The design darling of the past several seasons, gray is growing up, as homeowners and designers discover its richer, warmer side. The pale, cool grays we’ve been seeing so much of were a welcome antidote to the standard neutral beige, and felt very crisp and refreshing. But now that gray is officially in our neutral comfort zone, homeowners and designers are experimenting more with with the mid-tones, from stone all the way to charcoal. Designers Andréa Dixon and Jen Ziemer of Fiddlehead Design Group in Minneapolis are on the gray train: “We use a lot of gray. It’s the perfect neutral for a kitchen because it works with any style and mixes with any material,” they told us. Read on to learn their pro tips for using this versatile color in your own workspace.
PICK THE PERFECT SHADE OF GRAY
“The wonderful thing about gray is that it comes in so many varieties, with a range of undertones: brown, blue, green, yellow, pink,” Dixon says. Which gray you choose depends on the effect you want in your kitchen. “When we want to create a traditional look we tend toward warmer grays, ones with a hint of brown mixed in, because cooler grays tend to skew more contemporary,” says Ziemer. Greenish grays can give a space a clean, natural look; blue-based grays can look classic—even historic—or very modern; pinkish or purplish grays can look modern or retro, depending on the architectural style and the other accent colors you use. Designer Lisa Steinbach suggests layering three or four different shades of gray in a single space. “Choose one darker gray as a grounding element and then a few lighter tones to add interest and a cozy, cohesive effect,” she says. And don’t be afraid to add other colors to your palette. To make gray really come alive, mix in other neutrals like taupe or black and white, and colors—a bold rust would add a midcentury modern look, or go with emerald green or dark blue for a sophisticated take.
MIX IN METALLICS
Gold or silver finishes work equally well with gray—or, for the most modern result, go with a little of each. It’s more interesting when all your finishes don’t match. Stainless steel appliances look great with antiqued brass hardware or light fixtures, and both finishes look really good with all shades of gray. The more monochromatic the space, the more important it is to incorporate plenty of variety in finishes of all types. “Try to work in a lot of reflection and texture,” advises California-based designer Dorothy Willetts.
LOOK TO THE LIGHT
“Dark gray can absorb a lot of light, so in a room that doesn’t have much natural light, you have to introduce that brightness another way, either with artificial light or by using plenty of white in the palette, or both,” says Ziemer. Also, consider what’s outside the windows and how it will reflect back into the room. “If you pick a color in the summer when there’s a lot of green outside, it could look totally different on a snowy January day,” she notes.
GRAY AT A GLANCE
DO Use a variety of grays. “Think of Scandinavian rooms, which feel at once clean and inviting with all their layered grays,” says Steinbach.
DON’T Forget texture. Dixon notes: “Reclaimed woods, monochromatic pattern, and elements of sparkle and shine make an all-gray kitchen more interesting.”
DO Keep it subtle.
If you don’t want countertops in a solid gray, opt for a light counter with gray veining, like Cambria’s Ella™.
DON’T Ignore other colors. “You want your eye to move around the room, so add pops of color in accessories and art,” says Willetts.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT MATERIALS
“We’ll balance gray cabinetry or walls with wood flooring and, if we’re not using upper cabinets, with open shelving on the walls,” Dixon says. When it comes to wood finishes, though, anything goes. For an elegant look, pair dark wood floors with gray walls or cabinets and white counters; reclaimed wood adds an eclectic effect. Whitewashed or gray-stained wood looks sleek and Scandinavian. “You can choose light or dark countertops to go with gray cabinets,” says Steinbach. “Or pull the gray in through the countertops themselves. Cambria®Berwyn™ of the Waterstone Collection™ and Roxwell™ of the Oceanic Collection™ are two of my favorites.”