Fifty Shades of Grey Paint:
Grey is on our minds this month – grey paint that is. Will the current trend to decorate from attic to basement in varying tones of grey, be remembered as the sophisticated shade of the decade – or just a little flat and lifeless? No other paint colour can have been so deliberated over for the perfect depth and hue!
So, why grey and will we see a change in taste this year?
Fi Crole of Fi Crole Designs, based in Hampshire, sees many clients choosing greys for a cleaner look: “Grey is very easy to decorate around – it is just a great background tone”, she explains, “Without losing the cosy and comfortable sense of a room, the warm shades of grey suit today’s move to minimize and declutter; you see fewer dusty handprint paintings with curling corners and fridge doors overloaded with magnets and postcards in today’s integrated dining-living room kitchens! We have frantic lives – a calm home is critical.”
Greys are particularly well suited to the kitchen, drawing out the texture in wood and granite. Providing a neutral background, work surfaces and floors can be brought to the fore and shown off rather than overshadowed by a wall of colour.
Fi says the decision in recent years to go with greys and neutrals for walls and a hand-painted kitchen has been firmly consistent. Favourite colours shifted from yellows of the ‘Eighties, country cottage blues and greens in the ‘Nineties, to today’s preference for a range of greys.
Paint can bring instant change and personality to a new home, particularly in the kitchen. In her role as interior designer, Fi Crole hasn’t undertaken a natural wood-finished kitchen specification for several years. Commissions at Wiltshire kitchen designers, Guild Anderson, follow a similar pattern. Of the thirty hand-made kitchens installed annually by the bespoke furniture company, ‘over half are for a true grey finish, says owner Nick Anderson, ‘or variations of grey-blues and grey-greens. A painted kitchen should last five to eight years, depending on wear, before needing a fresh coat’.
From softly atmospheric to the dynamic and dramatic, the spectrum of grey tones has proved far from dull. Blue, green, brown or pink undertones can bring a surprising depth and variation to a colour ostensibly described as ‘grey’. Little Greene launched a new paint chart last year of 28 ‘graduated greys’, formulated on four naturally occurring pigments, ochre, verdris, umber, and red oxide, resulting in a wide interpretation of the colour grey.
Paint expert, Kevin McCloud’s ‘no hogwash’ approach to choosing colour for your home is refreshing. His intelligent observations in ‘Choosing Colours’, make a classic guide to renovation and colour. Kevin points out that “Paint is the cheapest way to introduce colour into the home. There are paints for every type of surface and room orientation, authentic, period and historic shades, but what it boils down to is, do you like the colour?”.
Nick Anderson and Fi Crole have worked together on several houses in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset. Paint colour can be a conundrum on a large project. “Clients might initially love the idea of a colourful room,” Fi says, “but instead of committing to decorating every wall, splashes of colour can be brought in via furniture, art or soft furnishings. You may think you want something more personal and wacky but you also need to live with it! Neutrals are an ideal solution for modern life”. One solution Guild Anderson has found to this, is to paint the inside of a set of drawers in a bold colour such as turquoise, fuschia or orange – or all three, in one case…
For either greys or stronger colours, Fi, Nick and Kevin McCloud agree that good quality, highly pigmented, mineral paints give a depth and subtle finish that a lower-grade paint can never match. Fi is impressed by the colour identification and numbered coding system of London-based shop, Papers and Paints. This ensures colours match and harmonise in the same tonal ‘range’, rather than in a named system such as Farrow and Ball. The better quality paint colours are also hard to replicate from high street brands due to the complexity of the pigmentation.
Kevin says, “Having used many, many different brands over the years, it is very clear that the more you pay, the better the paint,” he says. “Cheap paint has more water in it, less pigment and less binder.” Nick concurs, “You get what you pay for. The intensity of colour and the way it reflects light in a room is quite marked with the more expensive paints”.
Watching trends develop over the past ten years, designer Nick Anderson has an unerring sense of which paint colours work successfully in different situations, particularly in large, open spaces where a kitchen doubles as a family room.
So, can greys ever be boring, I ask Nick Anderson, sitting in his design studio painted in F&B’s Pavilion Grey!
“Things can go awry with grey walls or painted kitchen doors on two counts,” Nick cautions, ”either by using the wrong or too dark a shade for the room, resulting in a ‘battle ship’ grey effect. And secondly, a spray painted finish on units will lose the subtleties of colour, against a hand-painted kitchen using more expensive paints. Little Greene paints are made up of 15 pigments, so using cheaper paints is like looking at a 2-D version or an under-pixelated TV screen – an over-simplication of the real thing. A spray painted, mass-produced kitchen can be very hard, as it creates a block of colour no matter what hue”.
Perhaps this then is the important, subtle success of the grey tones: not just a timeless alternative to white but a hue where the impurity of the pigments under different lights give a more complex result than other colours. With its nuances and undertones, grey is a colour that subtly changes throughout the day and the seasons. It has a unique ability to transform and change, particularly in the vastly varied northern light of the English climate.
‘Grǽg’ in Old English, ‘gray’ in America and ‘grey’ in other English-speaking countries, which do designers feel are the best shades of grey paint? Nick says the two colours most frequently chosen by clients for a hand-painted, bespoke Guild Anderson kitchen are both greys: Farrow & Ball ‘Hardwick White’ and Little Greene ‘French Grey’. Clients of Fi Crole also love ‘Purbeck Stone’, with the most popular greys perhaps being ‘Elephant’s Breath’, with its decidedly pinky tones, and ‘Mouse’s Back’, a brown grey.
Guild Anderson buys paint from Compton Smith in Shaftesbury. Here, the fastest selling lighter greys are Farrow & Ball’s ‘Skimming Stone’ and ‘Pavillion Grey’, or ‘Manor House Grey’ for a darker tone. From the new ‘greys’ chart, Little Greene’s ‘Inox’, ‘Ceviche’ and ‘Fescue’ have proved popular.
So, where are interior colours going in 2015?
While the ‘down stairs’ rooms may retain the greys and neutrals, Fi Crole speaks with enthusiasm of the fabulous new ranges of colourful, ambitious and sophisticated wallpapers for bedrooms, bathrooms and landings. Fi is also interested to watch where the new developments in resilient flooring paints may lead to, with floor paints an instant and reasonably-priced way to spruce up a room.
Nick Anderson is seeing little change in colour selection by clients, although the ‘B&Q effect’ of grey everywhere on the high street may soon mean we will have had enough of the greys. Compton Smith describe paint trends last approximately five years each, so perhaps this desire for grey must surely soon taper away.
Leaving paint aside, Nick is inspired by recent technical innovations in veneers and surface finishes, in greys or bolder colours. Guild Anderson specified veneers for several projects last year. “Natural wood and reconstituted veneers remove the issues with consistency and reliability that natural materials face. They are an efficient way to use timber, albeit a slightly more expensive finish than paint. Veneers are more tactile and resistant to knocks and wear, and available in some impressively creative colours and textures”. Nick also likes the softer resonance a veneer finish can give a room, even more so than with a hand painted surface.
Calm, timeless and steady, grey is a perfect counterfoil to busy lives. It is a rational and undisputed base from which to offset other colours or experiment with textures and surfaces. We may be about to enter a phase where stronger paint colour will prevail, but with the constancy of at least 500 shades, those seeking a calm room colour will never quite look at a shade of grey paint in the same light again.
Fi Crole Designs: 0771 858 1808 / www.fionacrole.com
Compton Smith: 01747 850150 / www.comptonsmith.co.uk