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  • By Ruth van Overbeek, Photography by Lisa Atkinson

Understanding Neutrals

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

In many interiors, the natural palette is more evident in the choice of materials than in applied decoration such as paintwork or soft furnishings. The subtle colour of wood and stone give a sense of integrity and longevity. These natural materials also age sympathetically, which adds a certain mellowness and depth of character to a scheme.

Using a natural palette effortlessly serves as a connection between an interior and the surrounding landscape, but it can also be the basis for a more sophisticated and sleek urban look.

The main risk of using neutrals is creating a bland overall effect. Sharpened with black, freshened with white or offset with vivid accents of stronger colours, a natural palette comes to life.

The neutral shades of white, grey and black -what one might call non colours- are crucial in decorative schemes, supplying not only essential breathing space but also tonality and definition. While there are expectations, all-neutral schemes run the risk of being dull and uninspiring.

A bit more insight into this: For many centuries white was strictly a utility colour as typically the no-nonsense backdrop of service areas. All that changed with the arrival of electricity and, in the 1930's all-white schemes, featuring the new brilliant titanium white, became the height of fashion in the hands of society decorators. Nowadays, white is much associated with Modernism and minimal styles of decor, as well as being a popular fail -safe choice for those who are uncertain about colour. Antique white, a warmish off-white, has been forever a best selling paint colour.

White is a family of shades, ranging from ivory, pearl and cream to chalk, linen and biscuit. Choosing the right white means thinking about the quality of natural light; sunny rooms can take the cooler whites, where as warmer or creamier whites work better in areas where natural light is poor.

Although grey sounds dreary and lacklustre, the epitome of a rainy day, it actually forms a very useful family of shades. Grey can be both a great mediator and a subtle and refined background in its own right.

Grey ranges from smoke and gentle dove grey to a deep battleship shade that packs graphic punch.

Silvery blue-greys are cool and refined, while warmer mushroom tones have great compatibility with earthy colour schemes. In many interiors, grey is evident in the choice of materials as the dull lustre of stainless steel, for example, or the classic pale colour of natural stone.

Absence of colour or light: Black can be used as a dramatic element in decoration. With the exception of bathrooms tiled in black slate or ceramic tiles, the use of black as a background colour is understandably rare.

More often, black is used as a defining accent or graphic contrast that underscores architectural details.

Black and white make a graphic and dynamic combination while grey walls mediate between the two and avoid any risk of starkness.

Colour is a function of how your eyes perceive light. Radiated by the sun, light travels to us on different wavelengths, each corresponding to a colour in the spectrum.

So create contrast when using a neutral colour palette. Nobody wants to live in a sea of beige.

With love, Ruth

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