By Tessa Pearson published
Seeking a truly timeless palette, or some modern grey living room ideas? There are few colors more enduring and versatile than grey. Whatever qualities define your space – square footage, ceiling height, natural light, architectural details or material mixes – you can be sure there’s a shade of grey to enhance it.
We tapped a host of experts and interior designers and asked them to share their favorite, and most original, ways to harness the understated power of this chameleon color. Whether you fancy braving a floor-to-ceiling charcoal paint job, exploring the lustrous depth of natural clay, advice for choosing a grey paint shade or the raw beauty of concrete cladding, there’s bound to be a look that appeals.
How to choose the right grey shade
Most grey paints include different colored pigments within the black/white mix, which provide depth and character, and change how the grey appears when it reacts to light. Place greys side by side and you’ll see one may seem a bit green, violet or blue if it has cool undertones or it could appear tinged with red, orange, brown or yellow if it is a warm grey. 'Grey is often perceived as cool but with the right underlying tonal notes, grey can deliver a gentle warmth to spaces too,' advises Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball.
As well as the temperature of grey, you’ll need to think about its intensity. For a feeling of light and space, keep it pale, but for coziness and drama, shade down to the darker greys. If you only use the room in the evening, consider a stronger color to create an intimate feel, but if you use the room during the daytime you might opt for a lighter grey.
To find the best undertone to use, you’ll need to consider the direction of your living room – and handily there’s a compass app on most phones for that! South-facing rooms are filled with light so all greys will work. A pale grey will maximize the feeling of light and space so is good as a small living room idea – while a cooler-based gray will balance the intensity of the sunlight. Northern light tends to bring out a gray’s cooler notes, so either choose a deeply saturated grey for a cocooning effect or select a lighter grey with warm undertones for a more welcoming vibe. East-facing spaces receive warmer light in the morning and cooler light in the evening, and vice versa for West-facing rooms. The changing light means you’ll need to find a grey that works with both – or with the lighting at the time of day you’ll use the space.
If your living room has two aspects, work out which light dominates and pick your grey accordingly. Don’t forget to tie in with the colors and undertones of adjoining rooms or external views for a scheme that flows, and, if layering greys, choose ones with the same undertones from a single color family.
Grey living room ideas
1. Contrast cool grey with earthy shades
'A recent renovation of my own home, which was built in the 1970s, allowed me the opportunity to reconsider the color scheme," says stylist and interior designer Simone Haag. "The formerly white wood-paneled walls were repainted in a blue-grey tone to create a foil for the wealth of warm, textural elements I introduced in the living space – such as the bespoke joinery with its cane paneling and marble plinths, and the caramel-hued leather sofa.'
Simone adds: 'There’s a pleasing tension between grey and beige, which will play out well in almost any property but also feels particularly at home in a mid-century abode. In addition, this soft grey shade is a great backdrop for displaying art and objects, while maintaining a serene, light-filled aesthetic.'
2. Add texture with natural wall coverings
'We love to use grasscloth and natural wall coverings and have done for many years," says Bunny Turner of the interior design agency Turner Pocock. "The textural element gives great depth to the walls, which then have a completely different look and feel in various lights."
Bunny's partner Emma Pocock adds: 'The textured surface of these wall covering works particularly well in northern Europe’s cool grey light, making rooms feel cozy no matter what color you choose. The mid-grey shade used in this small grey living room provides a neutral backdrop for the colorful and patterned fabrics used, but (aided by the pale curtains) still helps to reflect natural light around the room.'
3. Be brave with deepest, darkest grey living room ideas
'I love working with dark colors, particularly in rooms that don’t get much natural light," says Julia Thompson of Frank Interiors. "I’m a big advocate of being brave and painting everything, including the ceiling and floor, for a seamless backdrop.'
'One of my favorite grey living room ideas is to use ‘Madison Grey’ by Abigail Ahern. It is a very dark grey, it has brown undertones that make it a beautiful match for dark wooden furniture, like this vintage haberdashery chest. Combine with bronze and gold accessories, and lots of greenery to make the wall color even more impactful. The result will be veritable feast for the eyes.'
4. Use muted greys to tone down a bold pattern
'The wallpaper shown here is in fact a bespoke mural from De Gournay," says Tom Parker of the design agency Fettle Design. "Offsetting a complex, large-scale print such as this with a muted palette means you can get away with choosing an extremely ornate design, with layers upon layers of detail, without it being too busy or intense to live with day to day. The colors used also allow for bolder, more experimental furniture choices, which can stand up to the backdrop without completing with the design.'
