Neutrals are a failsafe option when it comes to home renovation and quick paint jobs – but there's no reason why they shouldn't be just as creative and exciting as more alternative, brighter tones. Plus, they make a great backdrop for any special antique pieces you might have. Here are a few ways of incorporating neutral paint colours into your design without compromising on vibrancy and artistic expression.


How to decorate with neutral paint colours

Combine soft hues of plaster pink and heather

‘Heart Wood’, Dulux’s 2018 colour of the year (seen on the top left-hand plaster rosette on the piece of wood) is an excellent starting point for this palette. Combine soft hues of plaster pink and heather to create a setting that brings out the character and warmth of antique wood.

'Seen on the far-left plaster decoration, "Nimbus" is a versatile colour that promises to sit beautifully against a wide variety of tones and materials,' says Helen Shaw, marketing director of Benjamin Moore UK.

Background and plain folded fabric in ‘Romari Wild Rose’ (7773/09) and ‘Romari Porcelain’ (7773/12), both £69 per m, Romo. ‘Akan 00’ fabric (top left), £178 per m, Lizzo. ‘Bloom’ fabric in ‘Black’, £44.95 per m, Tori Murphy. Mid 19th-century wooden platter, £280, Puckhaber. Plaster decorations, from £4.80 each, UK Plaster. Plaster painted in (from left): ‘Nimbus’ (1465) Regal Select Flat, £20.50 per 0.94l, Benjamin Moore; ‘Heart Wood’ Paint Mixing Matt, £27.56 per 2.5l, Dulux; ‘Plum Tree’ (283) Marble Matt Emulsion, £46 per 2.5l, Mylands; ‘Ballet Shoes’ Flat Matt Emulsion, £18.50 per 2.5l, Crown. Trims (from left): ‘Karl’ pleated edging (BT-58116) in ‘Mercury’ (051), £27 per m; ‘Flanders Gimp’ (GB-57859) in ‘Slipper’ (15), £29 per m; ‘Sloane Velvet Border’ (BT57692) in ‘Blush’ (17), £58 per m, all Samuel & Sons. Royal Lace saucer c1937, £28 for a tea trio, Robinson Antiques at Alfies Antique Market. Necklace, crystals and paintbrushes, find similar at Alfies Antique Market. Decorative coral fragments, £280, Puckhaber.

Use complementary shades to frame the space

Use a complementary shade of paint to create drama in unexpected places, such as a through room return wall (seen to the left), which here frames the living space. Antique collections of gilt frames, mirrors and paintings are given an instant contemporary lift with the chalky, fresh colour scheme.

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'Intense and intimate, the "Plum Tree" shade of paint by Mylands adds a touch of luxury in subtle, as here, or statement form', says Dominic Myland, CEO of Mylands.

A wicker chair sits on an Aztec patterned rug
Wall painted in ‘China Clay Deep’ (177) Absolute Matt Emulsion, £42 per 2.5l, Little Greene. Doorway painted in ‘Plum Tree’ (283) Marble Matt Emulsion, £46 per 2.5l, Mylands. ‘Black and White Aztec’ patterned rug (120 x 180cm), £330; ‘Medium Poppy Field’ rug (120 x 180cm), £125, both French Connection. Wicker chair, £360, Elemental. ‘Transformation No. 4’ Tate Victor Pasmore cushion, £31.99, We Love Cushions. Fishing on the Seine oil on board by Evert Fahrm, £3,200, Maison Artefact. RJR.John Rocha pink vase, £18, Debenhams. Small distressed 19th-century mirror (behind vase), £95, Lassco. Royal Lace teacup and saucer c1937, £28 for a tea trio, Robinson Antiques at Alfies Antique Market. Large mirror, £450; antique sunburst mirror, £380; coral fragments, £280, all Puckhaber. Late 18th-century mirror (on right), £1,250, Maison Artefact. Whitefriars vase c1955, £125, Robinson Antiques at Alfies Antique Market. Boxed moth, fire screen and crystal geode, find similar at Lassco.

Add textures and darker hues to add points of focus

The gentle surface patterns influenced by nature allow mid-century German porcelain to shine. Splashes of soft black, provided by sculptural pieces of English pottery, break up the sea of pink and add points of focus.

