Neutral Colors in Home Interiors and Why You Need Them

A major part of interior design is being able to display your personal style through your home décor. It is unfortunate, then, that neutral colors have gotten a bad reputation among certain circles as being “boring,” “builder grade,” and “generic.” Neutral colors are a critical element of any successful home interior for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their ability to support any style.

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Neutral colors combine to create versatile neutral color schemes that are an ideal palette for any space’s style. Neutrals are not only reliable for use in decorating, but they also play a critical role in providing visual relief, backdrops, and a calming atmosphere. We’ll take a look at each of these benefits of neutrals in this article.

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Although they are versatile and appropriate (and necessary) for any style of interior design, neutral colors work particularly well in contemporary interiors. This is because neutral colors allow fantastic architectural elements in modern design to become the focus (as opposed to bold colors taking that focus away from architecture).

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What are Neutral Colors?

Before we dive too deeply into the merits of using neutral colors in your interior decorating, let’s briefly review what neutral colors are. Technically, in the context of interior design, neutral means without color, although even neutrals have undertone that play a critical role in their successful use. Neutral colors are not typically found on the color wheel because they include shades of black, white, grey, beige, ivory, taupe, and brown.

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Neutral colors are sometimes referred to as “earth tones,” meaning that the foundational colors found in and around the earth are neutral. It’s important to always consider, however, the undertone of any neutral color you’re wanting to use, whether or not it seems like an “earth tone” or not. Case-in-point, ivory might have pink or golden undertones, whereas white might be more yellow or even blue. Recognize these undertones as you choose the neutral palette for your space.

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Why use Neutral Colors?

There are a number of reasons to opt for neutral colors to use in your home; we will go over several of them in this section. Perhaps the versatility of neutrals appeals to you, or the fact that using neutral colors actually makes decorating easier. Let’s take a look at a variety of benefits of neutral colors in your home interior design.

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Neutral colors will always be classic.

This is perhaps one of the most appealing aspect of neutral colors: They are classic and, most likely, you won’t grow tired of them quickly, if ever. You can easily incorporate trendy and/or vibrant colors and prints into your décor whenever you feel like it if your decoration foundation is built around neutral colors. Some might consider neutral colors as an investment that ensures an interior that never grows old, unlike, say, that lipstick red accent wall or bright blue “coastal” bedroom that you just had to have.

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Neutral colors showcase your personal style.

This concept goes against the mindset of some people, but it’s the absolute truth. When neutral colors are used as the primary backdrop for your interior design, your personal style is able to shine. It comes to the forefront, and all the details and pieces and accents that make your style what it is are in the spotlight. This impact is much harder to achieve (or even impossible) when your style is competing with statement colors.

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Neutral colors highlight texture.

Similar to their ability to emphasize your personal design style, neutral colors also have the ability to effortlessly and seamlessly highlight texture. Texture is a vital element for creating a warm, welcoming, and comfortable interior design. Think of soft pillows, touchable cushions, cozy area rugs. All of these elements combine to create a really friendly space.

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Neutral colors show off furniture.

Great furniture is the pride of anyone who loves decorating and interior design; it stands to reason that you’d want to show it off, right? Neutral colors, particularly on large-scale spaces such as walls, provide the perfect “invisible” backdrop against which furniture with great lines and curves can pop. This is particularly the case in contemporary and modern interior design, where the clean lines of one’s furniture lines are key to the overall style.

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Neutral colors are stylistically versatile.

Neutral colors are literally appropriate for and effective in any style of space. It doesn’t matter if you prefer modern or Old World style, traditional or eclectic, contemporary or farmhouse – neutrals will be your go-to for great design. What’s more, neutrals will actually alter the feeling of your styled space, with white and light grey walls (popular neutrals right now) creating a clean, spacious feeling and taupe and darker grey walls creating an instant feeling of coziness and warmth.

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How to use Neutral Colors?

Oversimplifying things here, neutral colors are best used in interior design in one of two ways: (1) as a soft, often monochromatic space that exudes quiet warmth, or (2) as a nearly invisible backdrop for more dramatic colors and accents. For example, consider the difference in a room filled with soft hues such as beige, ivory, and elephant grey (calming) and one that incorporates black and white (dramatic). Tone-on-tone neutrals will always be more subtle than vibrant splashes of saturated neutral colors.

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Use Neutral Colors to Emphasize Shape.

This can be a benefit or a detriment of neutral colors, perhaps, depending on the shape of your furniture and architecture. But neutral colors are an excellent way to cut out the visual clutter of a variety of bolder colors, which in turn creates an emphasis on and subsequent appreciation for beautiful lines, curves, angles, and silhouettes within your design.

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Use Neutral Colors in Complex Design.

Consider the fact that, sometimes, complex designs and architecture are going to exist in your home or space. In order to cut down on the potentially overwhelming visual assault, neutral colors will even the playing field, so to speak. You can then use bits of color as strategic emphasis on only those parts and pieces you want to be noticed.

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Use Neutral Colors to Alleviate Visual Boredom.

Putting together a custom neutral color palette that perfectly fits your taste and space is so rewarding. Neutral-on-neutral décor has a distinct aesthetic impact without feeling garish or over-the-top. The key is to keep accent color(s) involved but minimal and to use neutrals with similar saturation and tone.

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Use Neutral Colors After You’ve Determined Your Full Color Palette.

Some might feel like this is the opposite order of decorating – shouldn’t you start from the foundation (neutral colors) and work your way up (accent colors)? The answer is: not usually. If you have an idea of what other colors you want in your space, it will be much easier to work backward to find the neutral that will best complement those accents. Also consider other space constraints, such as natural light (or the absence of it) and your personal preferences for spaciousness/coziness.

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Use Neutral Colors to Set the Tone.

If your space is large and has access to plenty of natural light, you really have the entire neutral color spectrum to choose from; you really can’t go wrong. But if your space is perhaps a bit smaller and/or has limited natural light, you might be better off selecting a lighter tint of neutral that will brighten the space a bit. Darker walls are perfect when you want to create a cozy, intimate feeling in the room, but the effect can be off-putting when the room begins to feel cramped and dark.

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Use Neutral Colors in the Same Tone Family.

Grey is definitely a popular neutral right now, but there are many things to consider when choosing which shade of grey (or any neutral, for that matter) you should use. While contrast in décor and design is good, clashing and inconsistency is not. Warm taupe walls, for example, will work well with a rich navy sofa but would look out of place with an orange-based red sofa. Ultimately, the use of neutrals in your décor will help you to love your classic space longer.