You asked for it and here it is! Drumroll….. a discussion of one of the most challenging neutral colour categories, taupe. Tricia Firmaniuk, my virtual design assistant is writing about this one!
When Sherwin Williams named Poised Taupe as their colour of the year I was not convinced.
As this year has progressed however, I’m seeing it everywhere (I wish I’d snapped a picture when I arrived at one of the many airports I’ve been in this Spring and saw brand new TAUPE tile everywhere). We’re not getting big request for taupe for paint colours (although we do specify pale taupes when the hard finishes call for it), but certainly in other finishes as Tricia is about to explain:
Contemporary Taupe Bedroom From Behance
We are seeing A LOT of taupe these days. Between Sherwin Williams naming Poised Taupe as their colour of the year and the gray-and-weathered-wood-trend that doesn’t appear to be going away, taupe is ubiquitous in flooring, furnishings and stone products and makes up a huge proportion of standard builder offerings at the moment.
Weathered Wood Herringbone Ceiling via Instagram
So what’s with taupe?
First let’s define it. In Maria’s Understanding Undertones system, taupe is the neutral category between Violet Gray and Pink Beige on the neutrals colour wheel. It has violet or pink undertones and a low yellow component (when you have a pink undertone neutral with more yellow, it’s pink beige), and it’s warmer than blue and purple grays.
Understanding Undertones® – The System for Specifying Colour
Outside of Maria’s system, green undertone neutrals are sometimes referred to as taupe, but green undertones are more versatile and they are found in another area of her colour wheel. This is a useful distinction because green neutrals behave differently than violet or pink ones.
I think the reason that taupes are so big right now is that with the gray trend in full swing, many people look to “warm” grays instead of beige and so wind up choosing taupe. Taupes are after all grayer than beige, but warmer than “blue” or cool grays with their pink or violet undertones.
Uses and disadvantages of Taupe
Because taupe reads a few degrees warmer than gray, it often looks like a “safe” “neutral” choice for tile and finishes, and, as I said, it looks grayer (and therefore more current) than beige.
Kitchen with Taupe Floor Tile via ReFabbed
Here is what a green gray limestone floor looks like for comparison’s sake (below)
Limestone Floors via Pinterest
When something is described as a “warm gray” it is either going to be taupe (with a violet or pink undertone) or a green gray with it’s natural stone-like green undertones (think limestone or concrete).
If you’ve followed Maria’s blog for even a short while, you will know that she teaches that pink undertone neutrals are a bit more difficult to work with than green undertones, so naturally, choosing a warm gray with a green undertone is going to be more versatile and classic in the long run.
When you have a green gray (or greige) on the walls, like BM OC 23 Classic Gray or HC 173 Edgecomb Gray for example, you can generally decorate with any combination of fresh accent colours from blues, violets, reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, and greens, they all look great with a neutral green gray or greige.
When you are decorating around taupee (BM Stonehearth or Ranchwood) on the other hand, you are basically limited to blues, pinks and some greens, warmer toned accent colours just don’t look good.
Overall, taupe reads earthier and dirtier because of its warm undertones.
If you search Pinterest for “taupe interior” the first thing you might notice about the rooms that pop up is that they are all tonal and neutral.
Neutral Taupe and Pink Beige Room via Things That Inspire
Taupe looks best in its own company, with creamy whites to freshen it up.
You will find it sometimes paired successfully with soft blues, leafy greens and muddier pinks.
So although there is no such thing as an inherently bad colour, some neutral categories are simply more versatile than others. And unfortunately for all of those with brand new taupe finishes, it is one of the more limiting ones.
Taupe and the Current Trends
If you take a look at the current weathered wood finishes in furniture and flooring, you can see that the undertone of most of these trendy finishes is taupe.
Because they are “grayer” than more traditional wood tones, they feel current. But Maria predicts (and I fully agree) that these weathered and reclaimed finishes are eventually all destined for the “shabby chic repaint pile” and that we will all be desperate to paint them white in 5 or 10 years just like the pickled and golden oak finishes of yester-years.
So taupe seems to be doing well for itself as the warmer cousin of the gray trend. But if the trend is about fresher interiors with more colour, then taupe is a slightly stunted imposter because it dictates an earthier colour palette that is much more limited in range.
If you have taupe wood look tile installed all over your house, you will not have the options in the future for changing up your colour palette as if you had a more natural walnut, birch or even green gray concrete coloured tile.
Restoration Hardware Inspired Room via Housely
You can clearly see this in the trendy Restoration Hardware look (above). Although the brand puts out some sophisticated looking designs, you’ll rarely see any colour other than neutrals, darks and whites in any of their branding images. And taupe and weathered wood finishes abound.
I personally think this is a look with an expiry date, and that it is fast approaching.
However, colourful rooms are not for everyone, and I can completely get behind a sophisticated neutral room from time to time.
How to Work with Taupe
If you have taupe finishes installed in your house, or if you happen to really love this earthy warm range of colours, no problem, as long as you know what you are working with, of course you can create a beautiful room.
Blues make taupe look fresh via Pinterest
Since taupe is technically an earth tone, many of the same tricks I shared for working with beige apply.
You especially need a very healthy dose of creamy white to balance it’s earthy qualities and make it fresh. Contrast is key. A taupe room can be just as lifeless as a beige (or gray) one if it doesn’t have sufficient contrast.
Taupe Dining Room walls with Lots of Blue and White via South Shore Decorating Blog
The key is to know which accent colours work well with taupe (and whether you like them before you commit to taupe).
As I mentioned above, blues and pinks work beautifully with taupe.
Taupe Built ins with Pink Accents via Pastel-ID
To make it fresh, use lots of creamy white and don’t be afraid to add warmer, more classic wood tones. It seems counter intuitive, but warm walnuts and golden mahogany look great with taupe. Taupe wood tones don’t need to be endlessly matched and repeated, don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Go glam with metallics, taupe works well with bronze, aged brass, nickel and pewter.
Taupe bedroom with warm wood tones Via Interior Hints Instagram
To Taupe or not to Taupe
Because taupe is a trendy off shoot of the gray trend, be careful about installing hard finishes in taupe just like in any trendy neutral like gray or brown.
If you go neutral with your finishes, you can absolutely indulge in taupe walls and decor without being married to the look for years to come. All of the lovely rooms in this post have a generous amount of white. On the other hand, a floor to ceiling taupe tiled bathroom already looks drab and dated.
A pretty White and Cream Bathroom with Taupe Walls and Accents via Home Bunch
I especially caution against taupe flooring since this is the most expensive to change and the most limiting. So many of the wood look tiles, laminates and wood floors right now have a gray cast that is ultimately taupe and it will date so much more quickly than a classic walnut or natural maple.
So before you settle on that “warm gray tile”, consider whether you really want to install the more limiting undertone of the gray trend.
I’m curious about how you all feel about taupe, love it? Leave it?
If you’d like to choose the right taupe (or any neutral or colour) for your home, download my How to Choose Paint Colours, It’s all in the Undertones here.
If you’d like help with your interior or exterior colours check out our eDesign services here.