5. Create depth with natural clay
'The vast kitchen-living area of this Georgian home is bathed in natural daylight," says Laragh Bohn of Trinity Interior Design. "Clayworks sustainable natural clay was the perfect render for the walls as it provides subtle tonal and textural variation throughout the day. We went through a lot of samples to find the perfect warm grey color, which tones perfectly with the parquet floor.'
'It’s always so important when decorating with greys to look at the samples throughout the day and to try them our where the light will hit the color at different angles, as a color can look completely different from morning to night.'
6. Choose a green-grey hue for timeless elegance
'Our aim was to create a warm, light backdrop for the reception rooms in this Victorian terrace home, so we chose ‘Herbal Escape’ for the walls and ‘Willow Creek’ for the woodwork (both by Benjamin Moore)," says interior designer Fiona Duke.
"Herbal Escape is a rich green-grey hue which has a timeless, elegant feel and this wonderful soft palette was the perfect base layer to showcase a few antique pieces and delicate artwork on a gallery wall. This warm green-grey color palette allowed us to introduce other green elements into the design such as the beautiful chenille velvet ‘Farquhar Feathers’ fabric by Iona Crawford.'
7. Layer tone on tone for a harmonious grey living room idea
'This modern apartment features dark grey Crittall windows, which pick up on the colors of the city views outside, so we wanted the window seat and cushions to add another layer to this calm and cohesive reading corner,' says Emma Williams of the design agency Brady Williams.
'We chose a soft grey fabric with a linen composition for a relaxed, comfortable feel. When choosing your window seat fabric, it’s always wise to opt for a weave as it is more practical and easier to keep clean. Over-sized cushions also help to support your back on a bench seat such as this – here they measure 60 by 60 centimeters.'
8. Harness the rugged beauty of concrete
'We use concrete a lot in our projects,' says John Bornas of Workroom. 'While some might find it cold, we see a lot of depth and texture in it, which carries a warmth and adds another dimension to both interior and exterior spaces. The concrete shown on the interior walls of this house was poured in situ and is part of the structure of the building. However, a similar result could be achieved using a concrete render. This can be applied over existing surfaces or new lightweight walls to create a raw and textural aesthetic.'
9. Let nature inspire your palette
'We couldn’t live without grey because of the way it offers a canvas on which to let other pieces either blend together or stand out and sing,' says Staffan Tollgard of Tollgard Design Group.
'For this project on a Danish island, we mixed different shades of grey to echo palettes found in nature and bring the outside in. We layered various textures to provide visual richness and interest, such as the stone-like floor, woven rugs and upholstery in a rough linen mix. In nature, a grey season is so often followed by bursts of color and the invigorating zing of new life. We mimicked this with accent colors, which add vibrance to the subtle, comfortable richness that grey can bring.'
10. Add lustre with lime wash paint
'Limewash paint is something we've been using more and more in our projects, particularly in grey and ivory tones,' says Adele Lonergan of Covet & Noir.
'Compared to traditional matt emulsion paint, it has a beautiful textured, chalky finish that we love. To achieve the feathered stroke look, step away from the roller and apply the paint in several thin layers using a long-haired brush. It’s a really great option to add character to a more modern interior design. Equally, it looks beautiful against plaster moldings in traditional homes. We find it creates a really relaxed yet considered backdrop for styling, and adds a warmth that can’t be achieved with traditional paint.'
11. Paint two tone walls
Griege (a mix of grey and beige) has had a revival in recent years and works perfectly to warm up cooler tones greys. So if you want a soft look, pair this warmer neutral with a mid-grey. See how in this space the lower part of the wall is kept very cool and matches the grey of the sofa and rug, but then the rest of the wall is more of a subtle stone shade. The room still has an overall grey scheme but feels softer and warmer – it's given a fresh modern twist with the clean whites of the ceiling and woodwork and pops of neon pink.
12. Make bold colors pop against dark walls
Deep charcoals make bold colors pop even more than white would so pair dark living room walls with bright hues that will really stand out and lift those moody shades. A single piece of artwork, a colorful gallery wall, or statement furniture would all be the perfect addition to a dark grey living room.
13. Go for the classic combo of pink and grey
Pink and grey are a classic combination – pink tones warm up the coolest of grey shades, while grey gives pink a more grown-up and sophisticated edge. The key is to get the balance right, rather than go for a 50/50 split, use grey as the overarching color, and then bring in accents of pink with your decor and furnishings to punctuated the cool tones.
This grey living room gets it to spot on with a chic mid-grey monochrome space, broken up with just a few pops of bright blush pink.
