Decorating with Neutrals and Accent Colours
Working with neutrals
The only three true neutrals are white, black and the in-between of grey, but there are also the accepted neutrals or naturals — the broken whites, creams, beiges, taupes and soft browns of stone, wood, undyed linen or wool.
Neutrals on their own create a harmonious scheme, and are often effective for a very contemporary look, but they can be difficult to keep clean. A basic rule of interior design is to consider the practical alongside the aesthetic. It would be impractical, for example, to decorate a hallway in pale creams with an off-white carpet and expect it to cope with a regular flow of visitors, muddy feet and even bike or baby-buggy wheels. On the other hand, a scheme like this would give a pleasing atmosphere of calm in a main bedroom.
Black and white, especially if used to create a bold pattern, is the most stimulating and disturbing of combinations, and needs to be used with care.
Adding accent colours
Accents can be added in accessories, but also introduced in a patterned fabric, wallpaper or flooring. The dominant colour in a pattern should relate to the main scheme, with secondary colours echoed in other plain accessories.
To vary the tonal balance, add warm accents to a cool scheme, cool ones to a warm scheme and strong, rich colours to neutrals.
Ways to introduce accent colours into a sitting room or dining room:
• cushions or padded seat covers
• plants and flowers
• pictures, prints and photographs (including interesting frames)
• glass or china
• lamp bases and shades
• table covers
• candles and holders
In the kitchen:
• pots and pans
• china, pottery and glass
• tea towels, aprons and oven gloves
• herbs in decorative pots
In the bathroom:
• towels and bath mats
• boxes and baskets for toiletries
In the bedroom:
• bedside lamps and shades
• cushions and throws
Note: bedlinen should be chosen as an integral part of the scheme and not as an accessory.
Neutrals in a mixed scheme
On their own, neutrals can be rather boring, so it is a good idea to enliven them with contrasting accents (see box opposite). Follow the basic rule of relating these accents to the overall style of the room, and choose warm or cool colours according to the atmosphere you want. With a predominantly neutral scheme you could use several different accent colours, mixing cool and warm, or different tonal values of one or two colours.
Neutrals can also make a major contribution to other colour schemes. They form a good background to printed fabrics and wallcoverings, and provide an element of quiet contrast, often unnoticed.
When is white not white?
Many so-called neutrals, especially near-whites, are actually very pale tints of a ‘proper’ colour. Creams can have hints of yellow or pink while ‘greiges’ (grey/beige) and browns can have undertones of warm orange or cool blue. These origins may not be apparent until placed near another colour or neutral. Pure white woodwork can make an off-white carpet look dirty, and a subtly shaded tweed fabric can just appear grey in the wrong company.