Decorating in Gray

A mix between black and white, gray is by definition a neutral. But its varying shades, from light dove to dark charcoal, make gray as versatile as any color.

Debra Wittrup

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Serene Retreat
Serene Retreat

    When a call for serenity is of the upmost importance, opt for a brown-tinged shade of gray. The walls and ceiling of this bedroom are painted with a gray color that has a hint of beige, which softens the gray and almost matches the linen headboard. Use crisp white linens and just a sprinkling of colorful accents to keep the hue from becoming dingy.

A Note from Nature

    A barely-gray wall color is the perfect backdrop for these waterfowl drawings. While a colorful hue would have added dimension, the gray background gently blends with the ornithological art for a museum-worthy display. For continuity, the soft-gray hue repeats through the space -- on the chair and lamp and even on the flooring, which has a gray wash. Touches of black on the dresser, in a few of the drawings, and on the chair's stripe ground the space.

Calming Decor

    This bedroom is a mix of neutral colors and natural materials. A mix of textures -- linen-upholstered headboard, soft velvet coverlet and pillow, thick wool rug, and woven-leather bench -- keeps the subtle shades interesting. "Soft-gray walls almost shimmer with creams and whites," color consultant Philippa Radon says.

Modern Style

    Gray-blue hues also work well in contemporary settings. In this bedroom, white moldings and bedding and dark-stained wood floors are neutral complements to the gray-blue walls. The light gray headboard with its square lines draws from the wall color. At the foot of the bed, a plush settee upholstered in dark gray brings an elegant touch to the otherwise minimal decor.

Serene Surroundings

    In this muted but texturally rich living room, neutrals create an elegant environment. Gray-beige, or "greige," walls provide the slightest hint of color, while furnishings remain white, beige, and dark brown mahogany. Pattern is restrained, too. The lush carpet provides a nearly tone-on-tone design inspired by Moroccan mosaic tile, while a grid of landscape photos adds interest. A single amethyst pillow breaks up the understated palette.

Stormy Skies

    In a shade that has a hint of blue, gray shakes its drab reputation in this charming living room. The calm palette of gray, white, and turquoise recalls the lovely tones in the sky on a stormy day. Gathered-over-time furnishings add soul to the space: An old milk-bucket bench slipped sideways between the boldly patterned chairs mimics the color in the enlarged plot maps behind in the dining area.

Solid Performance

    Soft taupes and grays prevail in a calm master bedroom devoid of pattern. The mix of luxurious textures, sleek lines, and a rich neutral palette lend the room a sophisticated yet masculine air and provide visual interest. Solid bedding in crisp white with a coverlet and accent pillows in varied shades of textured gray cover an unexpected navy blue upholstered bed frame dotted with nailhead trim.

A Mix-and-Match of Styles

    The dark gray walls add drama to this living room. The color, inspired by the bark on the dense trees that surround the home, lets the wooded side table and frames stand out. Other elements, such as the metallic garden stool and ottoman, bring out the wall's cool undertones. This room is a mixture of styles that all work together thanks to the wall's versatile hue.

Easy Serenity

    Simplicity reigns in this bedroom, where an uncluttered look and a limited gray, white, and lime-green palette make for an oasislike retreat. At night, the stone-gray wall color is cozy and enveloping. During the day, all-white bedding and window treatments keep the room bright. In a room this quiet, it only takes one dose of color to make an impact, and the tall headboard in brilliant lime delivers.

Optical Illusion

    This sophisticated master bath features gunmetal-gray upper walls with marble below to fashion a calm, elegant look. The marble wainscoting matches the marble on the floor, which creates the illusion of a larger space as the eye doesn't distinguish much between the two surfaces. Light floods the room through French doors, brightening the walls and adding luster to the marble.

Tied Together

    Dark colors help to hold a large room's furnishings together as seen in this spacious bedroom. The deep-gray upholstered bed and bench tie in with the gray armchair and dark artwork over the sofa across the room. Pops of red patterns appear throughout the room. Pale gray walls, a neutral rug, and a gray-beige sofa form the foundation for red accents that can easily be changed for accessories in a different hue. It's a practical way to decorate because you don't have to rebuild the whole room when you're ready for a change.

Fresh Face

    Think of neutrals as chic rather than bland. Colors that are classified as neutrals often have hints of other hues. These whispers of blue or yellow add dimension and spark to the neutrals they color. This dining room's storm-cloud gray walls have a subtle blue undertone, and the color creates a dynamic background to white trim and furnishings. Contrasting textures, shapes, and finishes keep the room fresh.

