Back in March I invited colour expert and consultant Karen Haller to take part in an interview all about the colour yellow and its use in interior design. The post has been a massive success, one of the most popular of all time in fact, and because of this, Karen and I have decided to make the posts into a new quarterly series : Karen’s Quarterly Colour Psychology Questions. This time we have decided to take a closer look at the use of the sophisticated and elegant colour grey in interiors. By this we mean archetype grey, (as in a mix of black and white, not other colours that are mixed with grey) which has proven to be a big hit in interiors over the past year or so.
I chose to quiz Karen about grey as I personally really like the use of this colour in interiors, but I know that it is quite a controversial colour as some people find it quite depressing. It was in fact an article in the Guardian entitled ‘Why has everything gone grey?’ that prompted me to ask Karen for her expert opinion on what the Guardian referred to as the “drabbest colour in the pallette”.
Grey is a colour that is most often associated with industrial environments. How does this affect our perception of the colour?
KH. If we look at grey, we see a colour that is neither black nor white. Given it is virtually absent of colour, it draws no attention to itself, it keeps its distance, remaining separate. Thinking of industrial environments, they are utilitarian and functional. Industrial environments don’t necessarily need to be seen so grey is a suitable colour.
In recent months, we have seen an increased use of grey in interiors. Why do you think that is?
KH. There could be a number of reasons. It could be seen as trendy/fashionable or aspirational. This gives a sense of belonging, inclusion, acceptance. Or perhaps during these uncertain times we are currently in, people may be looking for security.
What are the main psychological properties of the colour grey?
KH. Grey is the only colour that doesn’t have any positive psychological properties. Grey is the colour to wear when you don’t want to be seen, ‘cloaking the personality’. It can convey seriousness and the message ‘I mean business’ .
Grey is often perceived as quite a negative colour. Why is this?
KH. It evokes a lack of confidence, fear of exposure, hiding. In the home surrounding yourself with grey is like cocooning yourself from the outside world, going into hibernation. Over time this can be energy draining and straining. There are many other colours that support the emotions without draining them.
The colours that we choose to decorate our homes with are often said to be a reflection of our collective psyche. Do you think that the use of grey in interiors has become popular as a response to the difficult economic situation we are experiencing at the moment?
KH. That can absolutely be a reason why. We are protecting ourselves, we may be fearful of the unknown and what is going to happen. We may be subconsciously withdrawing and using grey as a means of protection to feel safe and secure.
If we are anxious or nervous we may also turn to grey to feel calm, which is quite an extreme way to do it as it can be so draining without any support. As I said, there are better colours that support the emotions without draining or straining a person’s energy.
Recently I was meeting a friend at a café. Running late I rushed in, out of breath. I felt myself instantly relaxing, looking at the walls of the café which were grey. We both noted we felt ourselves unwinding and becoming more calm. However that ‘calming down’ kept going and going so by the time we left a couple of hours later we no longer felt relaxed but drained and tired.
To what extent does the shade of grey that we choose make a difference to our interiors?
KH. It’s best to use the shade of grey that resonates with you. There are warm greys (yellow based) and cool greys (blue based).
Are there any areas of the home where the use of grey should be avoided?
Grey is best avoided in the bedroom, nurseries and any rooms for infants and children. It should also be avoided in any rooms that require creativity.
What colours would you say work particularly well in conjunction with grey and why?
KH. As grey doesn’t have a ‘personality’ of its own, paired with any other colour, it allows that colour to be visible whilst grey takes a back seat. The key is to choose a grey that is from the same harmonious colour family as the rest of the colours you are using. That way it will harmoniously resonate and not jar or drain the other colours.
If you had a colour that was overpowering, you could tone it down (drain it) by using grey, or better still change the overpowering colour.
What are your tips for successfully using grey in interiors?
By understanding the psychological effects of grey you’ll be able to decide whether it is the right colour to use. You’ll also know that if you are feeling drained or tired it could be the effects of grey.
So, after hearing what Karen has to tell us about the colour grey, I’d love to hear your thoughts on using grey in interiors. Have you used grey in your house? Or any interior designers out there who have used it in a client’s property?
Karen and I would be really interested to know after 6-12 months of living with a predominately grey scheme how the clients feel. Was it their colour choice or did you make the recommendation? I’d love to hear how and where you used it and what other colours you teamed it with.”
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