White remains the best selling color for most categories of home furnishings, but gray is catching up.
Not only have homeowners embraced gray for things that are easy to change — such as wall colors or throw pillows — they also have embraced gray for things they expect to be using 10, 20 and even 30 years from now, including kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures.
Gray has an astonishingly broad range, design experts say.
As a color, gray encompasses everything from a soft silver to a stark, dark charcoal. It’s the perfect neutral because it’s compatible with almost every other color, and it folds easily into every style of decor. Dee Schlotter, color brand manager for Glidden Paints, succinctly summed it up: “Gray plays well with other colors.”
Most grays are actually a mix of other colors that give it a unique chameleon-like quality. A gray wall paint that appears to be slightly greenish when upholstered furniture with a strong green theme is placed against it will acquire a slightly bluish cast if the furniture is reupholstered in blue tones.
All this has obvious advantages: As London-based interiors blogger Kate Watson-Smyth pointed out, “You don’t have to worry about redecorating every time you change a piece of furniture.”
Scott Bodenner, a Brooklyn-based textile designer (who said of himself: “I am that one in a thousand who says that my favorite color is gray”) explained that when gray is the backdrop, small changes can produce a big effect. “It gives people the ability to change the mood of a space by changing the accent colors of small things like throw pillows and small rugs,” he said. “Switch out a soft, calming blue for bright colors like red, yellow or orange and you add pop and action.”
Watson-Smyth, whose affection for gray is evident in nearly every room in her own London home, offered yet another reason to favor it: “Gray gives life to everything in a room. Gray makes everything look more modern and fresh. Gray makes all your possessions pop out. It gives them presence. A good picture on a gray wall — it’s amazing!”
A desire to connect with nature and bring the colors of the outdoors inside and timing also account for gray’s increasing popularity, said Lita Dirks, an interior designer based in Greenwood, Colo. “As we got through the recession, people wanted to ‘open the window’ and make a more efficient cleaner look that went in another color direction. All the softer colors of nature come from the family of gray, so it was an obvious way to go.”
An indication of gray’s increasing acceptance with the general public is their purchase of gray “investment pieces” such as sofas, said Jill Waage, executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens Brand and a keen observer of American interior trends for more than 20 years. Though she still sees a lot of white in kitchens and bathrooms, “Gray is common now,” she said, adding, “When we see gray cabinets, that’s a huge impact on color. It’s here to stay.” The most common use of gray that Waage has observed is flooring.
Indeed, Jackie Dettmar of the Mohawk Group, one of the largest carpeting manufacturers in the country, noted that in residential carpeting, their top sellers for the last five years have been shades of gray. Melanie McGeehan, of Forbo, the top selling linoleum brand in the United States, said that beige colors are still their “strongest sellers,” but grays are a “strong number two.”
Because consumers expect to use “hardscape” items such as cabinets and bathroom fixtures for two or three decades, manufacturers do not make the decision to offer gray lightly, said Nancy Yusko, a design manager for kitchen and bathroom fixtures at Kohler. “We would never launch a color we didn’t feel had staying power because a homeowner puts our product in and expects it to stay for 20-plus years.”
To distinguish a fad that comes and goes within one or two years from a trend that lasts for 10 to 20 years, Yusko said her firm “tracks across multiple industries.”
Yusko also pointed out that, in a bathroom, the color of the fixture itself can enhance the relaxation that comes with a long soak in the tub or a few minutes under the pounding jets of multiple shower heads. Most people assume that the benefits of the “spa experience” come from their contact with water, but when you reduce contrast by replacing standard white fixtures with ones in a softer color such as gray, you will feel calmer whether you are in the tub or not, she said.
Jennifer Gilmer, of Gilmer Kitchen & Bath in Bethesda, Md., said many of her clients are interested in a gray kitchen but fearful that it will make a kitchen feel and look dark. They become convinced that it’s a great idea when she shows them examples that combine gray with other colors.
For example, combining dark charcoal cabinets with white cabinetry and counters and lighter grays for walls, backsplashes and an island counter produces a “happy” kitchen, she said.
What’s in and out in home design
Zillow recently surveyed interior design experts and reviewed which photos were trending on the Zillow Digs site.
▪ Art deco-inspired patterns and shapes: You’re likely to see these in artwork, wallpaper, mirrors and lighting fixtures.
▪ Nubby wool rugs: Natural fibers are popular for their look and feel.
▪ Encaustic tiles: These elaborately colored tiles, made of glazed clay, can be used in bathrooms, kitchen backsplashes and even on floors in rooms where you want a little drama.
Zillow’s design experts see fading:
▪ Mason jars: They’re inescapable in hipster restaurants and bars and as light fixtures in kitchens, so the trend has probably run its course.
▪ Chalkboard paint: While the paint makes a great message board in the kitchen or a place for artistic expression in a kids’ bedroom or playroom, the reality is that the chalkboards can just look messy after awhile.