Ask Maria: What’s Next After the Grey Trend?

Lately I have been getting many emails from readers asking questions like this:

Maria, what comes next??? If we are nearing the end of the gray and white “fresh” trend. What’s next!!??? I’m starting the process of updating a 1990 normal sized (1800sf) house – nothing touched since built in 1994. 

I don’t want to spend all this money and end up with a dated house in a year.

Thanks!!!

Again, if you have recently re-modeled or built a house and you aren’t in love with the result? Well, you should just skip this post because if you read it, you’ll understand why and sometimes I just think, ignorance is bliss.

I have been in the colour industry for 20 years. This means I started specifying colour at the end of the 90s when sage green was the ‘trendy neutral’ of choice.

Then in 2002,  chocolate brown and blue came along. The brown trend was over at the beginning of the 2000s but builders are still–as we speak–installing espresso kitchens because most builders are men and men perceive wood to be more valuable than a white kitchen.

I started talking about grey in 2009 when I started writing this blog. Grey is still going strong but it’s been 7-8 years now.

A trend has a shelf life of about 10 years which is quite different from a fad which is very short lived.

An example of a fad is backsplash tile.

Since I have started writing this blog, backsplash/accent tile fads have come and gone about 4 or 5 times. The current Encaustic tile trend will be just as short-lived as every other trendy tile that has arrived on the scene.

Last Fall when I attended Maison and Objet in Paris, black was everywhere.

I’m seeing more and more black bathrooms, black tile and black exteriors.

So let’s go back to the late 90s for a second.

Sage green was the sofa, tile and exterior default neutral.

Kitchen | Sofa| Sage green exterior

If you still have a sofa from the 90s, it’s most likely sage green. Many of you have bathrooms filled from top to bottom with sage green slate. If you have not painted your house since the 90s, it’s probably a shade of sage green.

And of course, fast forward to 2002 when the Tuscan brown trend arrived on the scene. I was looking for brown and blue fabric about two years before the fabric companies caught up to this trend.

Bathroom  | Brown exterior

Then in 2009, I started talking about the Grey (fresh, clean colours) trend, just a year into blogging.

When clients ask me to specify charcoal for their exterior or for a sofa, sometimes I’ve been known to say “But why aren’t you asking me for brown?”

“Because I don’t like brown”, they would reply.

That’s right, because that trend is OVER. Just a few short years ago, you would have wanted brown.

This is exactly why you shouldn’t paint your house charcoal or install a charcoal kitchen unless you have lots of money and can change it out as soon as you’re bored, which will happen as soon as the trend is REALLY over.

It’s on the fringe of being over already.

Bathroom | Charcoal exterior

Here’s the thing.

There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of sage green, I just got a new book from one of my designer fabric sources and it’s full of mossy green fabrics.

When was this decorated? Hard to know. It’s not brown from top to bottom (and it’s still pretty brown). Miles Redd

There’s nothing wrong with brown either (above). When the brown trend arrived, people said “I love it! Just like every room needs a hit of black, this is the same but warmer”.

In April, I mentioned that my fabric rep had arrived with some brown fabric books. Does this mean that brown is back? No, it’s a book full of brown and grey patterns so that if someone has a brown sofa, they can introduce grey with a fabric and tie it all together.

However, is the planet going to go back to installing brown kitchens and brown tile and painting their exterior brown anytime soon?

NO.

You’re still going to have brown tones in your case goods. If you go with the washed and distressed grey look it will also look dated very quickly. In addition to all the sleek and solid espresso brown furniture and brown leather parsons chairs that are now dated. A little of any of these trendy items works because your house won’t scream ‘Decorated in the ______trend’.

The reason the grey trend arrived is because colour was moving back to the 50s and 60s. Brighter and cleaner. Grey is the crisp backdrop to brighter colour as I’ve said time and time again.

source

Nothing wrong with a little bit of grey. Paint your white or cream (or black and white) bathroom (below) or dining room charcoal (above) to get your grey fix, just don’t choose grey blindly, over and over again with each colour decision you have to make.


source

Okay, are you depressed yet?