Multiple vases sit on a blush pink sideboad
Wall painted as before. Chair and painting, find similar at Puckhaber. Sheepskin rug, £59, Rockett St George. ‘Efni’ sideboard, £845, Debenhams. Fulham Pottery glazed black bowl c1955, £55, Robinson Antiques at Alfies Antique Market. Vases (from left): 1970s large Kaiser Fossil White Bisque Op Art vase, £65; 1970s German White Bisque ‘Batman’ vase by Werner Uhl, £85; 1970s White Scherzer Bavaria German Op Art vase, £55, all The Old Cinema; black and white vase, £28 for set of two, Debenhams. 1930s porcelain and gold bowls by Gunnar Nylund for RÖrstrand, from £95 each, L&V Art and Design. Trims, as before.

Use black ceramics

Black 1960s ceramics look elegant when displayed against rose-tinted hues. Reclaimed tiles can be used as trivets or decoration in their own right.

A teapot sits next to a tall vase
Rosenthal tall vase by Raymond Loewy, £125, Robinson Antiques at Alfies Antique Market. Faux dogwood berries, £11, Oka. Sylvia K plate, from £22; small cup and mug, £27 each, Heal’s. Reclaimed tiles, £350 per sq m, Lassco. Midwinter teapot c1960, £55; Langley mustard pot and oil jug, £16 each; Lord Nelson soup bowl c1960, £100 for six, all Robinson Antiques at Alfies Antique Market.

Make a raw plaster wall a feature

Consider a raw plaster wall as a means of showing off antique textiles in varying finishes and styles. Weave in a bold accent colour, such as indigo, into lampshades and soft furnishings to create vivid points of interest.

A table with a bench and stool to sit on
Primitive bench, £600 for a pair, Elemental. Primitive stool, £320, Puckhaber. Stonewashed tablecloth (170 x 250cm), £79.99; ‘Rosa’ linen napkin, £8.99, both LinenMe. Vintage kantha quilt (used as a table cover), £120; vintage Hungarian grain sack (on stool and under blue runner), £45; antique French indigo linen table runner, £160, all Rebecca’s Aix Home. Sylvia K tableware, from £22 for a small plate, Heal’s. Cutlery, find similar at Maison Artefact. ‘Luxe’ wine glasses, from £7 each; tumblers, £5 each, all French Connection. ‘Diablo’ vase, £29, Heal’s. Faux magnolia branch, £17, Oka. Pendant light shade, £160, Janie Knitted Textiles. Flex and bulb fitting, from a selection at Urban Cottage Industries.

Incorporate salvaged pieces to add texture

Simple two-tone paint combinations make architectural salvaged pieces sing. An old door makes a wonderfully rustic headboard, and antique travertine tiles are reinvented into a sturdy yet impressive bedside table. A hint of indigo on the plain lighting flex adds a pleasingly modern twist.

'The range of "China Clay" shades by Little Greene provides the perfect backdrop to display antiques and treasures, due to the warm and gentle nature of its pigments,' says David Mottershead, managing director of Little Greene.

Find out what the best Little Greene paint colours are here.

A double bed
Top of wall painted in ‘China Clay Dark’ (178) Absolute Matt Emulsion, £42 per 2.5l, Little Greene. Bottom of wall painted in ‘Rose Bark’ Paint Mixing Matt, £27.56 per 2.5l, Dulux. Travertine sculptures (used as side table), £1,050 for two, Retrouvius. ‘Diablo’ vase, £29; Sylvia K tableware, from £22 for a small plate, both Heal’s. Tumbler, £5, French Connection. 19th-century French door panel (used as headboard), £950, Maison Artefact. Divan bed, £1,085; valance, £142, both Oka. ‘Rosa’ linen duvet cover and two pillowcases, £179.99, LinenMe. ‘Eden Blush’ throw, £95; ‘Perth Blush’ cushion, £45, both Ian Mankin. ‘Boho’ pattern cushion, £15, Sainsbury’s Home. ‘Made for You’ pendant light featuring galvanised disc shade and blue linen cable, £45.50, Urban Cottage Industries

Decorate with glassware in a variety of colours

The beautiful patina of delicate, ancient Roman glassware is highlighted by the gentle blush tones of the cupboard and wall.

Clay coloured walls with a similar coloured cabinet
Walls painted in ‘China Clay Dark’ (178) Absolute Matt Emulsion, as before. Cabinet, find similar at Lassco. Ancient Roman bottles and unguentarium (top shelf), from £150 each, St James’s Ancient Art. Other antique Roman glass flasks and jars, from £150 each, Ancient & Oriental. Coral fragments, as before. Vintage jewellery, from a selection at Alfies Antique Market. Woven hanging, £35, Woven By Emily.

Photographs: Katya De Grunwald

Twitter/Instagram: @katyadegrunwald


Styling: Ali Attenborough