Is gray the new beige? Depends on who you ask, but if retail trends are any indication, it's replacing off-white as the new go-to neutral. (Around half of Benjamin Moore's 18 top-selling paint colors are some shade of gray.) Perhaps that's because of its endless versatility: Whether you're aiming for bright and crisp or warm and cozy, there's a gray that will accomplish the task. Because choosing among seemingly endless number of grays in a fan deck can be a bit daunting, we've gathered designers' favorite hues to help you get started.
In its palest form, gray can be a more interesting alternative to plain white. Designer Jessica Jubelirer used Farrow & Ball's Cornforth White on kitchen cabinets. "I love the way this understated neutral provides an opportunity to introduce color that’s easy to live with—and it gives off warmth on wintry days," she says."
BUY NOW Farrow & Ball Cornforth White No. 228
"For a breezy Palm Beach kitchen, I treated this wispy cloud-gray as an accent color. It's muted and calm, and on sunny days, it reads as the lightest, palest blue," says designer Beth Martell.
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"It's the color of stone, a soft gray with a touch of blue. Swedish houses are actually unbelievably colorful, but none of the colors are brilliant. It's as if someone splashed ochre into every paint can, so the colors are muted and toned down. You seem to be seeing them by candlelight or under a blazing sun," says designer John Danzer.
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A mid-toned gray can go fresh or moody depending on its surroundings. In a New Orleans study designed by Rivers Spencer, walls in Sherwin-Williams’s Summit Gray provide a visual contrast to the lighter feel in the rest of the house.
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"Any color can be a neutral if it is grayed off with a touch of black and used all over a room, without any other color interrupting it. I particularly love greens as neutrals: moss, sage, stone, hunter. I like to use many different tones," says designer Stephen Sills.
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"In the South, sunny means hot. We don't want colors that make you turn the air-conditioning up. This is a silvery blue-gray, almost like an Armani color, very soothing. Because of the grayness, it absorbs light," says designer Jackye Lanham.
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"I love pearl gray for a foyer, bedroom, or hallway—anywhere you want a sense of intimacy. If there's a big white space with a niche, I would paint only the niche this soft gray. I always like shadowy, mercurial colors that play up the mysteries of architecture," says designer Vicente Wolf.
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The Florida sky inspired the pairing of medium gray-blue (Benjamin Moore's Gull Wing Gray) and pale silver (Wickham Gray, also Benjamin Moore) in a Florida kitchen designed by Andrew Howard. "One day we were staring outside, trying to determine the perfect color, and there it was, right in our face," he explains. "Painting the frames of the cabinets a darker color and tying it into the trim can be an unexpected choice."
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"Those 18th-century British architects kept the front hallway somber to recall the color of the stone outside, on the facade. I like the idea of bringing the outside in, but stone doesn't necessarily work for me. I tend to use a sky-bluish color that has a pretty heavy dose of gray and green," says designer Steven Gambrel.
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"I like very pale teal. It's a nice background for highly textured washed-out beige textiles, and together they make a kind of faded beach story, pulling together the greens of the earth, the grays of the sky and the blue-greens of the water," says designer Steven Gambrel.
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"I'm so tired of all those off-white cabinets. I'd paint them this dark Swedish gray-blue and make the whole room very Gustavian, with chalky white walls, Carrara marble countertops, and stainless-steel appliances," says designer Sandra Nunnerley.
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Farrow & Ball's misty gray-green Mizzle provides a serene backdrop for a country house designed by Bill Brockschmidt and Courtney Coleman.
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"When I want an overwhelming space to feel snug, I reach for this deep green," says Jan Showers. "It’s the chromatic equivalent of being wrapped in a fuzzy and sumptuous alpaca blanket.”
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"This is the furry, fuzzy green of lamb's ears. Very herbal. It's rich without being too saturated, and makes a great backdrop for mahogany, silver, or ivory. It's the color of my fantasy room—a book-lined great ballroom with a lit Polonaise in the middle of the limestone floor and orange trees in tubs. A pavilion in the forest," says designer Charlotte Moss.
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"For me, the most appealing colors in summer are not hot but cool. You don't need to be reminded of the sun and heat—you're in it. What you want is a cool breeze through the pine trees, like this chalky gray green," says designer Frank Roop.
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"Mesquite is a flattering light moss green without much yellow. I love it because it doesn't shout 'I'm green!' It says, 'I'm a very beautiful color,'" says designer Jennifer Garrigues.
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"Green is the great neutral, all the way from pond scum to soft sage or pale celery. I recently moved into a new house surrounded by greenery, and when I was thinking of what color I might use for a drapery lining, it came to me to reflect the green that is present year-round right outside that window," says designer Barbara Barry.
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"In my cutting garden I have morning glories climbing over a lattice obelisk painted this wonderful silvery sage green. It reminds me of lavender leaves," says designer Michael Whaley.
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Looking to lighten up a traditional, wood-paneled study? Try a warm gray. "Using a soft, sophisticated, taupey gray on the walls, trim, and bookcases is a great alternative to a dark, traditionally paneled room—and a fresher look," says Suzanne Kasler. "All the colors in this upstairs office are soothing, making it the perfect place to reflect or catch up on work at the vintage campaign desk."
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“The warmth of this gray comes from the addition of a splash of beige," says Patrick Baglino. "It’s a greige that feels as comforting as a bowl of homemade chicken soup. I love using it in large open spaces, where your perception of the color changes as the light changes. Accent it with turquoise, scarlet, or tangerine.”
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"I have a big, hugely functional Georgian Revival lawyer's desk in tired dry mahogany, bought from a tired dry lawyer. I painted it this pale gray-green in an oil-base stain finish, cleanable, very calm, but not so pale that it dies. The gimmick is the old-fashioned desk in an unexpected color. It catches light and makes for a more interesting surface," says designer Carey Maloney.
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Phoebe Howard painted her dining room walls a dark off-white, both unobtrusive and mellow, but kept it bright enough to make the best use of the natural light available.
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Designer Carmel Greer chose an almost-black gray—Clark + Kensington's Black Chiffon—for her husband's study. "This gray-black reminds me of shadows—for me, that’s a good thing!—and I envisioned it on the walls, bookcases, and ceiling of my husband’s study. But what I thought of as cozy, he worried would be oppressive. Ultimately, he loved it. With the gold overhead light and leather chair, it’s tailored and masculine, not cave-like."
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"This saturated gray- brown-black is really an off-black—not that intense fortune-teller black but soft and sun-bleached, with depth and mystery," says Peter Dunham. "In a matte finish, it looks like a slightly smeared blackboard. It reads as black but it’s not quite as hard, so it’s easier to live with. And anything you put against it looks amazing."
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"It's charcoal, but I think of it as wet stone, wet cement, or even soot. It's a fabulous color for trim—they use it in French and English houses all the time. In a kitchen, if you paint the walls and cabinets this color and use a lot of mirrors, you'd have a very rich, townhousey, sexy alternative to the all-white kitchen," says designer Myra Hoefer.
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"This mysterious, warm sort of aubergine is great for painting exposed steel structural elements. I got it directly from the painter Francesco Clemente's studio. All the doors, window frames, railings, and steel structure are painted Bear Creek, with a concrete floor and pale green cement board walls—very beautiful!" says designer Richard Gluckman.
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