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Vancouver Colour Consultant: The Problem with an All-Gray Room

By 09/02/2011January 28th, 201729 Comments
I was recently reviewing the “Gray” chapter in Janice Lindsay’s book All About Colour. When I first read it a few years ago, gray was not nearly as hot as it is right now.  Remember when I said in this video that the problem with the current trendy neutral is when people decorate their entire house from top to bottom in it? Well here she says it another way:


“With grey, as with most things in life, its flaw is also it’s feature, its weakness is it’s strength. Unlike white, a colour that can look good on it’s own, grey works ONLY in the company of other colours. Grey is the foil, NOT the solo act. Grey urban landscapes, institutional walls, corporate settings, miles of urban halls and rooms of grey paintings are debilitating because the grey is unrelieved by colour. Unlike white, grey treats all colour with respect. White makes them strong and strident. Grey makes them beautiful. Grey is a hard worker, the silent partner, content to be in the background.” Janice Lindsay, All About Colour


As you know my mission in life is to inspire you to have a happy house! So anytime I can sneak in another argument to convince you to use more colour, I slip it in : ) xoxo Maria

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Related posts:

White is a Snob

The Gray, Black and White Trend is Here to Stay

Danger: How You Know You’ve Fallen for a Trend

Gray Kitchen Cabinets: Four Ways to know if You Should Follow the Trend

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3 pins


  • Ann says:

    I kinda agree with that…

    Grey needs another color to really work its magic…

    Those are all lovely spaces ♥

  • Anonymous says:

    I absolutely agree. I just can't get excited about all the gray and greige I see *everywhere* these days. To each his own but overdosing on gray is sad and dreary to me. The only thing gray is my house is my tennis shoes.

  • EleCat says:

    I love my grey BECAUSE it works with so many other colours. I still have a lot of decorating to do to break up the masculine black leather, stainless steel and wood thing that's starting to overtake but I am VERY happy with my grey and when it dates (as my pops of orange no doubt will) I will repaint. As for white…. white is NOT easy. White, if not done VERY well can look sterile or not done. I am 100% with you on getting colour in the home. Neutral homes can look terribly boring (they can also look incredible but only with a talented decorator…. or colour consultant.) ….. 🙂 I'm playing it safe: neutral backdrop (still in love with grey) and accessorise in colour. 🙂

  • Annie@A View On Design says:

    Hi Maria!

    I'm such a fan of grey, in particular the taupey grey. Def needs other colours tho!

  • Divine Theatre says:

    Then again, if grey makes them happy then it makes them happy.
    Color annoys me. It does. That's just all there is to it. I don't wear bright clothing or makeup, nor do I splash it on my walls. I prefer the ethereal nature of shadows.
    To each his own!

  • Sell WoW Account says:

    i just realized that that is so true!!! this color cannot be alone

  • Donna Frasca ♋ says:

    Wow – you and I are very close to being on the same page when it comes to posts. I'm doing one this morning on “Matchy-Matchy” and will be linking to this post on gray.

    Excellent post as usual Maria!

  • Linda @ a design snack says:

    I am in complete and total agreement…gray cannot, and should not, stand on its own! However, being the free world we live in, those who love it in large quantities in their homes or love to wear it head to toe should carry on and bravo to them because they care not that they look washed out (to me) or their homes have that institutional look. My younger sister is enamoured with gray and has been for decades and she wears it a lot — she doesn't look at herself, she looks down at her gray jeans or gray sweater and enjoys the gray, not how it makes her look.

  • LS says:

    Was the second picture inserted to try to make the point that you need the injection of colour that the first pic gives? I must admit to being far more drawn to the second picture than to the first. The second picture with its muted pallette is so easy on the eyes and on the soul.

  • h. m. settoon says:

    What I find so funny about this "I love grey" trend is that most of the people running to paint all their walls and cover all their furniture in grey are not people who have always been drawn to it; no, these are the very same people who loved brown just a couple of years ago. Last night I met with a client who insisted on a chocolate brown (I tried to convince her to go for a taupe) wall treatment in her powder room a couple of years ago. She wanted chocolate because "I love brown, especially espresso." We're working on her family room, which is open to her her kitchen and living/ formal dining room which will not be re-done (at least in the forseeable future) and contain warm tones and brown furniture. She's insisting on an all-grey color scheme, and any time I suggest a touch (just a touch) of something brown to relate to the other rooms, she'll say "oh, no brown, I want grey…I love grey." And no matter what I say, no matter how much proof to the contrary, she will not acknowledge that she's caught up in a trend (and I know that she doesn't really "love grey" because there is not a speck of grey in any previously decorated rooms).

  • Ideezine says:


    I love gray and it's camellian effect on a room. I would not consider it a singular color, in all cases, but a wonderful accent color. Always depending on the amount of light and shadows in a room it can hold it's own. In both of these photos the ceiling is ligher or appears white or palest shade of grey. It works in the overall feeling when you love grey…and I do. Great post on grey.


