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Five Colors to Use in a Neutral Space

Design by Studio McGee | Photo by Lucy Call

Like many of you, I am taken with the California cool aesthetic that often features pale or white walls, layered textiles, and plenty of textural elements. But of late, I've been toying with the idea of adding in more color. Color can be tricky, and I never want my spaces to feel too busy or saturated, so I'm paying close attention to the undertones of colors. I am especially drawn to dusty colors with warm undertones, which pair nicely with the pieces I've already collected, especially a well-worn vintage rug. Here are a few colors that have caught my eye, and some ideas for incorporating them into a neutral home.

Terra Cotta

The name might conjure images of a collection of crumbling flower pots, but the shade I'm thinking of is reminiscent of the well-worn floors in Mediterranean-style architecture. The hue that is slightly pink, slightly orange, and slightly brown is popping up in design on upholstery, lighting, and more, and is perfectly suited to being a slightly-unexpected layer that keeps a room interesting. Design doyenne Shea McGee used a curved sofa (another trend I'm loving) covered in pale terra cotta velvet in her own living room (featured above), and paired it with everything from dark leather to caning to charcoal gray. 

Pair it with: Gwenneth, a stunning Mahal from the 1920's featuring shades of blue, green, chocolate brown, and muted orange.

olive green kitchen with vintage rug

Design by Kate Marker Interiors | Photo by Margaret Rajjic

Olive Green

I get near-constant requests for rugs that feature olive green tones and I can see why. The color goes with nearly anything, and is the perfect "neutral color" that is a touch more than a shade of gray or brown. It's certainly having a moment in kitchen design, as shown in this recent renovation. Designer Kate Marker wanted to compliment the 100-year old home, so she added a whitewashed brick wall, herringbone wood flooring, and over-sized brass cabinet hardware that will patina with time. The kitchen is situated between two light, neutral spaces, making the cabinet color (Dark Olive by Benjamin Moore) a bold focal point that still feels on par with the natural, organic elements.

Pair it with: Evelyn, a Malyer with hits of gold and amber that would sing with olive green.

bathroom with ochre tile

Design by Light & Dwell | Photo by Anne Blodgett Photography


Yellow can be a tricky one to nail down, but with brown undertones, it takes on a glow that feels equally classic and of-the-moment. It's also incredibly versatile -- think of your favorite well-worn khaki pants that can be dressed up or down, and go with nearly everything in your closet. A powder bath is the perfect spot for a riskier design choice, and the juxtaposition between the handmade Moroccan tile and sleek marble vanity gives this new space a feeling of permanence. The light oak wood and storage baskets bring in an organic element that both recall the warm tone of the tile.

Pair it with: Rosalind, a Turkish Demirci with faded tones of cream and brown.

pale pink bathroom

Design by Heidi Caillier Design | Photo by Haris Kenjar

Pale Dusty Pink

Not just for little girls' bedrooms, pink can actually feel quite sophisticated. When when done right, pinks casts a universally flattering light, making it ideal for bedrooms, candlelit dining spaces, or even bathrooms. Here, the charming shade is used on wall paneling and a small cabinet, making it a simple change down the road if it no longer suits. I generally try to stay away from using trendy items -- so-called Millennial Pink being a perfect example -- but when I do, I pair them with classic pieces, such as the marble vanity top and the pretty brass hardware here.

Pair it with: Luna, a beautiful Malayer with hints of pale pink.

kitchen with griege cabinets

Design by The Identité Collective | Photo by Madeline Harper


The perfect in-between color, greige is sometimes gray, sometimes green, and always lovely. It's the perfect tone to warm up an all-white kitchen and it looks spectacular with neutrals like black, brown, and gray and other colors like red, yellow, and blue. It could be a little tricky to pair with greens, so keep a careful eye on undertones if doing so.

Pair it with: Celeste, a Persian Bidjar that has been antique washed to create the perfect earthy, moody palette.

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