What are Neutral Colors and How Can They Work In Your Home?

updated Aug 11, 2022
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(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

When it comes to interior design, neutral colors sometimes get a bad reputation for being too safe or too blah. But in your living space, that lack of edge can actually be a good thing. First and foremost, you want your home to be your haven, a place where you can relax and retreat from all the stimuli of the world. There’s no better way to create chill vibes than surrounding yourself with quiet neutrals like taupe, beige, ivory, and more. 

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Moreover, when you choose a neutral for your walls or your furniture, you’re giving yourself a blank slate to build on with pops of pattern, bold color and texture. And the beauty is, because neutrals go with everything, you can make changes frequently without having to replace all of your living room decor

Intrigued by that versatility? Here’s a primer on neutral colors and how to use them successfully in your home.

1. What is a Neutral Color?

(Image credit: Elissa Crowe)

A neutral is a color without much intensity or saturation—a color that’s lacking in color, if you will, which generally goes with everything. Examples of neutral colors include:

  • Tan
  • Beige
  • Ivory
  • Cream
  • White
  • Black
  • Gray  

These shades are visually quiet in interiors, almost receding into the background of rooms and spaces, even when used on walls or major pieces of furniture. For that reason, neutrals are a great backdrop for pretty much any design choice, simply because they do not compete with them. Neutrals aren’t on the color wheel, per se, but they have undertones of colors from it. And you should take those tints and tones into account when choosing a neutral. 

What Neutral Colors are Best For Living Rooms?

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White has been one of the most popular living room colors as of late because it goes with all. the. things. Literally. You can take more risks with color in art, furniture, and accessories when your background is basically colorless. But not all whites are created equal. It’s important to take your natural light situation into account when selecting the right white or neutral: 

  • If your home gets a lot of sunlight: Try a bright white that has cooler undertones. 
  • If you have few windows and rely on lamp light: Choose something with a little more warmth—a taupe, cream or greige with a little more pigment and movement—so your space doesn’t end up looking sterile or flat. 

What Neutral Colors Make a Room Look Bigger?

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Lighter, brighter neutrals are going to throw more light around a room, thus making it appear larger. Go with a dove gray or a soft beige if you’re dealing with a diminutive living space. 

Now’s the time to also try a color in its lightest, most neutral state: 

  • Blush pink
  • Soft mint
  • Lavender
  • Light powder blue 

What Colors Go With Neutral Colors?

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

All colors go with neutrals; even other neutrals. That’s the beauty of decorating with neutrals. They’re a great starting point for any room because they can be updated often just by switching out accessories and textiles. Bright, bold colors will pop against neutrals, and you really can go with any palette, warm or cool.

(Image credit: Nasozi Kakembo)

How to Use Neutral Colors in Your Home

Wondering how to make neutral colors work for your space? Here, we’ll share some of our favorite design tips for working with neutrals to create just about any vibe you’re feeling. 

Neutrals are classic and nondescript, so they are a great foundation for any decorating style.

Tip #1

Add vibrant colors and patterns in an eclectic mix for a funky, boho or maximalist look. 

Tip #2

Mix just about any neutral tone with lots of black and white for a minimalist vibe.

Tip #3

Use a tone-on-tone neutral palette for a sophisticated look. 

Tip #4

A sleek grey neutral or a stark white can serve as a backdrop for modern design.

Tip #5

For any sort of neutral colored room, vary the textures of your furnishings, adding in nubby knits, fuzzy rugs, something woven and even some hits of metallic to stave off a boring feeling. 

Credit: Cass Smith

Tip #6

Try a darker neutral for a cozier feeling. This is particularly effective in a bedroom or a room with lots of natural light.

So what’s your favorite neutral? How have you used neutral shades in your own space?