How Neutral Interior Design Creates a Versatile & Flexible Space

Today, we're talking about neutral interior design and how designing with neutral colors creates a versatile and flexible backdrop for your spaces. It also provides a calming and restful atmosphere. Neutral colors provide the perfect canvas for any design style, are easy on the eyes, and create a sense of calm in a space.

What are neutral colors?

The pure neutrals are black, white, brown, and gray. They're considered pure because they have no color undertone like blue, red, yellow, and so forth.

Other neutrals like cream, beige, taupe, and tan are considered near neutrals because they are a mix of one of the pure neutrals and another non-neutral color, giving them the undertone of that color. This is where we get warm and cool neutrals.

A warm neutral will have a red, orange, or yellow undertone.

Cool neutrals will have green, blue, or violet undertones.

Colors can also be deepened, lightened, or neutralized by adding black, white, and gray. You can see the effects of this on the back of the color wheel.

Adding the neutrals to the pure green hue gives you a deep dark shade by adding black and a brighter tint by adding white and gray, giving it a soft neutral tone.

This is the tonal green we've seen so much this year.

Color perception - floors, walls, light

How we perceive color can be affected by surrounding finishes and furnishings, especially large surfaces like floors, walls, and artificial and natural light. Artificial light will tend to make the color look warmer since the most comfortable indoor lighting is in the warmer range. How natural light will affect a color depends on the room's exposure.

Natural light from north-facing windows will tend to cast a cool light, while south-facing windows will cast a warm light. With east-facing windows, you'll get bright, soft light that's slightly warm in the mornings, but things cool once the sun starts heading west in the afternoon. West-facing windows will give you more subdued light before noon, and it will get warmer and brighter as the afternoon progresses. Having windows on at least two sides of the space will balance things.

The best thing to do with any material or furnishing you're considering is to get samples and view them in the space at all times of day to make sure you're happy with the color.

Benefits of designing with neutrals:


Neutrals are versatile. Neutrals can be the basis for almost any decorating style, from traditional to transitional, Scandi to Japandi, and everything in between. Neutrals provide a subtle backdrop to showcase each style's unique characteristics. The trend toward warm minimalist interiors is an excellent example of this.


Neutrals are calming. Muted or less saturated colors have a calming effect and are restful to the eye. We can take inspiration from nature to create palettes that we find soothing, relaxing, and cozy.

The strategy here is to select a range of closely related tones with just enough difference between them to allow all the different elements of the design to stand out. So, you want a slight and harmonious contrast between the major finishes and furnishings and its closest neighbors.


Neutrals provide flexibility. Keeping the room envelope of floor, wall, and ceiling planes neutral allows you to adapt to new styles and trends by bringing in furnishings and decor items to change the interior without a lot of expense.

How to work with neutral colors: floors, cabinetry, walls & ceilings

Floors are the biggest consideration here because they're messy and expensive to change out, and they must be durable, so any refinishing or painting requires expertise.

When recommending wood or wood-look flooring, I suggest mid-tone browns with hints of gray for maximum versatility.

The same goes for tile. It's going to be more versatile if it has some warm and cool elements.

Cabinetry is another major consideration because replacement is costly.

Still, it can be painted fairly easily. Painted cabinets have been the trend in recent years, with white being the predominant choice, but wood is making a comeback. Again, some balance of warm and cool will give you the maximum flexibility when choosing your wall finishes.

Ceiling and wall color can be easy to change, but that depends on the height of your ceilings and any wall and ceiling treatments like paneling, shiplap, and wood plank.

You can DIY it by painting your walls and ceilings, but tall ceilings may require scaffolding or some type of equipment to reach the highest places.

How to work with neutral colors: furniture and decor

Bring furniture and decor items once you've established the room envelope. Select large furniture pieces in colors from your neutral palette to blend seamlessly into the space.

The smaller furniture pieces, rugs, and curtains can act as harmonious accents in deeper or lighter coordinating shades. Texture is vital in designing with neutrals because it helps differentiate items close in color with its play of light and shadow.

Artwork, pillows, and accessories can add a bit of color contrast for more interest.

If you want to keep things calm and grounded, use more muted shades and tones or black and white. But if you like a little drama, don't be afraid to pop in a bolder color. Those pieces will stand out when placed against a neutral background.

Neutral interior design

So there you have it, the top reasons why neutral interior design makes an excellent canvas for expressing your personal style. What do you think about designing with neutrals? Do you love it? Hate it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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3 of 9 comments
  • Boutet Boutet on Apr 21, 2024
    I recently changed my living room and it is all neutrals. I've been using shades of greens and I'm thinking of adding some blue. I was happy to read your suggestions. It validates whatI had been going for. Thank You
  • Cheryle Milne Brown Cheryle Milne Brown on Apr 22, 2024
    There was nothing enlightening to me in this ad. I had hoped to see actual kitchen ideas for redoing old cabinets in neutrals and pops of different color for interest. I had also hoped to see how neutrals can make a room appear larger, like painting ceiling same neutral color as walls. Disappointed, and I dislike it when my time is wasted .
    • Kathy Edwards Kathy Edwards on May 06, 2024
      I agree and felt the same. I stopped reading Hometalk for a while for that reason. I hope I didn’t make a mistake. Time will tell.