I’m not trying to upset those of you who feel you have too much of any of these neutrals, but the thing you should notice is that IF you are upset, it’s because what I’m saying rings close to the truth.

What do you do if you have missed all these trends and are renovating or building your new home now?

Does it help you to know that black is the new grey?

NO. Because the answer to colour decisions while renovating or building your new house is still not going to be BLACK.

Maria’s white kitchen | Maria’s living room | Exterior

All the classic and timeless colours I constantly talk about on this blog still apply just like they did 9 years ago when I started writing this blog:

1. Medium brown or pale wood hardwood floors.

2. White (or cream) kitchens (because you can change out your colours every 6 months if you want)

3. Cream (or white) bathrooms. (go back to number 2) and because the next homeowner then won’t have to rip our your very personal and trendy choices, immediately.

4. A sofa in your favourite colour. (my yellow sofa (above) is 7 years old and still awesome)

5. Silver (combined with easy to switch out items in gold like lighting and hardware)

6. One pattern in hard finishes like tile and countertops is the quota for each room.

7. Keep the patterns in your permanent finishes quiet.

8. Simple mantels in a modern or traditional style but without the usual trendy stacked stone (because the colour will surely dictate your palette forever.

I could go on and on of course but I think I’ve hit the most important areas for this post today! And hey, it’s just my opinion, doesn’t mean it’s right. Take whatever advice works for you and throw the rest out the window! A little styling goes a long way if you ended up with a space you don’t love.

I would have loved it if someone had told me that buying a leather forest green sofa and loveseat back when I was a newlywed in the 80s was totally trendy. Back then, I was convinced it was a totally classic and timeless decision.

My last advice is before you start making decisions on the most expensive purchases most people will make in their lives, hire a professional. Check out our eDesign services here or find someone local to hold your hand. Interview your designer to make sure you get someone who has a classic and timeless aesthetic, I don’t want this to happen to you.

If you are a design professional and are interested in learning about trends, colour and discovering how to design your clients homes from a classic and timeless aesthetic, spend three days with me this Fall in a workshop near you.

Related posts:

How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Designers

Bad Design Advice: Fall in Love With All Your Finishes

Is Black the new Grey? Trends from Maison & Objet

One more Reason you Should Skip Accent Tiles Altogether

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  1. So up above you said “you shouldn’t” a couple of times.

    I say you should but only if you love it and know why you are doing it, not just because its a fad or trend. Then you will always love it.

    • I agree Martha. I’ve done 5 white/Marble/subway kitchens and I was bored to death with them. We are now in a Historic home and I went black and brass and it is sexy as heck!

    • My advice is for the reader who really has no idea and on their own, will end up unhappy with their choices. If you are a designer or you have a totally creative eye, this advice may not apply to you. Thanks for your comment! Maria

      • On Maria’s advice, I skipped the (really pretty) accent tile and went with white beveled subway tile. The surprising thing is how much I love the subway tile. I thought I was just going with it so the kitchen wouldn’t be too busy (I have a busy quartz countertop.) But I really love the crisp white look. There’s nothing boring about it.

  2. Best advice ever Maria.
    Concise and to the point
    Spoken with clarity and wisdom that only comes with hands on experience.
    Adding personality with color and accessories not permanent fixed finishes like countertops ,flooring and backsplash tile. Sound and excellent advice. Well said.

  3. I just love you. I swear you’re one of the few pros (the only one I can think of) that doesn’t blow a bunch of fluffy word smoke all around. What you say makes perfect sense to me and I agree with it. I always enjoy when a new post comes out!

  4. i’m in the middle of renovation right now and thank to you i have :
    1. medium brown floor
    2. two tone kitchen : white n navy
    3. 4 white bathrooms
    4. navy sofa
    5. lighting everywhere
    6. tegel kunci
    7. white table top
    8. simple mantels

  5. I have put medium brown hardwood in twice now, and always hated it….
    Go for what you like and love and don’t worry about so called trends.