14. Layer up the grey tones
For a timeless look that always going to be in style, choose a monochrome grey scheme for a living room. Layer up a few different grey shades to create a soft and inviting neutral living room. A grey sofa is always a good base - you'll find some great options in our shopping guide to the best sofas - then add in plenty of different textures to bring interest to the minimal color palette – cushions and throws in grey shades, natural materials like wood and rattan, and prints and artwork with a grey color palette too. Just be sure when layering shades to make sure they have similar undertones and won't clash when sat together.
15. Paint the living room floors grey
If you have been blessed with wooden floorboards, use those as the starting point for a grey living room scheme. Far more interesting than a feature wall, opting for deep grey floors will add depth without absorbing any light as dark grey walls often doo. Instead, keep the walls a bright, clean white to create a nice contrast and bring in lighter greys elsewhere in the room to create that lovely layering of grey shades we just mentioned.
16. Pair greige with rich timber to add warmth
Look towards greige tones to create warmth, and enhance that by pairing it with rich, dark timber for added texture and character.
'Greiges are very good neutrals that create warmth in a room but allow you to layer and contrast in front with color and tone. Try and avoid colors that wash into each other,' says Camilla Clarke, Creative Director at Albion Nord.
'In our project at 80 Holland Park (above), we used 'greige' colors paired with rich brown timber chairs, which helped soften the tones of the room without the contrast being too stark.'
17. Introduce height with tongue and groove cladding
Not only is wood paneling a lovely modern rustic living room idea, it also works to add texture, height and depth when finished in a warm mid-grey.
It's a clever and easy way to make a small grey living room appear larger. Patrick O’Donnell, Farrow & Ball Brand Ambassador, explains: 'A mid-grey, such as Purbeck Stone, used on vertical tongue and groove is a great trick for smaller rooms or those with restricted height to create the illusion of more space.'
18. Make grey the perfect backdrop for colorful artwork
'Pale greys act as a great counterfoil to textural layers of art and furniture when simply a white won’t do,' says Farrow & Ball's Patrick O'Donnell.
The super-stylish living room idea by HAM Interiors above shows how curated pieces of colorful art can make a grey living room pop.
Tom Cox, of HÁM interiors, comments: 'The trend for grey is fast moving away from charcoal, replaced by tones with more colour and warmth.
'We are always drawn to green hues that read as grey depending on the light. They have a tranquility to them and make good backdrops to layer color, art and pattern against.'
19. Keep the walls, skirting and joinery in a single tone for dramatic effect
A simple way to add drama to a grey living room is to paint everything in the same shade.
'We like to create mood by painting the joinery, skirting, walls and ceiling in a single tone, which works especially well with darker shades,' says Tom Cox, of HÁM interiors. 'It has a calming effect as it reduces obvious contrasts and can play a visual trick, drawing the eye up to create the illusion of space.'
20. Paint the ceiling a contrasting color
Don't forget about the 'fifth wall' when decorating your grey living room; it's the perfect place to add a splash of color while also creating a warm ambience.
With the rising trend for homes becoming a cocooning sanctuary and a tranquil place to relax, painting the ceiling is the ideal cozy living room idea, and a dash of mustard is the perfect accompaniment to grey.
'In most rooms, the ceiling is a surface that is often overlooked, but when highlighted with wallpaper or paint, the eye is drawn upward, unlocking the full potential of the room and adding a cozy factor,' says Paula Taylor, Head Stylist and Trend Specialist at Graham & Brown.
21. Hang tonal wallpaper for visual interest
There's a misconception that grey can't be pretty. A great way to add a feminine touch to a grey living room is to hang a floral wallpaper in the same color family.
'You should never feel that using neutrals, whites and greys is unadventurous,' says Andy Greenall Head of Design at Paint & Paper Library. 'In fact, working with the architectural ‘families’ and their subtle color variations can create a clever and sophisticated scheme.
'This architectural palette is incredibly versatile producing subtle variations as well as dramatic contrasts. Use softer neutrals and grey in isolation to create an elegant, calming interior, or use alongside a tonal wallpaper to provide contrast and design interest.'
22. Mix grey with metallics
Take the rough with the smooth and team rustic concretes with glamorous metallics.
'When working with grey interiors, we like to integrate varied textures into the scheme to substitute colour – a texture as colour approach,' says Helen Pett, Design Ambassador at Arteriors London.
'A grey space can come alive when interesting surfaces and tones of grey are in the mix. You can get creative with rustic, unpolished finishes of concrete for example, or polished and slightly texturally etched feature walls.
