Have you noticed how many brands/companies are jumping on the grey train at the moment? Don’t get me wrong, I really like grey as a colour but getting the right shade is as hard as finding the right pink – some are so pigmented that the intensity becomes overwhelming. Grey is the same. If a shade of grey is too intense it absorbs all the light from a scheme and becomes oppressive – to pull that off the lighting, both natural and artificial has to be fabulous – and you need to be very confident in your handling of it.

informal and confident

Most of us are a little more circumspect when it comes to a colour choice and after watching The Great Interior Design Challenge ( I was interested to see that almost all of the amateur designers chose grey as the base of the colour palette for their projects. Because grey is a very fashionable colour right now I imagine this choice was to show that they understood the current trends, but many clients are not interested in trends in interiors – or fashion for that matter – and in a programme where the competitors are putting a scheme together for a client, understanding what they want is more important than fashion. This programme also set a budget of £1000 per scheme and I can’t imagine any homeowner limiting themselves to this amount if they were going to change the curtaining, fireplace or furniture to achieve the look they wanted. In real homes putting a scheme together is much more organic than that – if you can’t have what you want immediately, you do what you can and wait until finances allow for it to be completed. It’s really disappointing that the BBC have yet again given us a programme that doesn’t represent the true role of an interior designer… And what is that I hear you ask?

The role of an interior designer is to interpret your lifestyle and your taste and turn that into a vision for your home that reflects your personality and needs. Sometimes this involves structural changes and a reconfiguration of the space and yes, there are times when a designer will try and push you to extend that vision – usually because the client can’t quite visualise the end result – but never have I met an interior designer who assumes that the client will ‘bend to their will’ and accept a scheme that they’re unsure of. In the real world, the client is paying for this, after all!

fired earth greys

So, back to the task at hand, choosing grey as the base colour of your palette. Never, ever choose a colour because it’s trendy. You have to love the colour that you’re about to put on your walls, it has to uplift, soothe or excite you otherwise when the next big trend is unveiled you’ll feel dissatisfied that you somehow got it wrong – and there is nothing wrong in creating a scheme around something that you love. Though a word of advice, if you do like to redecorate regularly and you’ve based all the accessories around a certain colour scheme, then every time you see something you like you’ll either have to start again or end up with a scheme that is a jumble of colour and styles. That room will cease to have any cohesion and more importantly it will make you feel unsettled.

We all know the phrase less is more and in the search for a home that has a sense of order and serenity, editing your possessions is as much a part of creating the scheme as choosing the colour. Just because you like something, doesn’t mean it will work with all the other things you like as well! I’m thinking of those wardrobe dramas we all go through – some clothes just don’t go with each other – and the same is true in our homes. The trick here is to choose items and colours from the selection of things you do like that work with each other and put the ones that don’t to one side. You have to be tough on yourself sometimes and grey is a colour that suggests restraint! To use it successfully, you have to observe some unconscious rules.

modern simplicity

Grey is thought to be a formal, no nonsense colour; it’s also considered middle of the road and not particularly exciting – and it’s still linked with battleships and depression! With all these weighty associations, grey works best, in whatever intensity, if it is allowed to be a feature, which is why I’ve mentioned editing your possessions. It will cast a quiet spell over a room and soothe your surroundings, but it needs space and light to achieve this. Putting it somewhere that it isn’t allowed to create a sense of calm will make you feel on edge. And choose a shade that works with your possessions, don’t assume that because it’s a mix of black and white that it will go with everything. As with all modern paint mixes, there are other pigments added to the composition and greys can be warm (mixed with tones from the red,orange, yellow end of the colour wheel) or cool (mixed with tones from the green,blue,purple end of the colour wheel) which is why some greys feel frosty and others murky.

various grey shades

So, when you’re selecting a paint colour, do not simply look at a colour chart and say ‘this is it’, get several tester pots and deliberately select some that are lighter or darker than you think you want to go. Get a roll of lining paper and paint up some large rectangles of colour. Pin them in various parts of the room to see how the light affects them. Why? Because you can’t tell how a colour will look on the wall in your home; the lighting is different to the showroom and the direction your room faces will affect the quality of natural light that enters the room during the day. In the Northern hemisphere, rooms that face north have a colder visual tone than do south facing rooms. The reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere, obviously. Some colours are completely different at night and the corners of a room give an intensity to a colour that you might not be expecting. This is where you’ll notice if a colour is going to overwhelm you because ‘the walls feel like they’re coming in’ so often a lighter shade will be more suitable for the space. And don’t forget, if you’re looking for a colour that is moody and dramatic, you’ll need to really embrace that depth of colour and almost over emphasise it by balancing the other components in the scheme.

dramatic wall colour

Sometimes it’s more practical to use grey as an accent colour, which sounds like a contradiction, but bear with me. If you’ve already selected furniture and curtaining that doesn’t quite work with grey (other neutrals are especially difficult this way), you may feel that the colour change is unsettling – so introduce things like lamp bases and vases, paint some shelves or even put a rug on the floor that will give a bit of ‘tonal clash.’ This will accentuate the other colours in the scheme. It’s a more subtle way of getting a colour to pop and allows you to use grey as the anchor. It’s also less labour intensive and if you really do have to be totally ‘on trend’ (ridiculous phrase) you can do the same thing with a different colour next season!

painted furniture

certain images – with thanks