Neutrals are the Switzerland of design hues. A reliable symbol of domesticity and ease, neutrals—which generally cover whites and creams to beiges and grays—often get disregarded as the complementary colors, the safe bet, the sideshow to a bold blue or hot pink. But more recently, the design world has been elevating neutrals to claim the spotlight. They’re getting their due as the grounding, calming, pull-it-all-together answer to a space. From ethereal neutral paint colors for the living room to textural camels and greys for accessories, neutrals are—finally!—moving beyond the expected. 

Because when you think about it, nothing shines without neutrals peppered throughout. They’re like the negative space that allows a chair to stand out. The paragraph break in an essay that gives the reader a moment. Neutrals are, as Rachael Grochowski, founder and principal architect of RHG A+D, eloquently puts it, a calming reason to pause and reflect. “They are the base of what pulls a project together.”

Feature image by Kate Zimmerman Turpin.

Image by Michelle Nash

Grochowski further points out that within the world of neutrals, there’s a kaleidoscope of possibility. “Lighter neutrals are calming and air-like,” she says. “Darker neutrals are grounding and more earthbound.” Here, she walks us through why neutrals deserve applause—plus, five gorgeous neutral paints for the living room.  

Image of Kate Zimmerman Turpin‘s Sunday House living room
Rachael Grochowski
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Rachael Grochowski is the founder and principal of RHG A+D, a boutique, award winning Architecture and Interiors firm, in Montclair, New Jersey in 2003. The firm works on regional and international commercial, residential, and retail projects.

How do you approach decorating with neutrals?

Neutrals are the backdrop to a grounding design. When creating a sense of calm with color, it’s important to use restraint so the space does not become overstimulating. We worked on a whole house project where the objective was to create a contemporary sanctuary environment to support life’s transitions. We created a delicate balance of neutral tones and pops of vibrant color. 

How do neutral paints amplify a room?

Neutral colors reflect more light, which goes a long way in making a room look bigger. The key to letting neutral colors do their magic is to keep a tight edit on the rest of the décor. Also, continuing neutrals into accessories can help the space feel spacious and expansive, sometimes balancing off color or darker neutrals to bring the eye to an element or detail you want people to notice. 

Any other ways you love to incorporate neutrals?

For décor, I love pottery in neutral or natural colors with an ultra matte or slightly textured finish. These can be balanced with matte black ceramics.

Image by Michelle Nash

5 Stunning Neutral Paints for the Living Room

JH Wall Paint #104

Grochowski says this JH Wall color has a “light earth feel that’s very calming.” What’s incredible about this paint is its texture, which has a marble lime-wash finish appeal. The result is a neutral whose finish adds depth and complexity.


Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter

“So soft,” says Grochowski of this buttery beige that hinges on cool and warm. Ideal for a living room that seeks more light, this neutral acts as a calming glue for any design aesthetic.


Clare Whipped

A warm, delicate white opens up a living room to feel brighter, larger, and more inviting. This hue, which is akin to whipped cream, is the ultimate complementary color for allowing a brightly colored sofa and accessories to shine.


Portola Paints & Glazes French Beige

Grochowski says there’s a grounding quality to darker neutrals. This deep beige-meets-grey (aka “greige”) hue is serious, calming, and decidedly kind to anything it’s next to.


Farrow and Ball Stoke

Leave it to Farrow and Ball to create the moodiest, dreamiest, richest neutral gray that honors every look and feel.


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