'It’s also a beautiful thing being able to use neutrals paired with metals and brass-like materials to create something unique and eye-catching.'
23. Invest in a jewel-toned sofa
Rich color-saturated emerald and sapphire shades pair perfectly with grey walls.
'Grey can be surprisingly versatile for a living room and will happily layer with many colours such as inky blues, greens, pinks and amber,' says Farrow & Ball's Patrick O'Donnell.
The chic room above by Sims Hilditch shows how grey and blue are an interiors match made in heaven.
'Blue and grey are endlessly workable,' says Mindy O'Connor, Principal Designer and Architect at Melinda Kelson O'Connor Design. 'Punch up the shades of blue from aqua to deep marine against light or medium greys, then add earthy rusty tones or brass to finish the space.'
24. Construct wood paneling for a refined aesthetic
Paneled walls will work to create a cool gentleman's club vibe, and are also a refined aesthetic that won't date.
Layer your space with accessories in different shades of grey or complementary hues like sage green.
Mindy O'Connor, of Melinda Kelson O'Connor Design, says: 'Grey sofas are grounding and act as a great base for more popping colors like pink, or for dramatic blacks, or subtle shades of blue and green. Play with upholstered patterns of gray on white to add subtle interest.'
25. Channel a soft industrial look
'A key advantage of using grey as the paint color for a living room, is that it not only provides a quiet and calming backdrop for stronger, bolder colours but similarly, allows unique architectural features and statement furniture and joinery to shine,' says Clara Ewart, Head of Design, Kitesgrove.
'While a client’s taste may change and develop over time, grey is often a safe option for a paint color, meaning updates can be made in accessories and upholstery.'
In the sleek room above by Sims Hilditch, a soft grey on the walls is contrasted with dramatic, dark grey shelving unit and contemporary dark Crittall-style door frames. Color, pattern and softness is added through fabric wall lights and soft furnishings.
26. Layer up tones and textures for a cocooning look
'There is something so timeless and elevated about designing a living room with shades of grey -- I especially love layering different tones and textures to create contrast in the room. Basing your design off a key piece of furniture is a great place to start when determining how other elements can best complement the space.' says designer Kathy Kuo.
'Having a grey sofa or patterned area rug can quickly create a focal point in the room and adding in accent pieces with the same kind of material - such as a natural wood or metal - can help ground the design, making it cohesive throughout.'
'If you want to incorporate an accent color, I love mixing blues and greys. Adding rich luxe blue velvets helps to amplify a polished feel and is perfect if you’re designing for a more formal living room. Whether it be through side chairs, throw pillows or drapery -- there is something so crisp yet bold about the combination of the two colors.'
How can I add color to my grey living room?
The easiest way to add color to your grey living room is through soft furnishings, furniture, and artwork.
Dominic Myland, CEO, Mylands, says: 'Grey is often a popular choice for living room color as it is easy to work with and goes with so many other colors. 'A grey living room doesn’t have to be one dimensional though; one trick is to keep the walls and woodwork grey, then introduce color through artwork, or even upholstery and curtains which will give an overall colorful feel.'
Lauren Harmon, Interior Designer, ASID Allied at JL Design, agrees grey is a brilliant 'blank canvas', saying: 'The easiest way to add color to your gray living room would be with art or textiles. Gray is a neutral pallet, just as white. It’s a blank canvas just begging to have color added in unique ways. A large format, colorful piece of art or some funky patterned draperies would definitely pop on your gray walls.'
And Kim Armstrong, Owner and Principal Designer of Kim Armstrong Interior Design, advises: 'If you have an all-grey living room, there are four major areas you can focus on to add color: 1) Colorful area rug (we love the example above by HAM Interiors); 2) Colorful pillows; 3) Colorful window treatments; 4) Colorful art. 'Of course there are other great ways to add some fun color. I love adding large colorful prints on chairs, and layering a sofa with some great pillows. The window treatments will make a huge impact, and so will a large area rug. Both of these items will envelop the grey room with color and coziness. Adding those layers to a basic grey box, is how you create coziness in a plain grey room.
'You can also add a pop of color by painting your mantel if you have a fireplace. So instead of just a basic off white that matches your trim, look at the colors that you have in your four main items, pick one of those and add a splash of paint to your mantel. The nice thing about a grey room is that it is pretty neutral, so whatever color or colors you love, don’t be afraid to just go for it. Your color selections on the items you bring into the room can be bold and dramatic, or they can be more pastel and subdued. If you have a plain grey room the sky's the limit on your options for decorating.'
Looking for something a little different? Dominic Myland adds: 'For a really modern look, you could also try painting woodwork such as skirting and window frames a bold contrasting colour.'