    I love that sage green sofa in the pics, gosh never saw anything like that before. I would buy it today!

    Btw, grey was the huge colour through the 80s. I couldn’t face using it again. But I still have the grey towel holder that was never put up.

  6. Once again Maria you are spot on! I too am a classic and timeless person and designer for the main reason that I love to change things! IT IS NOT BORING IF YOU KNOW HOW TO SYLE AND DECORATE. I had a white and pine cabinet kitchen in the early nineties that I swear would still work today with minor tweaking. Great post!!!

  7. Yeah! I will be so glad to see the end of grey. I recently bought a new (to me, – it’s three years old) house, mid brown wood floors, white walls, white tiles in bathrooms and kitchen. Too cold for me, but I have the basis to add colour and those big expenses are out of the way. I can use my money for paint and soft furnishings. Lesson learnt Maria Killam – and you won’t see me running around with paint chips like I see the decorators doing on House Hunters! Thank you so much.

  8. I still love sage green! But I’m afraid to use it because I’m afraid I will feel like I am in the 90s and I don’t want that. I read somewhere that the undertones of the “new” popular sage-ish greens have white or gray undertones rather than brown. I’m not sure if that is true, but can it be that colors that were popular at one time come back with a slightly different undertone/tone to them? Also, I think it’s the overall way you decorate that matters. So for example, my mom still has a very expensive dark sage green couch that she loves, but instead of the overly warm colors of the 90s and very traditional styles, she updated the room with whiter walls that have a slightly warm undertone and simpler picture gallery behind them. It doesn’t remind me of the 90s at all!

    More generally, often times I notice that when I think a room needs an overhaul to update it, it turns out that it needs to be (1) cleaned up/out so that furniture is pared down or rearranged and (2) the styling/decorating needs a tune up…often not even all that much. I have achieved great results using almost the same furniture (maybe a bit less or more…whatever the case may be), same decor, but swapping out decor from different rooms and rearranging that which is left. It’s almost not right (to retailers…lol) how well this can work!

    My favorite all time advice of yours…buy a couch in your favorite color…YES!!

  9. By the way, I am also noticing that some of my friends are just now getting around to using light to medium tone grays, but without great results. In two cases, friends had a lot of warm brown wood trim and the walls were creamy white from previous owners. They wanted to get rid of the “boring” walls and add their own spin, so went with the gray trend. They did pick grays (generally) that generally worked okay with the brown trim, but it didn’t look as good as what was there. My advice was to leave the walls or freshen up the white with a new coat, or to choose a color that went better with the brown trim. (And you know…I barely try to convince people anymore to paint their trim. Yes…they mostly should, but they invoke their husbands who can’t imagine doing it (and I suspect they can’t either), but ugly trim can be painted white! And most from homes built in the 80s through —tomorrow, isn’t precious!!) I’ve been in the houses, and the warm gray/greiges work okay at certain points in the day, but get the right outside light cast and it goes to a gray that doesn’t work with the brown trim. I wish people could get away from bad ideas such as (1) you can’t paint wood trim and (2) if you leave wood trim you have to pick colors that highlight it best!

  10. Great post! Sometimes when people say, “do what you love,” they may be missing the point you made here:
    “‘Because I don’t like brown,’ they would reply. That’s right, because that trend is OVER. Just a few short years ago, you would have wanted brown.”

    I think it’s true that we’re drawn to certain colours and looks–in 40 years of having my own place, for example, I’ve never tired of white walls and light wood floors, but what I put in those envelopes sure varied over those decades. That’s because I think we ARE influenced by what we see, as you pointed out. After the 1980s, I never wanted to see pink or rose again. But a few years ago, when I started seeing soft, cool pinks paired with charcoal, I thought, “Okay, yes, maybe just a bit.” We are also at the dictates of what’s readily available and, if we’re on a decorating/renovating budget (as most of us are), what’s affordable.

