Make way for gray

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Never mind "50 Shades of Grey," the spicy blockbuster movie based on the even spicier book by E.L. James.

The real star these days — in the design world, anyway — is the color gray.

Gray is the new go-to neutral, replacing white or light brown, perfect for nearly any room. It adds sophistication to space, but can also be warm in any room.

"It's the new beige — with much more variety and fun," says interior designer Donna Brown with Dazzling Designs in Northville.

Brown recently designed a vignette for the Michigan Design Center's Design 2 Ways with a J. Bertrum sofa covered in Robert Allen's Wool Suit in ash.

"Gray is the new neutral," says Patty Mulkiten, showroom manager of the Robert Allen showroom at the design center in Troy. "We've had it with different color schemes and it works well with just about anything. We've done it in so many colors with accents — we've done turquoise, robin egg's blue, sun yellow. There's just so much you can do with it. That's the versatility. It's that color that's not too dark, not too light."

And there are far more than 50 shades of gray. Benjamin Moore actually has 360 grays, says spokeswoman Kelly Sinatra, the most popular ones being Revere Pewter, Pashmina and Stonington Gray. Sherwin-Williams, meanwhile, has 95 shades of gray, including Classic French Gray, Functional Gray and Agreeable Gray.

Interior designer Linda Shears of Linda Shears Designs in Troy used to steer clients away from gray, calling it a "no-no, depressing, cheerless color."

"I used to tell my clients, 'Remember, we live in Michigan and we have lots of gray days and gray skies,' " recalls Shears.

One reason gray is hot right now, Shears says, is because unlike beige, which seems to absorb other colors in the space around it, "gray can stand on its own."

"Bold, bright accent colors such as yellows and reds and blues maintain their clarity against gray," Shears says. "One of my favorite color schemes is gray/yellow/black/white. It really pops. Very elegant."

And gray, which can have undertones of brown, green or blue depending on the shade, is like a chameleon. Depending on the shade and lighting, it morphs and changes. And it can be used in nearly any room, from a soothing bedroom to a sophisticated living room.

Kathryn Czuchra, an in-house interior designer at La-Z-Boy in Novi says gray is, without a doubt, one of their most popular colors right now.

"Gray can be really warm, really neutral," says Czuchra. "It's neutral, subtle — and that's why we're seeing it so much ... Brown is boring, black and white too harsh. Gray is in the middle."

Czuchra says she has a sofa from La-Z-Boy's Urban Attitudes series, upholstered in a middle tone gray, in her home and every time her mom sees it, she "swears it is brown. It depends on the time of day," she says.

"Depending on what you pair it with, it changes colors," says Czuchra

That's why lighting is important. If you're considering painting a room in your home gray, consider the size of the room and lighting.

"Lighting is going to be very important with the shade you want," says Czuchra.

"Rooms with more lighting, you can go with a darker color," she says. "It just depends."

If the lighting is too cool, says designer Shears, "the grays can turn very cold and unfriendly."

"It's best to have task lighting and recessed lighting in the warmer spectrum," says Shears, who lists Sherwin-Williams' Gray Screen or On The Rocks as two of her favorite gray hues. "Natural daylight and sunlight really highlight gray tones beautifully."

Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, thinks the bedroom is the ultimate space for gray.

It's "a very sophisticated color that lends itself perfectly for romance, so the bedroom is the ultimate space for a shade of gray, such as Amazing Gray. It's a medium tone with a touch of warmth. I also love Dorian Gray for a darker shade and Classic French Gray with a hint of blue," says Jordan.

So here is a roundup of some of my favorite shades of gray, from gray rooms with fun accents to gray furniture, accents, pillows, and accent tables. Find the right shade for you.

And if you're not ready to let go of your beige just yet, one of Sherwin-Williams' most popular grays is appropriately called Agreeable Gray, according to Shears and her Sherwin-Williams' rep, Rebecca Luckhardt.

"It's a very warm gray — perhaps perfect for those still clinging to beiges, but wanting a change," Shears says.

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Tips for using gray in your decor

1. Use flat paint, not semigloss or high-gloss, on walls.

2. With gray walls, opt for creamy trim.

3. Introduce lots of light sources, like table lamps, sconces, and floor lamps.

SOURCE: Real Simple