Neutral Colors Are the Best Canvas

neutral colors in decor

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Are you getting ready to redesign a bedroom or throw some new paint up on your living room walls? You may be wondering what neutral colors are in interior design. These hues are far from boring. Choosing a neutral decorating scheme can benefit you in numerous ways. They can be the canvas of color that gives you the freedom to more easily experiment with textiles and accessories in bolder, more vivid colors. Or the use of brighter neutrals can give your room a more open, clean, and breezy look. Muted or darker neutrals can give a space a cozier yet streamlined appearance. And if you want to sell your home, neutrals are appealing because they're calming and fresh, and they let buyers see the potential of a room.

What Are Neutral Colors?

In the context of interior design, neutral means without color. Neutrals such as beige, ivory, taupe, black, gray, and shades of white appear to be without color, but these hues often have undertones. Be aware of these underlying tones as you match colors or choose paint. For example, beige might have an undertone of pink, tan, gold, or gray, which makes up greige, a newer and favored neutral. White might be slightly ivory, yellow, bluish, or peachy. Neutrals can be used in decor in two basic ways—either as a soft, neutral-only, tonal look or as background colors for dramatic accents. 

The All-Neutral Room

If you are going for an all-neutral look, layer different hues of the same color for a cohesive sophisticated look. This sort of layering color scheme allows anything wood (such as flooring, trim, beams, fireplace surrounds, and window frames), brick, and stone to make warm statements within the space. Here are some tips for choosing neutral colors:

  • Follow the suggestions of paint chip families to choose harmonious colors.
  • Pick a lighter shade for the walls, with your upholstery being darker.
  • Select an area rug in a color that complements the wood flooring but is just a shade darker than the walls so that the furniture stands out.
  • Choose carpeting in a shade darker than the walls.
  • Tie the room together with accessories that include some or all of the shades you have used.

Neutral Colors as Background

In this scheme, as with the all-neutral room, start with neutral walls. Choose the neutral based on what other colors you wish to use, how much natural light the room receives, and your personal preference for lighter or darker walls. Be mindful that darker walls seem to close the room up and make it feel smaller as well as darker, especially if there is little natural light. So if your room is large and light, you can consider all the options. If it is small and on the dark side, a lighter neutral would likely be a better choice.

If you like gray, decide whether you prefer a warm or cool shade; the same goes for shades of white. Say you choose a rich taupe for the wall color. Turn up the volume with a navy blue sofa and chairs covered in a striped pattern of ivory, taupe, and navy. Add an area rug or carpeting in the same shade of taupe as the walls or a bit lighter. Pair throw pillows in taupe and the same pattern as the chairs with a taupe throw for a cohesive look. Place books and art objects with dashes of brick red on a brass and glass coffee table to add interest and color. In this color scheme, you have taupe walls and a rug or carpeting for a neutral canvas and then added drama via the navy upholstery and pops of red in decorative pieces.