It seems our feeds are filled with gobs of pretty neutral rooms lately. But how do you replicate this neutral look on your own? If you want to create a pretty and timeless neutral room, you have to invest in some details. Let me break it down for you.
If you’ve spent any time with me here or on Instagram or TikTok, you probably know that I LOVE decorating with COLOUR.
You will have heard me say that a sofa in your favourite colour is always a more timeless choice than the trendy neutral sofa of the moment.
And I maintain that’s absolutely true. I live to nudge people to create happy rooms filled with their favourite colours. Because most of the time, drab all-grey or all-beige rooms are created out of either fear of colour, or not knowing how to add colour.
Can decorating in all neutrals still be timeless?
But I frequently get questions like this:
First of all, I love your blog. Your blog gave me the courage to hold my ground against my new build’s designer who strongly insisted that I get ashy grey wood floors 5 years ago, when I wanted the pale oak look. Now I’m in another home that I’m renovating, using as much of your advice to achieve a timeless look as I can. Your advice is practical and relatable, and I thank you for that!
The one piece of advice that never sat quite right with me is to buy a colorful sofa. I love neutrals, if you look at my wardrobe, it’s about 90% black, white, grey, and shades of beige. So my question is, is it possible to have interior decor in all neutrals and still be timeless? For example, you posted this photo recently, and this is completely the type of interior that I love.
This living room is at least 8 years old, maybe older, and looks amazing today. What makes this timeless, when the all grey interiors and the all beige interiors before that were not?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I hope you consider this question for an Ask Maria blog or Instagram post (or at least respond to this email).
What makes a neutral room timeless and beautiful?
The simple answer to Sarah’s questions is this: it’s much harder to pull off a pretty neutral room.
Because colour has an immediacy, the eye loves it, and if a room immediately takes you in with a fabulous colour palette, you are not bothered by other less than inspired details happening in the room. You’re already past the line of drab and boring, just like that.
To create a truly beautiful room, you need more specific skills and greater attention to detail.
Let’s look at some beautiful neutral rooms designed by pros and I’ll pick out all the subtle details that make them elevated and elegant. This will help point out what’s so often missed and why so many neutral rooms fall flat. Because when neutrals are chosen to be “safe” the room often turns out dull.
This is not about design snobbery, it’s just what it takes to pull off a beautiful room like a pro. I’m letting you in on some not-so-obvious details that you can try in your own rooms to take them to the next level immediately. Even if they are not exactly thrifty, there is nothing more sensible than to create a room with some expensive details but excellent longevity.
Dissecting the perfect neutral room design details
So let’s look at the room my reader loves above. The first thing I notice is the symmetry of the arrangement, led by the symmetry of the room itself (the two matching doorways flanking the perfectly beautiful and timeless cast stone fireplace). The designer wisely played it up by placing two identical sofas facing each other.
And THOSE sofas! They have the perfect timeless English roll arm shape and they look like excellent quality, stuffed to perfection.
To wrap up the seating arrangement, she’s chosen a contrasting warm brown settee, but tufted for a shift in texture. The warm colour is repeated opposite with the beautiful antique brass mirror that (more symmetry here) hits exactly at the same height as the doors.
So the bones of the room and the layout are perfect. Then she’s added just the right pops of black that play off the firebox. Additional details include luxurious airy drapes, a timeless complex cream paint colour and just enough styling to add character and a lived-in feel.
You really can’t go wrong with classic sofas in white, with rich luxe details and perfect symmetry. But let’s be real. Most of us creating neutral rooms aren’t choosing white upholstery.
We’re probably starting with a more practical grey, beige or charcoal sofa. Because, well, life is messy. You know… the dog and the kids, and wine. So now what?
What do you notice about this beautiful room with a grey sofa above?
First, it’s a well-tailored sofa with pretty contrast piping with a bench seat cushion. And, it’s on a pretty wood base that happens to perfectly match the natural but warm wood tones that make up the rest of the pieces. All this warm wood helps to balance the cool grey of the sofa and walls.
Again, we have a large mirror that perfectly fills the space between the similarly proportioned windows. Symmetry? Check.
But the main thing to notice here is that each furniture piece or decor item in this room has a really special sculptural shape.
Have you all noticed the plinth trend? Every pretty room it seems has an art gallery-style plinth topped with a bust, a gorgeous vase or plant, or a lamp on it. I currently have one on order myself.
More timeless neutral living room details
Ok so how about neutral rooms that aren’t art gallery perfect? Are there some details that are both accessible and game changers?
In this pretty neutral room above, we see that same strategy where the art perfectly echos the scale of the windows. Interesting. A single picture plunked between these two windows floating would simply not have the same polish.
I know I keep singing the praises of the cognac leather sofa, but it really is such a practical and versatile choice. And, here it is again. It brings natural warmth to a white and neutral room.
Wood tones do the same, just as we saw with the grey room above. Cute modern chairs with warm teak or walnut arms are never a mistake when you’re creating a neutral look with a cognac sofa.
Can you see the other thing that is doing a lot of work in this room? That’s right, the intricate vintage looking pattern of the area rug. It pulls in more warmth and oodles of interest and pattern. HOT TIP: If your room doesn’t have any pattern and feels flat, try adding a rug like this.
Often a bold light fixture is a worthwhile splurge in a room. And this cool modern light fixture definitely is. Think of good lighting as art. It’s one of those details that can elevate even the plainest of rooms.
Oh! There’s a plinth in the corner here too! If you want to get on this fun trend, you can get nice ones at CB2. Much better than your grandma’s plant stand.
You must invest in the details
So let’s recap. If you want to create a pretty and timeless neutral room, you have to invest in some details. Here’s a quick checklist of the details that make up a timeless neutral room design:
Include a few iconic shapes in your furnishings
Splurge on some artwork, an oversized mirror or special light fixtures
Not everything needs to be super special, but at least some of your pieces should have elegant or even iconic shapes. Artwork, antique oversized mirrors and special light fixtures are excellent items to splurge on.
Add texture. Natural fibre area rugs, items with patina, organic shapes and materials create not only interest but mood. Find a vintage piece or two to mix in so it doesn’t look like you bought the whole room at the furniture store. Light or white pieces, especially cushy upholstery go a long way to creating a fresh look. Make sure you also have smaller pieces in grounding deep colours like black, brown or slate.
This one is big. Make sure you have enough contrast. Both dark and light and warm and cool. Balance cool whites and greys with plenty of warm wood tones, antique brass and greenery.
Neutral rooms love greenery. Large plants and casual, natural floral arrangements can add a wallop of interest in a fairly simple room.
And let’s just look at his gorgeous room. Warm wood tones? Check. Plenty of fresh white? Check. Rich contrasting pieces? Check. Texture? Check. Something old? Check. Elevated details? Also, check.
Decorating should be creative and fun, but let’s face it, for anyone who is not a pro (yet) some guidelines to success are a good thing! Next time you’re admiring some of your favourite rooms in your feed, look for these strategies and details and I guarantee you will find them everywhere!
Creative Director and Founder of Understanding Undertones® and the Killam Colour SystemTM. Decorator, author, speaker and internationally sought after Colour Expert. See Colour DifferentlyTM with Maria Killam.