  • Ivy Lane says:

    thanks for slippin' that in! Great post… I like how the writer describes the colour… very eloquent…

    Happy Weekend!

  • Tricia says:

    It is true that we fall in love with what we start to see everywhere. I LOVE color…pretty much every color. But, I have to admit when I walk through Arhaus I don't want to leave. Done correctly, it all looks beautiful. The test for me is how long can I live with it. Loved the quote, "Grey respects every color." Nicely put.

  • Erica | Flooring says:

    Well that is a really good argument! I would have to agree with you that White would be a better choice. But it's a little bit of a challenge to prevent it to have a graying look. 😉

  • Christina Rodriguez | The Diva's Home says:

    Rooms with no color in them just make me sad

  • Diane Stewart says:

    I love that book! What a brilliant woman. I re-read it too since there's so much content. Although I agree that gray needs partners, I don't get the gray trend at all. I find it generally cold and depressing, it reminds me of urban settings filled with concrete.

  • Soma Pradhan says:

    I love that quote and I heartily agree! I am in the process of painting my living room, which I initially envisioned in a multitude of greys… I'm now doing a soft grey with an accent wall of coral and turquoise! Couldn't live without all this color!

  • Barefoot in Blue Jeans says:

    I recently painted a guest room gray and it definatly urges other colors to accent it.

  • Kathy Owen says:

    I love grey but it definitely needs accent colors to make it work. I think tan is the same way, ugh to an all tan room.

  • Marlo says:

    I never thought about grey that way before and I can see how true it is – it does need some colour.

    I like grey on the walls but I'm not a fan of it for upholstery even with lots of colourful pillows. I want the upholstery and the pillows to speak to me, not just the pillows, and grey doesn't speak…it's quiet. I'd rather go for brown upholstery even if the brown trend is over because brown will give me a warm and cosy feeling.

  • Pink Overalls @DIY Home Staging says:

    That quote is poetry. Thanks!

  • Elisa @ What the Vita says:

    That's a beautiful quote. Actually I don't think its a "problem" with gray – it's the "beauty" of gray that it acts this way. I love COLOR and instead of saturating my house with colorful walls, most of the walls are shades of gray and then I have lots of fun adding bright color and they really look great with gray.

    My living room was looking too gray there until we added a bright yellow rug and everything just looks SO MUCH BETTER now… but I'm not done adding color!

  • Simply Grand says:

    H. M. Settoon made the exact point that I asked a woman the other day: if all-gray rooms are so classic, so timeless, how come you never wanted one until after you'd already seen them in all the magazines?

    These days, the word "timeless"–especially coming from the lips of somebody wanting to sell something–is just another word for trendy. Remember how, ten years ago, golden sienna plaster walls, tawny woods and the autumnal reds & golds of Tuscany were hyped as timeless? Today, the word that occurs to a lot of people–and, sadly, often the very people who went whole-hog for the Tuscan look–is "dated". Where's the timelessness now? Let's be real here: in a few years, today's dessicated finishes & bleached-out, all-gray rooms will look every bit as dated as the honey-glazed rooms of 2001 look today.

    When it comes to choosing colors, I follow Magnaverde Rule No. 53: If it's not in style, it can't go out of style.

  • Anonymous says:

    If it works for other people great, and in small doses it is fine but gray is just too cool and somber for me. It is too easy for a room to look like all the life has been sucked out of it, and why start out with a background that needs to be overcome?

    @Simply Grand: Magnaverde! Miss him!

  • jan perrigeaux says:

    Yes it is true that rooms can become dated when one succumbs to trends …a good procedure is to do what you enjoy in spite of current hype and cultivate your taste so your rooms evolve into masterpieces!

  • Caroline says:

    Hi just bought a leather corner charcoal sofa and I am undecided what colour to do the floor as there are so many laminates around these days any ideas ??

  • Beckett says:

    I love that this post was from 2011. Here it is 2017 and gray is still a big deal. I live in Seattle where the sky is gray most of the year. I don’t like gray interiors because our outdoor life here is so gray. Today it is 40 degrees and raining, I think I haven’t seen the sun since August. Nonetheless, somehow I’ve found myself looking at dark gray paint – Mole’s Breath from Farrow and Ball for example – and I keep being drawn to it.

    I’m thinking of putting it in a flex-room/office (which I shall call “the study” because I am fancy like that) with a north window. I am pretty sure I will hate it, but it’s only paint right?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Beckett,
      The reason why you are ‘drawn’ to that colour is because Farrow and Ball is so smart that they have taken their all of, what, 13 colours? And created gorgeous rooms that people pin over and over and over again. It gives the consumer the false illusion that if they paint their room that colour, it too will look as beautiful. But you need all the furniture to go with it 🙂 That said, go for it, it is only paint and maybe you do have a beautifully decorated room and all it needs is a dramatic colour like that? Maria

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