Are neutrals out? Designers weigh in


The chaos that was 2020 was, in some ways, also quite boring. Confined to the same four corners on a day-to-day basis had the world rethinking where they live and how they spruce up their spaces.

Accordingly, bland color palettes are on their way out – the popularity of grey and greige has been abandoned in favor of personality-embodying hues.

“Some people are growing tired of [greige], but that happened previously with beige, too,” said Dee Frazier, CEO and principal designer of Dee Frazier Interiors, Plano, Texas.

Ms. Frazier’s comments were featured in the 2020 Luxury Portfolio article, “Rethinking greige in the new decade.” It still resonates, signifying the slow shift from grey to new palettes.  

The trend continues, as discussed by experts in last year’s Luxury Portfolio Luxury Hour, “Off the Wall: Trends in Color, Paint and Wallpaper.”

“I have a very agnostic relationship towards the grey palette,” said Patrick O’Donnell, international brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball, during the webinar. “It’s not somewhere that makes me particularly happy, and I kind of grit my teeth when I walk into grey spaces, so I love the fact that we are moving on from that.”

Heating up or cooling down?

As overly neutral palettes are rejected, the question becomes whether to embrace cooler or warmer tones.

The beauty of home design is that there are no rules, according to Amy Vroom, owner and creative director of The Residency Bureau in Seattle, Washington, also featured on Luxury Hour.

“The biggest issue I see with people is that they try to make a whole house strategy for color, rather than focusing on how they want a room to feel,” she said.

Ms. Vroom recommends that clients ask themselves how they want to use a space and how they would like to see it connect to other parts of the home.

“Those are all questions that, as interior designers, we are asking,” she said.

Accordingly, no client is married to either/or when it comes to warm and cool colors – it can vary room-to-room.

Overall, however, clients and designers alike tend to have clear preferences on which side of the spectrum they prefer.

Jackie Terrell, designer and founder of Jackie Terrell in New York, stands out for her vivid and bright interiors in warm tones.

“I am attracted mostly to warm colors myself,” she said. “I am very knocked out by reds and oranges and I like those spicy or citrusy colors.”

Design by The Residency Bureau

Warm palettes are eye-catching by nature and require more effort to balance the room out. Those that rise to the challenge, however, are rewarded with interiors that make a statement and act as a work of art.

“It is nice to mix neutrals with pops of color so that everything is not one note,” Ms. Terrell said.

In one project of hers, bold yellow is balanced by white and neutral elements throughout the room.

“Given the white surrounds, we could afford to pop in some bolder colors,” she said.

On the cooler side, Ms. Frazier swears by blue, especially for those selling a home.

“The color blue is a safe bet,” she said. “You can go bolder with blue and it is not as jarring.”

Ms. Frazier firmly feels there is a shade for everyone, ranging from navy to baby blue, blue-violet to blue-green.

Green itself is also quite versatile, similarly appealing to various taste preferences. In Ms. Frazier’s case, this may be an emerald, while Ms. Terrell is drawn to something more lime.

The new black

While grey is firmly out, white is still going strong as arguably the most popular neutral of the moment. It is making appearances in kitchens and acting as a great way to balance out trending maximalist designs.

Much of the draw is white’s reflection of light, which makes spaces feel open and larger.

“I like to have white spaces, especially if it is an open floor plan,” Ms. Terrell said.

With reflective neutrals, lighting is another important consideration, ensuring a space better displays the color-filled interior. 

Ms. Terrell especially loves natural light pooling in from windows but said that properly planning artificial light is equally as important.

“You need a combination of lamps with the right ceiling lights, as well as spotting any artwork with those lights,” she said.

“I know a lot of designers stay away from ceiling lights, but I think you need a little combination of both to get the right the right mood.”

COLOR IS HAVING A MOMENT. Although neutrals are never truly dead, consumers are seeking homes that better evoke personality, leaning into maximalist designs after years of minimalism.

Ultimately, the selection of color palettes is highly personal.

“It just has to speak to you in some way,” Ms. Terrell said.