How do you make a grey room cozy?
The first step to making your grey living room cozy, is to ascertain whether you have a north or south-facing room, and make sure to buy the right type of grey paint.
Patrick O’Donnell, Farrow & Ball Brand Ambassador, suggests: 'When using grey think about the natural light, and the time of day you would use the space - this will determine whether you err towards warmer greys (brown-based) or cooler greys (black/ blue-based). If the light is an issue (such as north-facing), embrace this limitation by venturing towards the dark end of greys and create an atmospheric space using a warmer shade such as Mole’s Breath.'
Dominic Myland adds: 'A southern-facing room can get away with both types of grey, however if you’re in a north facing room with cool light it is often best to choose a grey with a hint of warmth to add coziness.'
After your choice of paint, it's up to your soft furnishings, layers, textures and patterns to add that cozy, ambient feeling.
'Making a grey room cosy is much easier than people think,' says Louise Wicksteed, design director at Sims Hilditch. 'Grey is only the background colour to build on. We suggest using warm tones such as tawny, taupes and red to emulate a coziness to the room and encourage people to relax. In addition, use the walls as a canvas and hang selected pieces of artwork together to create a more homely aesthetic.'
And Janelle Burns, Lead Interior Designer at Maestri Studio, comments: 'Pay attention to textures to ensure the room doesn't fall flat or feel cold. The best way to make monochromatic spaces cozy is to pay attention to the textures in the space - drapery, rugs, upholstery and pillow textiles offer opportunities to bring in textures and sheens that make a monochromatic palette cozy and more dynamic.'
What is the on-trend grey for living rooms?
With the current color trend for earthy palettes, nurturing greys are enjoying a heyday. 'We’re seeing a shift towards greys with warm undertones such as Barbican and Moleskin.' says Andy Greenall, head of design at Paint & Paper Library.
Ruth Mottershead, creative director at Little Greene agrees. 'Our warm stone-toned greys, like Dolphin, Limestone and Rubine Ashes, are proving popular as they offer a sense of comfort and coziness.'
Patrick O’Donnell, brand ambassador for Farrow & Ball notes that the use of deep, cocooning greys is also on the rise. “We are seeing customers becoming more confident by embracing darker tones like Worsted, which offers warmth and depth.”
How to pair grey with white in a living room
Few shades are easier to implement (and combine with other colors) than this, and grey living rooms always look good with a dash of white. Slubby grey upholstery, for example, will instantly up the comfort factor in a white living room, while a grey-walled room can easily be lifted by picking out white accents in white, such as woodwork, cornicing and shelving. And, for an effortlessly impactful window treatment, try layering white and grey linen panels on a double curtain rail.
Find more colors to pair with grey in our guide.
How to choose the best grey paint for a living room
The most important consideration when choosing the best grey paint is how the shade behaves as the light changes throughout the day. Try painting large pieces of card in various tones and moving them around the room as the light changes, so you can see how the paint color will react in the lightest and darkest corners of the space. If the room doesn’t receive much natural light, either go with a pale shade to lift the scheme, or embrace it and choose a dark hue to create a cozy cocoon.
Which gray paints are best for South-facing living rooms?
All grays work here so it comes down to taste. 'Cooler toned grays can read more neutral here, whilst warmer tones may appear too dense in this light.' advises Ruth Mottershead, creative director at Little Greene. S
he suggests their Urbane Grey 225, Shallows 223 and Serpentine 233. Farrow & Ball recommends keeping the look simple with clean greys such as Blackened or Pavilion Gray. Paint & Paper Library suggests Tallanstown Grey, Blanket and Salt V. Fired Earth recommends Plumbago and Antimony. At Mylands look at Walpole No. 42, Islington No. 23 and Mid Wedgwood No. 113. Pale grays like Earthborn’s Tick-Tock feel fresh or try Benjamin Moore’s warm-toned Balboa Mist 1549.
Which grey paints are best for North-facing living rooms?
Here it’s best to stay warm-toned or go bold. Consider the rich, earthy notes of Farrow & Ball’s Mole’s Breath or the drama of Down Pipe. Good choices in Little Greene’s range include French Grey-Mid 162, Lead Colour 117 and Cool Arbour 232. Paint & Paper Library suggests Tarlatan, Barbican and Lusi while Mylands recommends Ludgate Circus No. 89, Shoreditch No. 15 and Crace No. 16. Also look at Earthborn’s Cat’s Cradle and Hidey-Hole or Benjamin Moore’s Kendall Charcoal HC-166.
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