David Crosson’s Interior Design Blog

Embracing A Blank Canvas

Or How to Decorate Your Space with Neutrals

As I pointed out in a previous post:  life is too short to be lived in a beige box. However, that’s not to say embracing an absence of colour will result in you getting stuck in neutral with no way out. Although it’s true that I—and my clients—do tend to embrace colour from pale to vivid, I can always find an angle of appreciation when it comes to ‘calmer’ options. Of course, the word beige does get a bad rap but all you have to do is view it in a different light (sometimes literally) to see its true value.

Years ago, when I was teaching a class on colour, I challenged my students to come up with 25 alternative (and evocative) words for beige, new names that would banish its bland reputation and draw people in. Naturally things started out as expected (“natural” was actually one of them) as we moved through the classics such as “bone”, “cream” and “ecru”. But then things got more interesting: doeskin, tea-stained lace; toasted coconut. While this was just an exercise meant to expand horizons, the net result was a greater appreciation for taking colour conceptualization to a whole new level… even if that colour was beige.

The subtle texture in this tone-on-tone wallcovering adds interest to what would otherwise be a lifeless flat surface.

The subtle texture in this tone-on-tone wallcovering adds interest to what would otherwise be a lifeless flat surface.

I always tell clients that if they want neutrals I can give them neutrals—provided the request is not born of timidity, a lack of imagination or (shudder) resale value*. The key to working with neutrals—whatever name you call them by—is to make sure that texture is your driving force. Texture has a completely transformative effect on colour—any colour—as it influences how light reflects off it back into our eyes. You can have the exact same hue represented in ten different materials and it will appear different in every one.

This can be as simple as varying the weave in your textiles from fine to chunky. Or as complex as introducing elements such as lacquer, leather, parchment, bleached woods and pale wicker. Any way you approach it it’s all in the mix so really consider the ratios of your selections before you commit. Something as timeless as raw canvas can be used with abandon but a mother-of-pearl side table or shaggy sheepskin should be added with the deftness of an aromatic spice as overdoing it can throw everything else off.

A neutral scheme can look exceptionally elegant when well executed but can also fall flat in the wrong light. Southern exposure—especially in sunny spots like Calgary—can wash things out, while the even light of northern exposure can render a room drab. If you find yourself in such a scenario, be sure to test your materials in situ before you commit and be sure to amp-up the contrast in both colour and texture.

Like I said, embracing a calmer palette does not have to be boring, provided you take the same care you would with beige (forgive me its default use) as you would with brighter hues. Besides, if you take a trip down the light fantastic and find the journey lacking, you can always throw some cheery hues into the mix and make the whole thing shine. If all else fails, contact me…

*Note: I am not opposed to the notion of resale value; I just don’t like seeing it govern people’s lives to the point that they can’t enjoy their homes. Unless you are a professional flipper (or a serial mover) resale is generally quite far down the list in terms of project requirements.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.