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How to decorate with neutrals

Designer Marika Meyer shares ideas for making beige look beautiful, not blah

By The Washington Post | August 11, 2020 | Category

Image: Pexels
Image: Pexels

Marika Meyer established her interior design firm in 2007 in Washington, D.C. Her rooms artfully mix classic, modern and traditional elements. In 2016, she launched Marika Meyer Textiles and her fabric designs reflect her love of painting and her desire to create fabrics that can serve as the foundation for a room. She also has a line with Galleria Carpets & Rugs.

Meyer says whether you are designing a room with neutrals or bolder hues, it can be challenging. "They are both about finding the right balance," she says. "In a neutral scheme, the challenge is incorporating enough textures and materials to create visual interest. But when working with colour, no one wants it to look like the circus, so exercising just the right amount of restraint is key."

Meyer appeared on a recent Washington Post webchat to discuss decorating with neutrals. Here is an edited version of some helpful knowledge she shared.

Q: I see so many beautiful neutral rooms on Instagram, but I worry that if I go down that path it will just look really blah! How do you make it interesting and not totally one-note?

A: It's all about varying textures, patterns and materials. There are so many amazing textures out there in neutral fabrics, like a chunky boucle or a lightweight linen. Mix textures with tone-on-tone patterns for more visual interest. And, then don't forget to mix materials like natural woods and woven rugs, metal and lacquer pieces. A neutral grasscloth on the walls or on furniture will never fail you!

Q: I love the idea of using lots of white/neutrals, but I'm afraid of keeping it clean! I have little kids and the chemical stain treatments worry me. Do you know any family-friendly solutions to a light colour palette?

A: As the mother of two young children, I couldn't agree more! If you want to use lighter fabrics, but minimize the risk of damage, I would suggest using them on surfaces that see less use, like accent chairs. There are also green solutions out there for fabric treatment. In fact, in our own textile collection, we offer a treatment that releases no chemicals so you can feel better about it for your family!

Q: We moved into a renovated home and painted the walls in the main living areas various shades of gray/beige and gray/blue, pretty neutral. There are large windows and not a ton of wall space because of the open floor plan. What would you recommend starting with in terms of adding in some artwork? Maybe a piece for a small wall in the kitchen, and something for an open stairwell. Do you have any favourite sources for original art that won't break the bank?

A: I would start with the stairwell because there is likely no other main design element in the space. For art, I think it is important to find something that brings you joy. I have had great luck on Etsy and found that many of the artists there will do custom pieces to match your size and style.

Q: I'm thinking of branching into some colour, but don't want to make a big commitment. What are some easy ways to add colour in a mostly neutral space?

A: Pillows are of course an easy way to add some colour, but there are lots of other ways as well. There are loads of lamp shade options available now, including allover pattern, subtle texture, or just a colored trim. Accessories in different colors are another great alternative - why not collect a group of objects in a similar shade and then carry that throughout the room?

Image: Unsplash

Q: Do you have favourite white or off-white paint colours?

A: I love White Dove, Chantilly Lace, Cloud White, Atrium White, Oxford White and Baby's Breath, all by Benjamin Moore.

Q: My upstairs has a very cohesive colour palette of blue and green. Think navy, teal and sage. My downstairs including office, guest room, and laundry room, does not. Is it worth it for me to try to re-create the same colour scheme as the rest of the home? Or go for something totally different like neutrals plus red? Or just stick to neutrals like white and tan downstairs? Thanks so much!

A: Oh, your palette sounds beautiful. Generally, I try to keep most spaces consistent with larger pieces and then layer in different accents in smaller ways. For the lower level I would pick either the navy or sage plus an easy neutral colour for walls. Rather than red as the warm tone, I would do something like coral, orange, or yellow which complement the existing colors but will not feel quite as disconnected to the upstairs

Q: If you paint your walls in a creamy white, what is the best colour for your trim?

A: I love Benjamin Moore White Dove OC-17 as a trim colour to pair with creamy walls. It has enough depth that it will not cool next to the cream colour but should have enough contrast to feel fresh. I would then use White Dove in a flat finish on the ceiling to keep the space consistent.

Q: How can you do these chic neutral interiors without banishing your kids and their things? When I imagine a beautiful living room with wood and linen and grasscloth, adding a blue plastic dog and a red toy piano and a multicoloured farm animal puzzle just ruins it. But I don't want my kids to seem like interlopers -- it's their house too.

A: This is a question we get all the time with our clients. I understand because I have two boys, ages 7 and 10, and they are messy! Like get spaghetti sauce on the ceiling kind of messy. So, we use lots of indoor/outdoor materials for upholstery. We often find a pattern that we love and then we laminate it for kitchens or playrooms. For furniture, it is all about distressed wood, which already comes "broken in." For keeping clutter (i.e. toys) under control, concealed storage is the best approach. I have cabinets and chests of drawers on our first floor where the boys can tuck away games, toys etc., ... when they are not using them.

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post