How to Decorate with Neutrals

While we adore color, we tend to go for a more neutral canvas for our rooms. Why? Because when switching things up a bit – like our décor, starting with a neutral palette makes it easier to redecorate.

One of our favorite design resources is Houzz, and time after time, we see some people ask for advice, saying that their home is “too neutral,” or that neutral is boring.

Well, that definitely doesn’t need to be the case!

Neutral, at its most basic definition, refers to a shade that is “without color.” That definitely brings to mind grays, and shades of white and black, but that’s not only it. Neutrals are formed by combining pure colors (our reds, blues, and yellows), with white, black, or gray, or mixing complementary colors (like red and green or blue and orange.) When we mix blue and orange, don’t we typically get a muddy brown color? Likewise, neutrals also encompass brown, beige, and cream hues as well.

So, aren't neutrals supposed to go well with everything? They're supposed to be the absence of color! In reality, this isn't the case. With neutrals you need to consider undertones as well.

In the photo above, the room is full of varying shades of gray. Notice how all the grays have a sort of blue-ish tone? That signifies a cool undertone. In the room below, take note how there's a reddish, yellow tinge to the beige walls. That's characteristic of a warm undertone. 

Understandably, when decorating your homes, determining a neutral's undertones won't be as clear-cut as the examples above. When having difficulty, compare the neutral color to pure tones (like red, yellow, blue, green, orange, or violet). Typically, when paired with a complement, the true undertones are more easily seen.

Why is this important? While mixing neutrals is great - a cool gray looks awesome with a warm brown - pairing two similar colors of opposing undertones can sometimes look like a mistake. (Like a warm and cool gray.)

In this bedroom, even though the colors are all warm browns, the room is fun to look at. Why? It's because they're all of different shades. The paint and curtain are a warm off-white, whereas there's pops of terra cotta brown strewn throughout. Also, see how the different textures play throughout? The wood from the ceiling, the upholstered bench, and the soft duvet covers and pillows on the bed. This gives the room a more modern, visually interesting look versus that all-beige room from earlier. This is why we recommend going with soft window treatments, like curtains and shades, because they add texture variation to a room.

You don't have to stay within the same undertone family, of course. In the living room shown above, all the colors are neutrals. Cool dark grays and warm tan upholstery are mixed and matched against a white background.

By making the the main furniture pieces in the room neutrals, this also allows you more leeway when decorating your home. Green plants go beautifully against the earthy, neutral tones, and you can add pops of virtually any color throughout.

Do you like decorating with neutrals? Tell us about how you decorate in the comments!