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Fifty Shades of Grey

OK, now I've got your attention(!), what's it all about? Surely greys are too dull and drab to be much use in home decorating?

Actually, greys can be very effective as neutral colours in a room, acting as a great "foil" for a feature wall or coloured furnishings. As a result they have been very much in fashion over the last few years - just have a flick through something like the Next catalogue, for example, and see how many of the rooms in the home furnishings sections have grey walls. Last time I checked I think it was more than 50%, and almost without exception they make all the sofas, cushions , curtains etc look great.

However, there are pitfalls to avoid when choosing greys, and not all greys are created equal...

Robin's Tips for Choosing & Using Greys

1) Come In From The Cold

Mixing greys with blues can be problematic. While the colours don't actually clash, it can result in what I call "North Sea Syndrome". You know what I mean. Think of how the colour of the North Sea on a cold January morning would make you feel, and then imagine painting your bedroom using the same colour scheme. Unless you choose a really bright, fresh blue, it's going to feel at best cool, and at worst cold and depressing. Crown have a colour called "Arctic Grey" which for me epitomises this problem - it's a mid-grey with a hint of cold blue-green to it, and every time I see it I think of Navy ships battling through a North Sea storm...

 

Greys can even make other colours in the room look "colder".  Look at the two boxes below - the cream squares in the middle of each box don't appear to be the same colour (but I can assure you, they are).  The one with the white border appears to be slightly "warmer", with a fractionally more orange-peach hue to it, compared to the one with the grey border, which feels a little less vibrant and "colder".

 

None of this need be a problem - this may be the look and feel you are trying to achieve, but it's certainly something to be aware of, and a reason why I personally don't like combining greys with creams (but this is just my personal taste - you may love it).  If you are using greys and want to avoid "North Sea Syndrome", think about warming up the other colours in the room a shade...

2) Too Much of a Good Thing...

Grey as a neutral is great at "showing off" other colours, particularly strong, vibrant tones (teal, lime green, fuchsia pink etc). Use it with "weaker" colours, and it can suck the warmth out of them (see above). So if you're going to paint your whole room grey (rather than having a strong feature wall in an otherwise grey room), make sure you have some strongly coloured furnishings. Even if you like the whole monotone idea - which can look really striking - think about including some pure white or pure black, so the whole room isn't just various shades of grey. 

3) Pure is the Cure - a Cautionary Tale

"Not all greys are created equal", I said earlier in this post. The problem is that many aren't "pure" greys, i.e. they are not just a blend of black and white. Many have a hint of blue in, or a hint of khaki or yellow ochre. "Warm greys" (greys with a little - or even a lot - of beige-brown mixed in) are forecast to become really popular. These can all be fabulous colours in their own right, but you have to be careful where you use them. Remember our old friend Crown Arctic Grey (the one that has some blue-green tones to it)? It's a great colour (see below) if that steely, cold blue-grey is what you are looking for. The trouble with greys is, they can be "colour chameleons"...

Crown Arctic Grey

The first time I came across Arctic Grey - and I should stress, I am not in any way trying to say it's a colour to avoid, or to imply any dislike for Crown Paints at all - a customer had chosen it from the Crown web site. At the time, the Crown web site had a blue background, and the little colour swatch of Arctic Grey (like the one above) looked like a pure, soft dove grey. However, the room I was painting didn't have a blue background. It had a bright red feature wall and furnishings.

Against the blue colour on the web page, the colour looked "non-blue" - by comparison with its blue surroundings, it looked anything but blue. But when you put it against a contrasting colour such as the scarlet feature wall, the hint of blue in Arctic Grey really came out, and it felt as if we were standing not in a grey and red room, but in a blue and red room. No grey at all, and definitely NOT what the customer had imagined when she'd seen the colour on the web site.

The moral of the tale? Greys are fashionable, greys are useful, greys are cool, in more than one sense. But you need to be careful where you use them, especially when they are not pure greys. So get a sample or matchpot and.... no, don't paint it on the wall. Paint it on some lining paper or white card, which you can then stick up in different places around the room to see how the grey works with the other colours you have, and with different lighting levels, and so on.  Then get in touch, and I'll come and paint it on the walls for you!

 



 

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