Going Gray

Hot Color Creates a Whole New Palette for Interior Design

By Sean P. Johnson

The Fox Cities have gone gray.

It has nothing to do with the weather, Baby Boomers or an aging population. Instead, the gray overtaking the Fox Cities is part of a hot new color palette taking root with residents, remodelers and homebuilders.

Move over beige and brown, the newest neutral color to move in from the coasts has arrived. Gray, it’s not just for battleships anymore.

“I’ve been working with grays for about a year,” says Mary Duba, an interior designer with Sherwin- Williams who has more than 25 years experience. “The grays have stability. You can use them to look elegant and they also can work in an informal setting. Gray is a great backdrop that you can use so many different colors with.”

To paraphrase a recent best seller, gray has many shades, and they work well with a variety of fixtures, cabinetry, appliances and furniture, both old and new.

That flexibility allows remodelers to easily connect a newly renovated space with existing rooms and not have it seem out of place, says Susan Fassbender, an interior designer and co-owner of Distinctive Renovations.

“It really goes well with all the other colors people have been using,” Fassbender says. “We might have a new kitchen in yellow and the adjacent living space with pink. We can use gray to make the transition. Of course, you have to get the right undertones.”

It’s more than just paint schemes where this new trend is appearing, though that is usually one of the easiest and least expensive options for introducing gray into a room. Fassbender says shades of gray have become popular in flooring, tile and woodwork. It’s also showing up in carpeting, creating bold options for furniture and other design elements.

“It’s all in how you use it,” says Barb Skubal, an interior designer with Total Floor Covering in Appleton. “People want to step out and do something different.”

Skubal said medium grays, particularly in tile, have become popular options this past year.

New cabinetry lines also are reflecting the graying trend, says Ali Fagerland, a design specialist with Mosquito Creek Home Renovations. She says at least two of the cabinetry suppliers she works with are supplying cabinets incorporating gray stains, which provides a great neutral backdrop for overall kitchen projects.

“We’ve been seeing this coming for two to three years, but it seems to be blowing up huge in our area for 2014,” Fagerland says. “It’s timeless, you can change all of the things around it and it still works.”

Mosquito Creek recently won a 2014 Level Best award from the Fox Cities chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for a kitchen remodel featuring gray as part of the color palette.

The range of grays designers are working with include incredibly light shades of stain allowing wood grain to seep through to shades that reflect tints of blue or purple to darker shades such as the slate found in countertops.

Indeed, countertops have been on the leading edge of this latest gray incursion. Many of the popular stone options for countertops just happen to be in the gray palette.

Tina VanCamp, an interior designer with Arn’s Cabinets in Little Chute says natural grays such as quartz have become quite popular and provide a flexible canvas around which the rest of the room can be designed.

“It can be used in a natural design or it can support a design that is contemporary,” VanCamp says. “For the last two to three years, we’ve really been seeing it come back. Now it seems to be a more comfortable choice.”

This latest gray trend is a comeback of sorts for gray, having fallen out of favor as consumers and designers turned to beige, browns and earth tones when it came to neutral colors.

At Gerhards, the Kitchen & Bath Store, Manager Amy Gartzke has been watching as grays have taken a shift toward darker, “thunder” grays. She’s also seen gray being incorporated into plumbing and fixtures, particularly tubs and vessels where the inside is white, but the exterior is gray.

“We are really seeing that rich, warm gray,” Gartzke says. “But it’s still neutral enough where you can mix things up around it.”

Whether gray and all of its shades will have a long stay as the color of choice remains to be seen. Those who work in interior design seem to think it’s not going away soon, in part because the palette is much broader than it was 20 years ago.

During its popularity back then, the shades tended to be lighter and gave the space a cool feel, says Diane Welhouse, vice president of operations and design for Welhouse Construction Services. Today’s grays are deeper, richer and give off a much warmer feel.

While gray may be the hot color, Welhouse says it’s not generally the color customers ask for first. Instead, they will often select it as the second or third color in the palette to unify their initial color choices, she says.

“The customer is not coming in and saying they have to have it,” Welhouse says. “But they are finding it a very easy color to work with.”


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