Monday Inspiration: Pale Neutrals

Thought it would be nice to revisit these lovely calming neutrals for this bank holiday Monday. And the physics GCSE? He passed!

You know, of course, the saying that for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction? Actually maybe I only know that because I have a 15yo studying physics GCSE, but, that aside, it’s happening in interior design at the moment.

pale neutrals and plants via the modern house
pale neutrals and plants via the modern house

Over the last few years we have become much more confident as a nation with colour. Yes, we have always been good at wallpaper in that classic English country way, but colour on walls and furniture was not generally regarded as the norm. We chose, instead, safe colours, which we reassured ourselves were classic and, therefore, designed to last. Then came grey. Now, love it or hate it, I think grey marked a move towards more confident colour choices generally. Once we had ditched the cream in favour of one of 500 shades of grey, suddenly we were open to all the colours.

Dark grey (aka Down Pipe) was swiftly followed by navy blue, forest green and latterly burgundy and chocolate. Then came millennial pink – now widely regarded as a neutral in its own right.  DFS announced that sales of yellow sofas were up 595 per cent (summer 2018). Pale pink and dark green became one of the most ubiquitous colour combinations on instagram (guilty as charged) and suddenly our walls were swathed in shades from mustard to cobalt, terracotta and emerald and we didn’t stop at the walls. Ceilings got in on the act too (guilty again but I’m not the only one) as well as woodwork.

pale neutrals and plants via the modern house
pale neutrals and plants via the modern house

That traditional patterned sofa didn’t sit against a tasteful pale wall as they had in the past, but made a statement against a bright colour, with more patterns and colours layered over in the cushions.

But then came the reaction. On the other side of the coin there is a quiet step back towards the pale neutrals. They are warm and calm and less flamboyant than their bright cousins. There are, as you might expect, two schools of thought: one that all that colour is a reaction to the austerity of the grey years, the other than when the outside world is so busy and stressy that we need a calm retreat to come home to.

holland park villas by studio ashby
holland park villas by studio ashby

Or course it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you sit on. I tend to perch on the top with a leg either side. We don’t need to fight about it as there is no right or wrong, but today I wanted to look at some of those restful neutrals. They’re not for everyone. But nor is all that colour. The key is to look at the rooms featured here and gauge your reaction.

Don’t look for opinions on taste but measure, instead, your heart rate. Is it relaxed or racing? Stimulated or stifled? Inspiring or irritating? That is always the key factor in determining the right colour for a room. The next step is to decide if the reaction you have had is the appropriate one for that room. No point setting the heart racing before you climb into bed to read your book and a sitting room meant for relaxing needs a colour scheme that evokes those feelings not one that’s going to energise you.

daisy lowe bedroom at home of pearl lowe
daisy lowe bedroom at home of pearl lowe

These rooms are all gorgeous and quiet and pale. Even these two bedrooms from Pearl Lowe’s house (which I didn’t include in her house tour last week) are light colours with dark accents. The two top rooms, from The Modern House, are painted in a soft chalky white with lots of natural wood and, crucially, plants and I’m going to be talking more about biophilic design in the next few weeks – in other words connecting our interiors to the nature outside to improve our well-being.

And where else do you find all versions of pink and green than outside in the garden? No wonder it’s so popular at the moment. Of course you have to find the right versions of each shade for you. There will be no neon or emerald for me but the pale, blousey pink of a peony teamed with dark forest wins me round every time.

pearl lowe bedroom
pearl lowe bedroom

These next two rooms are from a new development at Holland Park Villas and while magnolia became known as builder’s beige for a reason, these spaces are far from the bland spaces of the 80s. Dark wood and plants sit alongside lots of textures and textiles to create rooms that feel restful and luxurious.

Be generous with your curtain material, add darker shades of chocolate, terracotta and saffron to your pale background to give it a bit of welly, and if the views from your windows aren’t green then bring some greenery in in pots or vases.

holland park villas
holland park villas

This room might be too modern for many of you and some will find it dull, but this is about your reaction to a space remember. I’m not sure about the wooden shutters, but look instead at the curving furniture which looks comfortable and inviting and see if how it makes you feel.

holland park villas
holland park villas

Now, no post on pale neutrals would be complete without a visit to Bianca Hall’s north London home. She was painting pale pink walls before most of us had heard of millennial. She was in and out of navy blue while the rest of us were just contemplating grey and she created these two rooms last year. She has recently been showing her instagram followers all the different colours she used before she found these soothing colours and it’s fascinating to see (I have highlighted her instagram if you don’t already follow).

