a successful black-and-white room, or the enveloping comfort of an all-beige room full of interesting shapes and textures.

One of the most exciting aspects of a neutral palette is its broad flexibility: myriad combinations of whites, greys, beiges, and blacks work together harmoniously.  Thus, pairs, triads, or quartets of neutral shades can be ideal for painting walls in broken colour effects.  A creamy ivory wall with a dragged or combed overcoat in a subtly darker shade of beige or grey creates a hint of pattern and texture in a room with many soft and smooth fabrics and surfaces.  Walls wiht a pale undercoat can also be taped off in a large grid, the squares softly delineated by hand-rubbing beige or tan paint next to the taped areas with a soft rag.  When the tape is removed, the painted effect creates an illusion of stone blocks – a lovely backdrop for classical, light-coloured furnishings.

When a smooth coat of neutral colour paint is used for walls and trim, a successful monochromatic scheme can be built by applying similar values of the same colour for upholstery, floors, and most other furnishings. Then, punch up the drama of the scheme with fully saturated details. Use deep brown details-pillows, picture frames, candle-sticks – with beiges and tans. Accessorise all-grey schemes with black-lacquered side tables and black-painted baskets.  Craft an all-over white scheme, then add one other colour, using a neutral such as straw or taupe, or a single bright hue from the colour wheel, for accessories such as lamps, throws, and pillows.

Applying White Paints

Every manufacturer’s fan deck of colours contains a large section of whites – sometimes more than one hundred different shades and tints of this supposed non-colour.  Bright whites make a crips contrast to almost any other colour; often used as a standard treatment for ceilings, they make an adjacent colour look more lively and true. Creamy whites, with a touch of yellow, orange, or brown, have a softer appearance.  They mimic warm afternoon light, creating a serene setting for reading and relaxing – a great palette for a library bedroom, or office.

Using creamy whites in discernibly different sheens on the walls of a room is one way to achieve an interesting, yet subtle, patterned effect.  For example, stripe a room with an ivory hue, using eggshell and satin sheens of the same shade.  This creates a light, formal look of striped damask.  For another elegant hint of pattern, apply subtle stencilled borders in classical motifs along the perimeters of a room using this same serene juxtaposition of gloss levels.

Picking out trim, holding, doors and windows in glossy, creamy white creates a somewhat aged appearance in rooms, especially when these details are paired with walls finish din vintage colours.  Off-whites, pearl-whites, and putty tans have this historical connotation for many decorators and designers.

Painting with Soft, Neutral Tones

The gentle qualities of pale neutral colours lend themselves to painting linear or subtle geometric patterns.  When used together, soft beiges, tans, whites, and greys will never clash.  By vertically taping a white base coat, stripes of any pale neutral tint will energise a room and also provide an illusion of greater ceiling height.

Taping off sections of wall and painting them in a different soft, neutral shade artfully define a room’s important features.  Surround a large abstract canvas or a hall table with a painted rectangle or square of a neutral shade slightly darker than the base wall colour.  This subtle “framing” effect draws the eye to such focal points.

Using Neutral Paints to Mimic Natural Materials

Slate, marble, granite, and limestone are durable and beautiful natural materials that have become highly desirable for surfacing walls, floors, and countertops.  Yet their distinctive – and expensive – good looks can be duplicated with a bit of practice.  A wooden mantel or fireplace surround, artfully painted to suggest stone, creates an elegant focal point for a living or dining room.

Distinguish an entry hall by painting walls to resemble blocks of stone.  Using a pale smooth base, tape off walls in squares that suggest quarried sections of limestone or sandstone.  Then apply glazes in one or more soft shades that duplicate the chosen stone, rubbing along the taped borders to suggest the subtly shaded edges of cut stone.

Using Beige, Brown and Tan

The colours of and, bark, and wood provide a natural and relaxed harmony in rooms.  Choosing one shade of the brown family for walls, and furnishing a space so enclosed wiht other tints and tones of this hue, creates an immediate sense of warmth and security.  Because of their comforting, earthy quality, such palettes are often chosen for restful spaces: dens, family rooms, and spa bathrooms.  The associations of libraries and spaces for work and reading with materials such as leather and tweed also make a case for painting walls in brown or tan.

Shiny glazed walls in deep chocolate, or warm textured or flat-finished walls in a soft fawn shade, make an elegant background for richly tactile furnishings in nubby fabrics, leathers, or velvets.  Add a touch of formality with crisp, white trim.  Or, soft and make the effect of brown or tan more rustic and countrified by colour washing the chosen shade.