A House of a Different Color (Or, Too Many Shades of Gray)

Once upon a time long, long ago in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, Green was king of the decorating world colors.  A particular shade of avocado, used in tandem with gold, brown and burnt orange.  It was everywhere and absolutely everything that was used for the home, from dishes to crockpots to window coverings, came in this quartet of colors. I did not know back then at that young age that it was possible to decorate your home in anything else, since I had never seen anything but that color scheme used. In high school I had a boyfriend whose parents had done their living room in pale blue, white and gold with one mirrored wall; I thought it was beautiful. I was fascinated that they had bucked the decorating trend followed by everyone else and had branched out so boldly. I didn’t know it was allowed.

I met my husband in the early 1980’s and he took me home to meet his parents. There was the obligatory avocado palette: green carpet, green draperies, green lamps, green roses on the sofa and chairs. (In later years I wanted my husband to help me coat some object in sage-colored paint, and my father-in-law sighed and said, “Is she tryin’ to get you to paint somethin’ green?)

Then of course decorating history shifted and the hot new trend was Country Blue and Mauve. Ruffled muslin curtains and ducks and geese. Bows on everything. Down came the green draperies and all related  elements and in came pink and blue like a flood. And everyone dived in, rejoicing at the change, my mother-in-law included. It turned out that pink and blue were her favorite colors and they were approved by society at last. She used the colors with abandon; so much so that I finally gently suggested that she introduce a third color as an accent. “You know, green would be a perfect complement to all of the pink and blue in these rooms.”

“Green! Ugh, I hate green, I never want to see it again.”

“What! I thought you loved green. Why was everything you had in green?”

“Honey, it was the only thing you could buy. The only color that anything came in. You had to decorate in green.”

Thirty years and two or three major decorating trends later, we are now in the twenty-first century and gray, of all colors, is the raging force. Driven forward by Pinterest, Chip and Joanna, and Houzz, everything is now influenced by shades of gray on floors, walls, tile in showers, fabric, light fixtures…and accompanied by rustic wood pieces. Furniture that looks like it has been dragged behind a pickup for a couple of miles. And everyone absolutely loves it.

And I puzzle over this. I get the attraction; it certainly can be a calming, sophisticated palette. But  fifteen years ago I could not have sold a single soul on this color, especially not as the major color scheme throughout their home. What is driving the desire for it? Can this many people really love gray? And what if right now there are people out there who do not get the trend, who would always choose deep color given the option and actually yearn for a warmer look in their homes?

The good news (and maybe a happy ending to our story) is that there are in reality many lovely color combinations out today—so many that you need never adhere to the latest raging trend but if you long for green or gold or even burnt orange, it can be made current and fresh, 21st century-style. Yes, it can. There is actually no “one right look” any longer. Unlike my mother-in-law who was stuck for years with a color palette that she did not love but society said she must have, today you can use whatever you want. And a really good designer can help you figure out what is perfect for you, not everyone else, and create an environment in your home that you feel at home in, the way it should be. Billy Baldwin, one of the first great American interior designers, said, “If it’s your favorite color, it’s in style” and I wholeheartedly agree. Just please try not to ask me to do anything in 1990’s Burgundy. I never want to see that color again.