This sideboard, before you ask was a plain cupboard from Ikea that she hacked by adding the panels. So brilliantly has she done it that a visiting houses editor from a glossy magazine remarked: “Jonathan Adler I presume,” on seeing it.

pale neutrals by bianca hall of french for pineapple
pale neutrals by bianca hall of french for pineapple

She doesn’t blog that often –  too busy painting – but there is a tutorial on the sideboard here should you wish to try something similar. And, once again, although it’s completely different to my own house I find these pale walls with the pink chair and natural rug very calming and restful.

So where do you stand on this subject? All the colour or all the pales? Join the debate below.

pale neutrals by bianca hall of french for pineapple
pale neutrals by bianca hall of french for pineapple


Kate Watson-Smyth looks at the return of pale neutrals and how to use them in a modern scheme. #paleneutrals #mondayinspiration #madaboutthehouse

Tags : Holland Park villasmonday inspirationNeutral decorNeutral decoratingPale neutrals
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I love dark & strong colours, but all of these rooms are so lovely! Especially enamoured of the bedhead shape & mirror shape in that Daisy/Pearl Lowe bedroom!

  2. These spaces are all very pretty (and I love to look at them) but I would not be able to live in them. I love colour in my home, the more the better. It makes me happy.

  3. I have a constant battle as I love pale neutrals and duck egg blues( my son says it’s one of the first words he can remember hearing as a toddler!) but I also love deep moody colours that make you feel cosy! So I’m joining you on the fence with one leg on either side!

  4. HI kate,
    Its a real wonder that people have started using colours and furnitures on their walls. And being able to change the colours from brights and flamboyants to neutral and calm colours is in our hands. It’s absolutely a plus side when we want to renovate our homes, and with some additional accessories it’s going to be beautiful. Thank you for tharing this post, it helped in deciding how I want my home to be.

  5. Great examples of neutral spaces and the emotions the feeling of calm they invoke. My favorite has to be the first image of the dining room, love the eclectic vibe, the mix of woods and all the texture!

  6. Well I’d comment “Shoot the lighting Designer” of Holland Park Villas. Far too many ceiling lights. The whole lighting plan we can see in those photos is a mess. The price of the flats will be exorbitant so no excuse to have been so unsympathetic.
    We were able to prevent the Developer putting trillions of ceiling lights into our sitting room ceiling. Much more sympathetic to have floor and table lamps and discrete wall lighting.
    Colour is such a tricky subject….each to her own!!

  7. Thank you for this post. We’re currently renovating our house, from top to bottom, and am now at the point of choosing colours. I love deep dark reds, blues, greens and was completely convinced we’d go for a color statement. Our house is a 1930’s build (Amsterdam) and these colours would most likely look great in the house.
    But every single time I need to choose a colour, I pick a beautiful soft pale neutral, haha. Last week I decided to go with the flow and just pick colours I like for each of the rooms and I trust it’ll all come together. So your post is a great confirmation of going for what emotionally feels right.

  8. totally agree with going by your emotional reaction to colour, furniture, accessories etc. If your heart doesn’t sing, calm down or whatever reaction you want from the room, then don’t go there. Equally when looking for inspiration and overwhelmed by hundreds of layouts in magazines, books, Pinterest etc, I try focusing on the one thing I like the most in each picture and then I find I get a real sense of whether it’s a particular texture, colour or style that speaks to me and will form my theme.
    For the record, my home is ALL pale walls, limed oak floors and beams, old, textured wood and stone and pale furniture – don’t judge me! It makes for a serene, comfortable atmosphere which we love and most of it I achieved on a shoestring by finding original and unique pieces and restoring them to fit my preferred look

  9. Loved this blog post Kate! I never considered how much colour may impact your mood.

    I’m in the beginning stages of renovating my house so I found this super insightful. Definitely want to select the right colours to radiate the right energy for each room.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts,


  10. A bit of an eye opening this week!! The bed in Daisy Lowe’s room is fabulous and would go with dark or light coloured walls. The curtains are elegant and really compliment the pale colours. The touch of the same fabric on the bed is a good idea – they stop the pale room from “floating” so I guess that plain pale/neutral is great as long as there are elements of darker detail to “anchor” the scheme.

    the sideboard by Bianca Hall is genius and would sit weel in almost any setting. Unfortunately I don’t have the right space to steal the idea

  11. I love the dark moody colours and vibrant wallpapers, but I know it’s not for our home. I have calm colours in our home keeping the stronger colours/designs for the smaller areas where I spend less time.. the guest WC etc., I feel completely relaxed but I also love the ease of changing the look for the seasons – a different cushion, throw and moving around the art work I find easy with neutral colour schemes. It’s not for everyone to it works for me.

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