When we think of neutral colors in décor, often what comes to mind is whites, creams, and beiges—colors that are less about drawing attention to themselves and more about letting other colors shine. But neutral colors don't have to simply fade into the background.
2021 saw a real shift in the way we think of neutrals, and we're predicting it's only going to continue into 2022. Colors that were once thought of as trendy, bold, or had been relegated to use as accent colors, are now considered neutrals. So what contributes to this shift? According to Gail Davis, a luxury interior designer, all it takes is for a color to become more common. "You start to warm up to it," says Davis. "And then you’re like, well, it’s really not as intense as I thought it was."
From bold and bright hues to muted yet unexpected shades, these once-trendy colors are the new neutrals.
Meet the Expert
Gail Davis is the principal designer and owner of Gail Davis Designs, a luxury interior design company based in New Jersey.
If there's one color that was everywhere in 2021, it's green—and no shade or hue was off limits, from toned-down mint and sage to rich and earthy forest green. This year proved that a color as statement-making as green could also become a neutral backdrop in almost any space. And using green as a wall color is just the beginning. Green kitchen cabinets? Check. Sofas? Check. Statement-making features like built-in shelves? Double check.
"For some people green is too much, but if you go outside—hello, green is everywhere," says Davis.
While black has always been a reliable neutral, the use of black in decorating has taken a bit of a turn of late. Instead of straightforward black, designers and homeowners have been using deep, almost-black colors. Think black if it had a hint of red, aubergine, blue, or green—just barely-there enough to make a statement, but not exactly subtle either. And the use of almost-black has extended beyond accents; it's having a real moment as a wall color.
Warm neutrals are certainly nothing new, but terracotta has gone from an accent color to a neutral with real staying power. It became a must-have color in boho-style décor in the last few years, but has since gone on to be a versatile color that works with almost any style. From the walls to furniture to accessories and more, terracotta can warm up any space in seconds.
Cream, white, and beige will always have a place in our homes, but blush pink is a great alternative for anyone looking for a delicate pop of color without going too over-the-top. Some blush pinks look more white in different lights, while others are more obviously pink—so you can choose the one that bests suits you. Despite the fact that pink has typically been thought of as a bright, bold, statement-making color, blush pink is almost as versatile as beige.
Don't be afraid to experiment with color. Even if you're a renter, Davis says everyone can try out a new color. "It's just paint," she says. "It may seem intense at first...but once you start putting everything back into the room, it just feels like this hug you've been waiting for."
The new neutrals are all about having fun with color, and that's certainly true when it comes to blue. Like green, really any shade of blue can be a neutral, but bright blues might be the most surprising ones. For Davis, if a color is everywhere in nature, you can use it as a neutral. "You can be whimsical and have fun with blue," she says. "It’ll make it feel like you’re on vacation."
According to Davis, the key to turning any color into a neutral is the other colors and accents you pair it with. While orange may seem like an impossible color to use as a neutral, Davis says quite the contrary. By pairing a bright hue like orange with burgundy, gold accents, and beige, like she did in her own dining room, "it becomes the backdrop." Davis explains, "Once it all comes together, it becomes quiet and unexpected, and it’s not such a shock," she says.
Though not quite as intense as black or orange, chocolate brown can add depth, warmth, and a hint of moodiness to your space. Because brown is an earthy tone, it can be easier to select other colors to complement it, and you can choose to stick to the earthy feel or take it in completely the other direction with the addition of bright, unexpected pops of color and accents. Either way, chocolate brown can be the perfect canvas for the rest of your décor.