Unlikely Pairs

    Gray and yellow are an unexpected color combination that works beautifully. The gray paisley wallpaper creates an accent wall that is fun yet neutral. The yellow throw and accent pillows on the daybed pop against the patterned wall. Hints of blue bring out the gray's blue undertones.

Peaceful Palette

    A subdued palette of neutrals with gray, bronze, and green keeps this master bedroom peaceful. Barely-there dove gray covers the walls, while stone gray adds depth in the curtain panels and on the headboard. A slim border of gray embellishes the white bedding. A small-scale chest of drawers in soft green serves as a nightstand. Warm hues come from a bronze bedskirt and coral-pattern pillows.

Visual Verve

    A color palette of soothing neutrals unifies a space while allowing modern furnishings to take center stage with an intriguing interplay of textures and shapes. Silk-taffeta pillows and crushed-velvet gray chairs with curved backs are luxurious counterpoints to the straight lines of cream linen sofas. The round silhouette of a cherry accent table avoids an overly matched look, and a metal coffee table is finished with textured paint. A cloudy sky inspired the room's soft-gray wall color.

Tucked In

    Pewter-gray walls and a tall upholstered headboard create dramatic lines in this small master bedroom. Three sets of built-in drawers were tucked into the walls, saving enough floor space for a small chair and ottoman and a mirrored dresser opposite the bed. A single lime-green pillow keeps everything from looking too serious and makes the space cozy and welcoming.

Out in the Open

    An open floor plan that embraces kitchen, dining room, and living room brings a family together but poses challenges when it comes to choosing colors. In this space, neutrals reign supreme for a coordinated scheme that allows the zones to flow together beautifully. A soft shade of cypress gray-green on the cabinets, fireplace surround in the living room, and checkered plywood floor reference the trees outside and blend well with the exposed beams overhead. Dove-gray concrete countertops lighten the out-in-the-open kitchen.

Gray Dreams

    A soothing neutral palette -- from the oatmeal-color rug to the pearl-gray walls -- offers a canvas for statement-making furniture. Using two neutrals instead of a single shade helps curtail neutral overload. Bold accents, such as apple-green pillows and an orange throw, enliven the room with punches of color and personality that can come and go with the changing seasons.

Simply Elegant

    A cozy pair of white armchairs and a tailored pewter-gray ottoman offer a comfy reading spot in this elegant sitting room dotted with black and silver accents. Knotty-pine paneling is painted pewter gray, creating a sophisticated backdrop for the sink-in armchairs. Creamy wool draperies hung ceiling-to-floor are edged with black-and-white Greek key trim. Dark woods add warmth to the serene palette. Combining a dark hue with comfortable furnishings (like the wool drapes, cherry secretary, and relaxed armchairs) balances sophistication with livability.

Silver Polish

    Dramatic, moody tones of gray and champagne mix with glamorous, shimmery surfaces in this well-edited living room. Tone-on-tone silvery-gray damask covers the walls, and the painted frames of matching settees in front of the dove- and slate-gray fireplace are embellished with silver leaf. Puddling on the floor, champagne-color silk drapery panels and Roman shades offer the slightest hint of sheen. Gray embroidered pillows and a dynamic rug provide tone-on-tone texture.

Masterful Mix

    Stone-gray walls provide a cohesive backdrop for a living room composed of a mix of modern, rustic, and reclaimed materials. Bright orange midcentury modern chairs toss color into the neutral mix and echo tones found in the assemblage of flea market artwork on the railroad-tie mantel. A plush rug, accent pillows, and improvised flooring made from old shipping pallets contribute geometric patterns to the room.

Neutral Base

    A small living room lives large in a peaceful palette of blue-gray walls, small-scale charcoal sectional, and warm orange accents. White bookcases line the wall, where a collection of globes and bookbindings sorted by color add more accent hues. Underfoot, a multicolor-stripe rug balances the solidly neutral upholstered furniture.

Classic Gray

    Gray is the ultimate neutral. It looks good with almost any color and ranges from cool to warm. In this bedroom, a classic gray coats the walls. A black four-poster and cream-color shag rug complement the cool wall color. Burnt-orange accents, lampshades, and a throw pop in this neutral room. A mirrored nightstand and metal-frame mirror above the bed add a touch of glamour.

Patterned Walls

    Large paisley-print wallpaper in gray and white adds a playful touch to this small bathroom. The soft gray-blue color ties in nicely with the dark countertop, cement-color ceiling, metal fixtures, and oak cabinets.

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