4 Reasons Why Gray is Out and Warm Neutrals are In

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WORDS BY Sara Watson

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Published on November 1, 2021

Cool neutrals have long been in the limelight when it comes to interior design (remember when gray walls were all the vogue?), but we’re experiencing a welcome renaissance lately: a warmer neutral color palette. Decorating your space with warm neutrals creates a sense of coziness and, well, warmth — think a crackling fireplace or a summer sunset.

Trust us: These are not the cloying warm tones of the 1990s. They’re less yellow, more subtle, and inspired by nature. Today’s warm neutral color palette adds freshness and is totally on trend, says Havenly lead designer Melissa Wagner. 

Need more convincing? Here are a few more reasons why warm neutrals are having their moment in the sun, plus how to incorporate them into your own space.

Warm Neutrals Create a Sense of Coziness

warm neutral bedroom

“Before the pandemic hit, warm neutrals were already making a comeback,” Melissa shares. Now, they’ve really taken hold. “We’re needing cozy vibes today more than ever, and one simple way to get there is by saying goodbye to cool-toned neutrals and opting for warm, natural shades of oatmeal, linen and sand.” These tones cue: sink in, relax, and linger a little longer. Like that perfect oatmeal cocoon cardigan that’s on top of all our lust lists.

Gray Runs the Risk of Feeling Blah

warm neutral living room

While gray is a neutral paint color that has a lot of potential in a range of spaces, it’s surprisingly easy for the shade to go wrong. “If you lean into too much gray, or choose a hue with the wrong undertone for the space, it can feel cold and stark,” she says. Case in point: a gray with a blue or purple undertone can look downright creepy. No one wants their space described as “zombie-chic.” To really make grays work, you have to balance them with warmer accents regardless.

Warm Neutrals are More Natural

warm neutral sunroom

In design, we often look to the natural world to guide us. And while there are a few gray, cool-toned things in nature (think rocks or mountains), there are so many more examples of warm Earth tones. Like forest bathing, these tones are physiologically proven to bring a sense of calm and restoration to a space (go science). Moreover, items that are all natural — linen, cotton, jute, rattan, wood, and more — typically bring a warmer, lighter palette into your home, Melissa says, while home decor items that are a cool gray are more likely to have been dyed. 

Add in Richness with Warm Tones

warm neutral leather sofa

And while we’re certainly seeing a return to warmer neutrals, it’s worth noting that deeper, bolder warm tones are also very of-the-moment. You, like us, have probably been spotting that gorgeous rust tone everywhere, from pillows to chairs, as well as saffron yellows, mocha browns, and even spiced oranges. There’s something about these darker, fall-inspired tones that embody your home with a richness that’s second only to sipping a PSL. 

How to Create a Warm Neutral Color Palette

Even if you went all in on grays back in the day, have no fear — you can still save a bunch of it, and simply swap in some warm neutral accents that complement cooler palettes. Start small by adding in pillows on your bedding, draping a throw over your sofa, or layering in a warmer neutral rug — or go all in by refinishing your floors or carpeting in a soft, warm color scheme (again, lean into color adjectives like sand or oatmeal). Of course, paint is another totally transformative way to give your space a warm-toned refresh. Melissa suggests Clare Paint’s shade “On Point” — a warm, rich cream — or Benjamin Moore’s “Swiss Coffee” — an incredibly versatile shade with a golden tint that’s actually a part of the brand’s Off-White Collection. 

You’re getting warmer. A fresh, warm neutral color palette is just a click away with the help of our interior design experts

Words by Sara Watson