Colors That Don't go With Gray — 'These 4 Combos are Just Jarring,' Say Experts

While gray goes with lots of other colors, these pairings are not the best match for this popular neutral — here's what experts avoid, and alternatives that work better

A living room in tones of grey, with couch pillows in orange
(Image credit: Mark Baxter)

Gray is and always has been a timeless neutral, and one that is still popular in interiors. While, largely, this tone goes with everything, it can't be a perfect match with the whole spectrum of color, right? Well, designers say a few pairings can sometimes feel a little overwhelming, or underwhelming and are best avoided.

There are certain key strategies you need to keep in mind while choosing to decorate with gray — like picking the correct shade, choosing a balanced palette, and introducing texture. To help you through this process, we asked experts to recommend colors that go with gray, and ones that don't for the most well-curated and designed interior. Take a look.

1. Avoid bright orange, choose taupe or rust instead

A corner in a living room with half gray wall, and half taupe wall

(Image credit: PUNTOFILIPINO)

Before you start decorating with gray, remember to choose the right shade of this versatile tone. Classically a north-facing room benefits from a warmer or darker grey. A south-facing room does best with a blue-toned gray. Once you have the right tone, then you can go about looking for the best colors that go with light gray or dark gray.

'It can be touch and go with light gray and bright orange, as this pairing can be too sharp and even a bit cheap-looking for some people,' says Jane Lockhart, founder of Jane Lockhart Design.

Certain shades of orange can, however, help to warm up cold grays, and rich, sophisticated rust tones work much better than bright orange. Alternatively, stick to other warmer neutrals. 'I feel gray looks wonderful with taupe, creating a soft, mellow, stealth luxury look,' says Jane. 'This complementary color also adds warmth and value to pale gray.'

2. Avoid mustard yellow, choose teal instead

a bedroom painted in asian paints autumn day

(Image credit: SML Architects)

There's no denying that gray is definitely a good color that goes with yellow. In years gone past, so-called "grellow" was everywhere — both colors were actually Pantone's Color of the Year together for 2021! However, experts warn against the bright tone of mustard yellow, especially when paired with dark gray. 'Mustard yellow can create a jarring effect when paired with gray, disrupting the overall color scheme of a room,' says Saba Kapoor, co-founder of Nivasa. It's also a look that's a little played out in interiors at this point.

'Instead, consider teal which offers a striking contrast that invigorates the room with energy and personality,' says Saba. 'Its bold presence adds visual interest and liveliness to the space, while still harmonizing with the neutral base of gray.'

3. Avoid red, choose inky blue instead

A living room with a gray couch and inky blue carpet

(Image credit: Alan Tansey. Design: vonDALWIG Architecture)

Gray perhaps may not be the best color that goes with red, especially if the contrast is too striking. 'Due to its versatility as a neutral color, most colors go with gray,' says Burcu Garnier, co-founder of Color Atelier. 'That being said, in general, we do not love the combination of red with cool gray.' If you do want to consider this combo, maybe try it in a smaller space; like a powder bathroom or a small nook.

'Instead, we love pairing warm gray with inky blues and crisp whites. As gray complements many shades, it can also be effectively paired with various textures such as plaster, wood, and marble.'

4. Avoid dark brown, choose light yellow instead

yellow living room ideas

(Image credit: Barlow & Barlow)

There are lots of colors that go with brown as this earthy neutral is an easy interior hue. However, pairing two earthy neutrals may not be the best idea, as it may create a muddy, overly organic scheme.

'A color that can be jarring with gray is brown,' says Richard Misso from The Stylesmiths. 'The combination of brown and gray can sometimes create a dull appearance, as both colors are often considered as earthy tones. Additionally, brown and gray can have conflicting undertones, which may result in an overall discordant combination. While there are instances where brown and gray can be successfully combined, such as in natural, rustic-inspired settings, in many cases, this pairing requires careful design to avoid looking jarring.'

'One color that can bring a modern, crisp, and welcoming vibe when paired with gray is warm tones such as yellow,' says Richard. 'Yellow adds a pop of brightness and warmth to gray, creating a visually striking contrast. In interior design, using yellow accents against a backdrop of gray can infuse a space with a contemporary and inviting atmosphere. Whether incorporated through furnishings, accessories, or accent walls, yellow complements gray beautifully, offering a refreshing and dynamic color scheme.'

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Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast).  Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.