Black isn’t always grim – it can by sparkling and stylish; white isn’t always crisp and clean – it can be muddy; gray isn’t always dreary – it can be dramatic and playful. Black, white and gray are neutrals. By that I mean they work with every other color and with most decor styles. All of you likely have big expanses of at least one of these colors in your home (probably white …. but we’re working on changing that).
Characteristics of Black, White and Gray
Black is most often used as an accent color though I’ve noticed a few black walls showing up here and there in blog photos. It’s the rare person that wants and can enjoy a black wall. Black creates high contrast with whatever other colors are used because of its sharp darkness. Why do so many women wear black as a primary wardrobe color? Because everything looks good with it and we think it hides our body shape flaws (because it is a receding color and makes things appear smaller/closer). The same holds true in home decor – everything looks good with it and it hides spacial flaws. Of course the downside to black furnishings or flooring is that every speck of dust or pet fur shows up immediately.
(photo credits top row: Ruffle mirror $600, wallpaper -BrocadeHome.com; Gentry gray table -LampsPlus.com $400; Black and White bedding – BallardDesigns.com; Slipper chair, Nate Berkus $330; middle row: Vanilla Sky linen w/ embroidery, Ankasa.com; Branches pillow -Ferm-Living.com via Freshome; Twig candelabra, Global Views via Amazon.com $275; lamps – ArtFrameDirect.com; bottom row: Gray linen w/ corded embroider sofa, Ankasa.com; black and white throw, Nate Berkus; Silhouette table, BrocadeHome.com $400)
White has got to be the most common wall color in the world. Of course there are now about 500 shades of white, so that’s a pretty broad statement. There are whites with slight pink undertones, teensy touches of yellow or blue and each can be used to great advantage.
White implies cleanliness and purity and sometimes is quite sterile (think hospitals). It’s the color lots of art galleries use on their walls. The reason is that the crispness of the white shows all colors off to their best advantage and doesn’t compete at all with the art. In your home, the same concept applies – your art will often stand off brightly against white walls. White will make a room appear its most spacious as well as give the illusion of brightness and light. Consequently many people find the lack of color restful and calming. (Not me though, this room below is just bland.)
Gray – the “hot new color” for 2010. From the deepest charcoal to the palest silver, gray has a lot going for it. It can be warm or cool, dark and dramatic or bright and beautiful. Used on the walls it can provide a great backdrop for art and furnishings, or used as an accent color it can introduce a calming note in the room.
Moods of Black, White and Gray
Often considered a very contemporary color scheme, black and white is full of high contrast and drama. The play of black and white stripes against a floral against a large damask can be stunning. On the other hand, black and white toiles have been around forever and you couldn’t find a more traditional look. Clearly there’s room for black and white in a range of styles. However, in reality I’ve never met a client who actually wanted a black and white room. Even though I’m fascinated and drawn to the drama of black and white rooms, I don’t think I could live in such a rigid scheme.
Black is a color of authority and confidence. It strengthens and shows independence however, black is so high impact that most of us are happy to have it as an accent only.
The use of white can alleviate stress, pain and negativity but could increase your feelings of isolation and loneliness, inactivity or lack of energy. If you want an airy, light and bright room, white should be your mainstay color.
Some grays are grim and dreary which will make for a depressing, uninspiring room. It can be a flat, boring color so choose your tone with care. This is definitely a color that you’ll want to paint those trial patches on your wall before committing to a whole project.
Colors to Use With Black, White and Gray
Every room deserves a touch of black. It’s a great foil for almost any other color but especially the primaries of red, yellow and blue. Purples and some blues might struggle against black because it will make them seem muddy or dull.
White is the perfect color. It goes with absolutely everything: it will brighten the dullest of colors; it can cool down a room drenched in reds and oranges; it works equally well in classic schemes like blue and white or modern combinations of gray and yellow. White is fresh when used with greens, will intensify purples and cobalt blues and will give an instant lift to a room of neutrals (tan, beige, brown).
Gray is a little more tricky – you have to pay particular care with the undertones (I wrote about these in the first article in this series). I think gray plays best with brighter, stronger colors like yellow, hot pink, red or black. Avoid colors that are a little muddy or greyed down like sage or mid-tone tans because they don’t play as well with gray.
We’ve recently had several readers ask about using gray with browns, specifically brown furnishings. I think it can work beautifully as long as there is enough contrast between the shade of gray and the furniture tones. Here are a couple of examples:
Just as black and white are opposing colors, they have opposing reactions in feng shui. Black is associated with the water element (the deepest, darkest part of water) and can be a source of inspiration. However, it is very powerful color so should be used sparingly so as to avoid feeling oppressive. White, on the other hand, inspires leadership and creativity. Attached to the metal element, it stands for purity. The energy level associated with white is quite low so all white rooms or even all white walls run the risk of becoming stagnant. Restore the energy level by using bright things on the walls.
What’s Your Take on Black, White or Gray?
Do you use much black in your home? Are you a proponent of all white walls? Where do you stand about the hot new color of gray? We’re always interested in what you think and how color works in your home.