It’s not beige, it’s not grey: it’s greige – and that’s why all our houses look alike | Interiors

YesYou could say it’s charcoal, silver, concrete, slate. You could call it by the name on the paint chip: Chic Shadow, Polished Pebble, Purbeck Stone. Or you could say it’s greige. Whatever you call it, the dominant interior design trend of the past decade has been shades of gray.

Elephant’s Breath – described as an “uplifting” mid-grey, with a hint of magenta – has been called a paint color of the decade in the UK, ranking among Farrow & Ball’s top 10 shades for the last 12 years and inspiring numerous spin-offs.

In the United States, Revere Pewter, an “iconic neutral”, has also been a consistent Benjamin Moore bestseller since the mid-2010s. Sherwin Williams’ 50 best colorsmeanwhile, range from beige to dark gray but mostly split the difference with a rich spectrum of greige.

In homes and offices, in bedrooms and living rooms, gray has become the neutral paint shade of choice, and often – like real estate ads reveal – a whole aesthetic, with gray wall-to-wall surfaces and furniture.

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But these desaturated spaces contrast in many ways with their time. Over the past decade of social media, our interiors have become an expression of who we are. Not only is society more individualistic than 10 years ago, but it is more polarized.

So why are we constantly looking for those dull, medium shades? The answer is not black or white.

Indeed, says British art historian James Fox, author of The world according to color, there is no neutral color: “Only what a given society accepts is neutral”, he says. “But if you step out of that society, or look back through history, you realize that everything is ideological in some ways; everything is a stylistic choice.

“Neutral” might be better understood as “dominant,” says Fox (whose own home in Hackney, London, is painted Dulux’s Pebble Shore, a sand gray “with a touch of khaki”). Beginning in the late 2010s, gray began to supplant bright whites and creams as the preferred palette for interiors, becoming by the 2010s as ubiquitous as ‘magnolia’ – a yellow-based white butter – was in the 1980s and 1990s.

But the origin of this great wave of gray can be traced back centuries of Western culture to a longstanding prejudice against bright colors, as artist David Batchelor explored in his 2000 book Chromophobia.

Elephant Breath, by Farrow & Ball. Photography: Farrow & Ball

by Goethe color theory, published in 1810, argued that bright colors suited children and animals, not sophisticated adults; this view was shared by great artists and thinkers throughout history, from Aristotle and Plato to Le Corbusier and Cartier Bresson.

Even today, words such as “sinister” and “screaming” have negative connotations. “Color is often depicted as feminine, or oriental, or primitive, or infantile, rather than adult and philosophical and serious…and it is clearly indexed to issues of race, culture, class and gender,” explains Batchelor.

Yellow in particular has fallen out of favor in recent decades, associated with defeat and age; “the color of bile and urine,” says Fox.

Even the cream is now too much for us to digest; it’s seen in the interiors world as “white that’s faded,” Fox says. It’s no coincidence that it began to curdle in the late 1990s, as Ikea began to break into the US and UK markets with its sleek, hardwearing approach to modernism.

The UK, in particular, has begun to move increasingly towards Scandi style after decades of chintzy prints, then Mediterranean jewel tones and terracotta. The stage was set for gray to take over from cream as an equally livable color, with a great diversity of shades but a sobriety more suited to the era.

“Refined taste is associated with a desire for the understated, the minimal, the sparse,” says Fox. Over the past 15 years, “what we’ve seen is a shift from the yellow end of the spectrum to the cooler one – from beige to greige”, amounting to what Fox calls “a desaturation effect” across Culture.

This doesn’t just apply to interiors: compared to the caramel sitcoms of the 90s, today’s TV shows and movies are classified a greyish “mud”. Apple, meanwhile – perhaps the defining brand of the last century – ditched its post-millennium candy-colored iMacs and iPods in favor of clean lines of chrome, glass and “space gray”.

Revere Pewter gray by BenjaminMoore, an American bestseller.
Revere Pewter gray by BenjaminMoore, an American bestseller. Photography: Benjamin Moore

Another defining brand of the 21st century, Kim Kardashian, embodied change. Shortly after she started dating Kanye West in 2011, she commonly shed her wardrobe of bright prints to become the monochrome muse of the past decade, influencing fashion, beauty and even interiors.

