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Never go grey

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

I should start by saying I’m definitely not talking about hair - I fully intend to embrace that grey. I might even expedite the process by dying the whole lot in one go once the greys start in earnest.

I'm talking about why it is so tempting to wrap your home in the safety of grey, why doing so means you’re missing out, and how to instead create a home with colours that make your heart sing.

The room in this image from Dunelm is a perfect example. The grey walls with a grey bed throw, grey vase, grey picture, sitting only next to white for fear of what a colour might do! So I'm talking about the kind of grey that has never seen a colour wheel; no complexity or undertones. Grey that’s a shade not a colour. (Colours like French gray or elephant’s breath where other pigments have been introduced aren't quite so in the firing line.)

This grey-drenching evokes absolutely zero emotion. Except maybe boredom. It’s the antithesis of feeling. Like emotion has been sucked out of a colour and the lifeless remnants are the grey you see before you. Ask yourself, when have you ever looked out the window at a grey cloudy day or walked alongside a murky grey river and thought ‘ahhh isn’t that just perfect’? (case in point below).

Image credit: Henry Burrows

Yet grey is apparently the most sought paint colour in the UK. And whenever you go to big mainstream homeware and furniture shops like IKEA and Dunelm, grey furniture is there in abundance.

But I don’t believe grey is popular for the right reasons.

I think either people are worrying about the resale of their home and think that because grey is so innocuous it won’t put off buyers. Or it is because people are (subconsciously) going grey because by evoking so little feeling, it ‘feels’ the least scary option. It’s comforting. But not because grey is actually a comforting colour, quite the opposite. And as a result you’re unwittingly prevented from having a home that can be transformational for your mood and sense of wellbeing. Whether you want to feel joyful, energised, calm, genuinely comforted - your home has such a huge part to play in that. And it's my firm belief that grey will never get you there.

How do you resist the urge to go grey?

First let’s take the resale value issue out of the equation. I can’t find any robust research that supports the abundance of claims that colour puts off buyers, rather just whether or not your house appears well maintained.

And now let’s turn to the bigger issue of grey as a safety net. When you do attempt to go beyond grey, it can feel very overwhelming quite quickly. There is so much out there about trends, about how to achieve a certain ‘look’, rules on what you should and shouldn’t do, mistakes you must NEVER make! You also can't take one person's word for it on colour - red might be energising for one person and comforting for another. In the early days of decorating my current home I read tons of articles, had Pinterest boards coming out of my ears and listened to podcast after podcast. Yet still often didn’t feel confident in what I was doing and managed to create spaces that were ok but I didn’t really love them. And 5 litres of farrow and ball paint is not much fun to regret (£££).

I am now painfully redoing a lot of decorating having finally figured out where I was going wrong. And thankfully things are turning out pretty well now!

Image: My pattern and colour filled living room

So I wanted to shared the wisdom I've acquired and continue to gain. Once you’ve decided to step away from the safety of grey to create a home you can fall totally in love with, how do you painlessly and successfully do it?

To give advice I wish I had been given myself at the start of my journey, there are 3 things I would highly recommend doing as a starting point:

1. Start feeling instead of thinking

When testing or imagining colours in a room focus on nothing more than how you instinctively feel with it. When it's right your gut will tell you. If you over analyse what 'should' work it is easy to convince yourself to go with something that won't sit easy with you once it's done. I think this often happens when you read an article saying "yellow works well in north facing rooms" or whatever, and actually generalisations like that can cause all sorts of issues.

2. Be open minded about what colour you might land on rather than fixating on one

It can be easy to fall into the trap of seeing a photo of a room in a particular colour and make a decision that you want a room in your house to be the same. The issue is that aspect, light, ceiling height, fixed features like beams etc all impact on whether a colour will actually feel right in a space. So when deciding a colour, get a few wild card samples alongside the shades of the colour you think you want and be prepared to go in a totally different direction when testing them out. Every single room in my house has had its colour determined by the room rather than me deciding I wanted to give it a particular colour scheme.

3. Try to ignore all the people telling you what to do

I've heard and read so many opinions about what colours will and won't be suitable for a particular room or how a colour is supposed to make me feel. I think it's all total nonsense. You are unique so colour will uniquely impact on you in whatever way it does. Red is apparently a bad choice for bedrooms because it is 'energising' but it's the only room in my house where I think it works because it gets such a warm light that the red reinforces the gorgeous glow we get in there. And I sleep extremely well!

Fundamentally, you need to cut out the noise and focus on you and your home and what feels right. If you do that you are very unlikely to go off in a direction with colour in a way that gives you regrets.

I hope the subsequent blogs I write will help you figure out in a fun and manageable way how to create a home that makes you happy and finally brings you that ‘ahhh this is perfect’ feeling. And please do get in touch if you have any questions or conundrums I might be able to help with!

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