Taking a VAST detour from my usual posts, let’s talk about something you’ve never heard me speak about before…NEUTRAL spaces. Beige, and more recently grey, everything comes to mind when you say neutral. An all beige or grey room is NEVER sexy. It is about as inspiring as a 2 hour old bowl of porridge. However, this being said, the vast majority of people continue to choose to decorate with only neutrals. This could be for various reasons ranging from a person’s inability to commit, laziness, the old adage that “they get bored easily”,thus they need a neutral palette, or their lives may be so hectic they just want a serene sanctuary. These reasons and more lead to the desolate ALL “neutral” interiors many people call home.
So how does one go about appeasing a palette hungry for neutrality without dulling down a spaces sensory experience? One of the most efficient ways to create drama in a neutral space is to engage the full tonal spectrum of the chosen colour. Have fun and create a black feature wall in a grey space. The basic approach would be paint but why not wallpaper, tile, slabs of stone or charred wood! (see below) This is perfectly executed by architect Rashed Alfoudari for Ubon restaurant in Kuwait City.
This brings up the second easiest way to layer intrigue into your neutral room, texture. TEXTURE IS GOD in a neutral design! Texture is the amorphous element that is the definitive factor for all senses. It affects touch, sound, smell and site in a space…actually let’s hope your room doesn’t taste like anything. Texture is derived from the different materials used in the space on all objects. This ranges from upholstery material, wall treatments, flooring and accessories. A mix of elements that absorb or reflect light and the way in which they affect the tonality of light.
By using unique and innovative materials such as a black slate, charred wood or concrete you are not only adding drama to a room with a strong neutral colour but introducing natural elements that have a unique hand, scent and effect on acoustics. Engaging both the envelope and objects within the space is key in achieving a textural harmony.
textured wall panels by Artex Easifix
Finally the one thing that elevates texture and brings life to ANY room regardless of neutrality is lighting.
Texture is useless without the proper lighting. It is a play on light and shadow which is only evident with proper illumination. Unique lighting in any room not only brightens up the space but acts as a functioning sculptural element. Bold oversized lighting will add the most drama and usually allows for the introduction of a unique material unable to be used in another application. The lighting layers in another textural element while maintaining neutrality. The Studio Job lamp for Moooi is an excellent example of a bold sculptural lighting element adding in depth interest to a space while maintaining neutrality.
Overall the successful recipe for a neutral space is DRAMA! Neutral does NOT MEAN you can be boring or sedate… One can be sedate when they’re dead. Drama is achieved through saturated tones within the selected colours spectrum, bold textures through unique materials and oversized sculptural lighting. Again, say this with me… Neutral does not mean dull and boring, it is the thoughtful layering of simple elements with similar characteristics. When done properly your oatmeal and gravel space will go from drab to fab!
This may be a commercial example but is uniting all of the factors for a dramatic neutral space perfectly. Zozobra Bar in Kfar-Sabba, Israel is designed by BK architects. It showcases a fully engaged interior envelope with dramatic tonal and textural usage.