In 2016 Architectural Digest sharp to Kardashian’s tonal style in support of painting the walls gray; his own LA mansion is almost exclusively ecru. Coordinated decor like this may seem labor-intensive, the mark of a professional stylist, but grays are relatively forgiving. Fox says it’s because they’re naturally present in fabrics and textiles, giving them a “protean, amorphous” quality: “They can adapt to all sorts of environments, they do well in light and in the shade, and they seem to have been around for a long time.

Versatile and timeless in appearance, gray is the perfect backdrop for a fast fashion generation more likely to refresh their home with new accessories than a professional redecoration.

“That’s what I love about the greige colour: it’s a great base,” says Jasmine Young, 30, who shares her Dorset home (with the walls of Elephant’s Breath) with 45,000 followers. on Instagram. “If you want to bring in some color, you can easily switch up the look with cushion covers or a throw.”

From vintage to modern aesthetics, dark and light woods, chrome fittings to natural fibers – greige “literally works in any interior style,” says Young. In this way, it’s like an actual Instagram filter, using color not to express your individuality but as a cohesive backdrop for it.

Fox notes the irony: as our politics and culture have become more extreme, our palette has become more muted — and “just as we’re apart, our homes are more and more alike.” In his trendy London neighborhood, he says, nearly all the front doors are painted Farrow & Ball’s Railings, a pitch black one, “and most people have elephant’s breath on their interior walls. “.

But this extends far beyond Hackney, as the 15,500 photos hashtag #elephantsbreath will show. Indeed – like reclaimed wood, industrial fixtures and other features of what has been appointed “International Airbnb Style” – gray walls have become a worldwide sign of generic “good taste”.

It’s this bland, unambitious aesthetic — like looking at a neatly curated Instagram grid — that depresses Batchelor, author of Chromophobia. Avowedly opposed to neutrals, he’s not persuaded by arguments that greige contains subtle depths: “You can have a swatch that says ‘bland’ and stick everything underneath,” he says dismissively.

“It’s all so safe, that’s probably the most disheartening part: it threatens nothing and no one except a slow, adventureless death.”

But even Batchelor admits that he prefers to live in a neutral environment mixing brick, ceramic tiles and white (“my wife is chromophobe”, he says). Especially since the mid-2010s, people are looking not to be energized by their home – but to be soothed.

“Everything in the outside world is so chaotic. I like to walk into a place and immediately feel calm,” Kardashian says AD in February 2020.

During the pandemic, that took a premium. Rebecca Wilkins, 29, moved into her first home in Birmingham in February 2020 and painted her cream gray walls. “I just like living in a neutral house, any color makes me feel uncomfortable,” she says – even her dog, she adds, is gray.

But uncertain times were also a factor: “I don’t know if I would have been so focused on being in a calming space if I wasn’t at home so much.”

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Wilkins sometimes fantasizes about painting a wall pink, “but I want the house to sink, so probably not.” Instead, she settled for replacing the cool grays of her “neutral home interior” – followed by 60,000 people out of Instagram – with hearty.

Fox has also noticed a recent shift towards the more yellow end of the spectrum. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen from the locker room even threatens the return of the magnolia.

It’s a tentative sign that the blanket of gray on the interiors is beginning to lift. “People are a little braver with color,” says Hannah Yeo, color marketing manager at Benjamin Moore. She sees a return to red, orange and yellow – and not just for accents. “The classic red dining room returns.”

The same goes for Apple’s colorful computers, with the iMac recently RELAUNCH in seven colors. This suggests that post-pandemic people do not value serenity in their homes, but joy.

Neutrals will still make up the majority of paint makers’ best-selling hues, Yeo says, and she doesn’t anticipate gray, “an essential color,” going away altogether. But it could increasingly coexist with brighter hues. This year’s color trends are ones that inspire lightness, she says: “I think people yearn for that. We were all intoxicated.

Canadian color consultants The Paint People recently came to the same conclusion, to announce on YouTube “the death of greige: a paint color category that has absolutely dominated interior design for over a decade”.

What will replace it, they predicted – and also that of Benjamin Moore color of the year for 2022 – is a light green and silver. Or, as they called it: greeneige.

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