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In home decor, it's OK to go gray

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By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Akron Beacon Journal
  • A raw wood coffee table with a silver gray finish complements taupe sofas in a media room designed by Robin Brechbuhler.

    Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal

    A raw wood coffee table with a silver gray finish complements taupe sofas in a media room designed by Robin Brechbuhler.

Gray, you tempter.
You've stirred our passion. You've inflamed our desire.
We want you everywhere. In the bedroom. In the bathroom. In -- gasp -- the kitchen.
We are held captive by your silken charms, helpless in your grasp.
Oh, wait. You didn't think we were talking about the protagonist of that steamy novel hidden on countless Kindles, did you?
Heavens, no. This is about gray, small g. The color.
We can't get enough of it -- all 50 shades or so.
Gray has shown a dramatic increase in popularity since 2010 and particularly in the last year, the National Kitchen & Bath Association reports.
In fact, the color is used in more than half of the kitchens and bathrooms decorated by the designers who make up the group's membership.
It's a grown-up hue that lends a sophistication consumers crave, the association says.
Gray is more than just a mixture of black and white, said Sonu Mathew, an interior designer who works on the color team that curates the palette for paint maker Benjamin Moore & Co.
Gray can have undertones of red, blue, green or purple, which she said makes it "very complex," even mysterious.
That characteristic makes gray work well with many colors, Mathew said. Gray gives the eye a chance to rest, she said, so we can appreciate the other colors in the room more.
Interior designer Amy Douglass believes gray's ability to play well with others -- even other neutrals such as creams, tans and white -- is a large part of its popularity. It's similar to black in that regard but not as stark, said Douglass, owner and senior designer at the Interior Design Studio in Medina, Ohio.
"It's just a little softer," she said. "It's not as dramatic as black and white."
Douglass has paired gray with yellow and white in a sunroom, and she's now using a bluish gray in a kitchen she's designing. It works well with the slate on the room's fireplace and the maple of its cabinets, she said, as well as the gold, tan and rust in the adjacent great room.
Ohio designer Robin Brechbuhler incorporated gray liberally in a home she decorated. The neutral palette throughout the house blends grays with beiges and browns, a quiet background for bursts of color.
In a sitting area off the kitchen, for example, pillows in cream, orange and rust brighten a dark gray sectional. Gray grasscloth panels break up the dark taupe wall in the media room, and a wall covering made from chips of gray ceramic and glass makes one of the bathrooms sparkle.
"It's a wonderful neutral," she said. "It's sort of taken the place of beige."
Gray used to be considered cold and masculine, Mathew said, but its use in fashion and other products such as cars has given us a new appreciation for it.
Using gray in an area without a lot of sun, however, takes a bit of care, interior designer Cynthia J. Hoffman cautioned.
To keep the interior from looking as dull as the winter landscape, gray needs to be accompanied by plenty of light, she said.
Hoffman outfitted a loft for one client with a charcoal floor and chairs covered in charcoal mohair, but she played them against ivory earth-plaster walls that lend warmth. Natural light bathes the space, and "that room feels beautiful, whether it's winter or summer," she said.
No natural light?
Use plenty of artificial light, she said. But make sure it's dimmable, so you can change the mood of the room to fit the way you're using it.
Douglass and Hoffman said it's also important to pay attention to the undertones when choosing a gray. Use a warm gray with warm colors, a cool gray with cool ones.
Mathew said gray can also be used successfully in a monochromatic palette, but the trick to pulling that off is contrast. Incorporate lighter and darker shades of gray "so your eye can move around the room," she said.
It's not necessary to immerse yourself in gray, however, to be part of the trend. If you just want to experiment with the color, Mathew suggested using it as an accent, perhaps on a piece of furniture, a door or the inside of a bookcase.
The good news is that no matter what color you love, there's a gray you can use with it, Mathew said. You don't have to abandon your color scheme and start from scratch just to be in fashion.
Story tags » Interior decorating

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