Decorating with Neutrals

Think neutrals are boring? That's not the case when they're paired with stylish furnishings, interesting contrasts, and rich textures.

Debra Wittrup


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A Light Touch
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A Light Touch

    When it comes to color, sometimes less is more. This soothing, fresh palette of soft grays and faded creams, with touches of pattern to provide definition, softens the formal symmetry of the room arrangement. Subtle notes of color come from accents that can be changed in a moment to match your mood.

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Relaxed Fit

    Connect to the natural world, not just outside but in your home as well. A neutral palette and natural textures create a serene scene of organic shapes and materials in this dining room. Rattan and woven-leather chairs and a capiz shell chandelier add to the lightness and calming influence of the room.

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Best of Both Worlds

    Use a peaceful neutral palette when marrying two formerly separate spaces in your home. Here, a kitchen addition provides the amenities needed for a busy family while the color scheme puts the focus on the grand island and tile treatment that help the new space blend with the old.

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Step It Up

    Use neutrals to unify and elevate unlikely items into sophisticated furnishings. Practical and affordable wooden step stools, painted in a chic palette of gray and white, are transformed into a makeshift library that complements the ivory walls, distressed white cabinetry, and beige fabrics and woven materials in this warm and inviting living room.

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Clean and Classic

    Soft white surfaces fill this light and airy kitchen -- from the peak of its vaulted and trussed ceiling to its painted, paneled cabinetry -- for a classic look that is far from cold. Elegant marble counters, mahogany plank floors, and rustic brick detailing ground the mostly white kitchen and honor the home?s traditional aesthetic.

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Exterior Focus

    A neutral color palette is ideal when the view outside undressed windows is your focal point. A simple scheme of browns and soft grays suggested by natural wood and stone reads as an extension of the wetlands just outside the door of this eco-friendly living room. A few carefully edited accents and art pieces make the subdued interior worth an extended visit.

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Natural Influence

    Create a restful aesthetic with calming colors, such as this natural mother-of-pearl white and gray combination accented with touches of black. Color is replaced by pattern, which is limited to pillows with tone-on-tone embroidery and quilting. Silk fabrics, mercury glass accents, nickel-plated hardware, and an old desk painted in shimmering silver add sparkle.

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Fresh Coffee

    Coffee colors ranging from espresso to cafe au lait mingle in this dining room to create a uniquely restful color palette that is at once fresh and familiar. Generously lavished with milky white, the layered tones create an elegant aesthetic. The neutral walls complement an exciting array of texture provided by furnishings, fabrics, accents, and flowers. Overhead, a dramatic chandelier dangles like your best pair of earrings.

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Urban Refinement

    Think of neutrals as chic rather than bland and you?re well on your way to successful decorating. Use contrasting textures, shapes, and finishes to keep a room dynamic, and introduce color with accessories such as pillows, throws, and painted artists? canvases you can pop into a room with ease. Flowers and fresh fruit in bright colors can pump up the energy level in a neutral space, too. In this living room, bold red accents energize the urban tones of black, gray, and stone.

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Mix and Match

    A sea of neutrals can easily become a visual jumble. To avoid confusion, use elements with different weights and sizes in your neutral-hue space. An oversize silver vase and thick draperies add oomph. A glass table lamp and light gray walls add softness to this chic room. The accessories and color palate create contrast and balance between rich tones and an airy feel.

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Going Gray

    When choosing a neutral color scheme, select two or three main colors for your room. A contemporized traditional-style chair is upholstered in white leather that stands out against the muted gray walls and carpet. Touches of black judiciously dot the room to add depth to the neutral palette. When you have your three colors, throw in a fourth, such as this citrine accent pillow, just for fun.

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Mix Master

    Warm, sun-baked colors give rooms a sense of down-to-earth elegance, but too much of any single color can get static and dull. In this master bedroom, the brown walls are complemented by orange accents. Country details, such as primitive animal prints and antique pharmacy bottles, blend with more exotic influences?a zebra rug and leopard-print pillows?for a warm juxtaposition of styles. For impact underfoot, layer rugs: Put a neutral color, nonpatterned rug down first, then accent with an interchangeable, bolder choice that emphasizes a style or a season.

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Harmony of Old and New

    Pairings of darks with lights and antiques with trends evolve into a space bursting with personality. Neutrals ranging from chocolate brown to white wrap the room. Contemporary furniture mixed with antique accents set a unique tone and bring old and new together.

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Character Molding

    Furnishings with silvery tones -- the mirrored buffet and pewter accessories -- complement the mixed-media art celebrating nature. The rectangles of white molding on the walls lend clean, contemporary lines.

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New Heights

    A custom vanity with a thick marble countertop has a vintage look yet includes modern-day storage below. The standing cabinet beside the vanity provides floor-to-ceiling storage. Mosaic tiles in darker and lighter neutral tones tie the white cabinet and dark brown vanity together.

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Bedroom Beauty

    French doors in the master bedroom look out onto a dramatic skyline. A soothing palette of browns and icy blues keeps the room from competing with the view. It also creates a relaxing atmosphere, perfect for a master bedroom.

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Pull It Together

    Deep gray walls provide a cohesive backdrop for a room composed of modern, rustic, and reclaimed materials. Bright orange midcentury 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 palettes contribute geometric patterns to the room.

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Warm Up

    Keep neutrals from looking stark by incorporating a gallery of artwork paired with plush throw pillows that invite family and guests to gather for laughs and conversations. Patterns, like on the checked rug and floral pillows, add warmth and depth.

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A Pop of Color

    Neutral rooms are often at their finest when a dose of color is added in. Emerald green or any jewel tone will add richness and depth. A neutral backdrop also gives you freedom to change the look of a room without breaking the bank. Throw pillows and accessories in new colors can be brought in for an instant, budget-friendly makeover.

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