    However, “do what you love” should certainly be the starting point. Even when wood floors went very dark, I resisted it, because I don’t like the look in my home and it doesn’t work well for how we live and what we tend to collect. Similarly, I often find a bright or dark accent wall charming in a home or workplace, but I know I’d find it busy and too attention-getting in my own home. For me, the priority order is: 1. What do I like? 2. How do we live? 3. What else do we have? 4. How long will I have to live with this decision? And finally, 5. What’s the current trend?

  11. When I stopped worrying about the trends, I surrounded myself with colours I love. Once I did that, I felt relaxed, inspired and at home! I looked in my closet and at my favourite things. They all had one thing in common. They were all shades of cool icy blues or grey-blues. It’s the colour of my eyes – and my Dad’s and son’s eye colour, too. It’s what I’ve loved for as long as I remember. Blue is a colour people either love or hate. I’ve stopped feeling like I need to be apologetic for loving blue and embraced MY colour – no matter the trend.

  12. Maria– GOOD, GOOD, GOOD!!!!
    This is perfect wisdom. Timeless advice.
    (Read and heed everyone! Save yourself grief.)
    Take the summary at the end and copy and paste it into your mind!!!
    Another timeless truth you said today, Maria: If it bothers you,it’s because it rings TRUE!
    Here where I live, The Biltmore House nearby exemplifies all of these principles.
    Taste and moods will come and go as trends do, but the backdrop to good design STAYS classic and simple.
    BE BOLD IN BEING “BORING”.
    Ha!!

  13. Sometimes I feel like a mini-you is sitting on my shoulder giving me a thumbs up or a thumbs down when I get excited about something decor related.
    The first time I saw cement tiles I thought “Wow, those are cool”. But then I heard you in my head saying “No Mary! It’s a trend. Don’t do it!”
    And you’re right…it’s hard to not get enamored when you see something new. But sticking to classics & decorating around it with your Wow moments will give your choices longevity.
    Fortunately I’ve been following you long enough to have made wise choices when we re-did our 90’s home.

  14. Love all the advice here. I do have one question though. Is white subway tile going to be more classic then Carrara marble cuz the marble has grey in it? Or can the marble be just as classic and timeless?

    • Whitney A, I am not a designer or a colour expert, but I do love classic looks, so I wanted to jump in with my thoughts on your question. Just my amateur’s opinion, but I believe Carrara marble is one of those finishes in decorating that is always classic because it’s been around so long and has been used in so many different styles of home, just like a navy blazer is always wardrobe classic (though the silhouettes and details change). We recently tore out some dated tile around our fireplace and put in a blue-gray natural soapstone surround and hearth. No matter what happens to colour and finish trends in the coming years, natural soapstone (at least for me) is classic around a fireplace. So while the soapstone will influence our colour choices in other things (it’s a slightly warm blue-gray), I think, just like Carrara marble, it’s a classic, so it will accommodate to more options and stand the test of time much better than something that’s merely having a moment. Or at least I hope so! 🙂

  15. I love this post Maria! As some of your other readers commented below, you have such a great way of putting things, in a clear, easy to understand way that gets right to the point! I’m 61 years old, and, having always been interested in design, (I used to be an architect), I have seen the design trends come and go, just as you say. Some of the younger designers don’t seem to understand that, from what I read on their blogs. Here is one instance where “older is wiser”, LOL!

    I think it’s also interesting to note, about most builders being men: not only do most men seem to love wood, but those male builders also aren’t usually really paying attention to what’s happening in interior design realm! They aren’t usually the ones reading design magazines or blogs! I’ve seen recent house flips for sale in my local market, where the flippers (obviously clueless males) put in dated Tuscan style everything–and the house just sits and sits! Perhaps now, though, thanks to the popularity of shows like, “Fixer Upper,” some of those men may actually catch a glimpse of what is on trend while their wives are watching HGTV! (We can always hope!)

  16. To me stainless steal relates especially well to the grey/fresh trend but it also relates well to most other color trends.

    So, What’s the future like for stainless steal appliances? And if they are not “forever”, what will be the thing that replaces them? I’m of mixed minds about the stainless steal; always have been. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the “stainless steal” appliances that they are selling now don’t seem to be the same thing as it was years ago. I don’t think the quality of the “stainless steal” is the same. I think it used to be actual brushed stainless steal; now I think in many cases there is a plastic or plastic like film/coating that seems very likely to scratch/age badly.

    • I’m no expert, but I can’t imagine that stainless steel appliances will ever disappear or be replaced. However, I do think we have to choose other finishes accordingly if we choose stainless steel appliances, so that the overall design feels cohesive.
      I was not initially attracted to stainless steel, but I definitely lean toward modern design, so I chose stainless appliances to go with Ikea Tingsyrd doors for my new kitchen. I believed this to be the best combination (other than appliance cover panels) to get the look I was going for. All of that to say, don’t worry about not liking stainless or about what will replace stainless, but rather about choosing what will work best with your other finishes and gives you the look you want.
      BTW, I was recently watching a Q and A with Sarah Richardson and Tommy Smythe, and Tommy believes that white appliances are going to make a come back.

      • Thank you, Courtney, It seems like stainless has been around for a while. Could someone please tell me how AGING stainless appliances fair in the looks department? We recently looked at a nice house that have aging white appliances that really did not look good. I wonder if that is something that might be avoiding by going with stainless.

        Again I think that a lot of the stainless appliances that are available today are not the same quality as what was available a few years ago – I’m very convinced that there is a plastic film coating. I first noticed it on the newer darker stainless (I want to call the color “gunmetal”) but I then I also noticed the same thing on the traditional colored stainless. I’m not very hopeful that the plastic film covered stuff is going to look good for ver long. Another thing that concerns me with stainless is the tendency to show water spots (and perhaps fingerprints).

        I been reading for a few years that white is going to be the new stainless perhaps in particular the Whirlpool line of white appliances – I think they are calling it the ICE COLLECTION. The white has not seemed to have made all that much headway in replacing the stainless, as far as I can tell. I think the Ice collection comes in White, Stainless and Black. I sort of have the impression that black appliances might be being used some as an alternative to stainless. (Maybe black will be the new stainless.) I really like white and white appliances (but now I’m afraid that time may not be kind to white appliances). I’ve seen at least one newer kitchen with black appliances that looked really sharp!

        Stainless does not seem like as sure of a bet as it was a few years ago – maybe the stainless trend is nearing the end of it’s run. I don’t think that in the future people will mock stainless steal appliances the way we mock avocado green appliances (but I supposed at one time avocado green appliances seemed like a really good idea that couldn’t possibly be something anyone would regret later on). It’s scary to spend large amounts of money on things that might seem dated a lot sooner than you would like.

  17. I second what Victoria and AK said – efficient delivery with great photos to make the point and a wonderful sense of humor! Thank you for your blog and continued sound design advice!

  18. Great article as always! When I see you have a new post I always think, oh goody! and click right over. We are mid renovation on a 70’s style California ranch and your whites e-book was so helpful for choosing wall and trim color.

    As far as the trends go, I look truly terrible in gray and cool toned blues and have been unenthused about that trend since it began. However a bit of green-gray works well with my other neutrals and colors, and we did get a new green-gray sofa with butterscotch flecks in the fabric which looks fine in my house, and hides the dust from little kids and a hubby with a dirty job. Someday I may pull the trigger on a favorite-color sofa (fern green) but that seems like a bigger dose of color that I really prefer! Instead my throw pillows are green and cream.

    The Tuscan trend was more my colors but too dark and heavy and ornate for sure. I find myself choosing sort of a pale Tuscan palette, or maybe it’s even 90’s colors, because I actually do like pale butterscotch and soft to mid greens together, a lot! I add cobalt and turquoise to those though, and keep my walls pale but creamy with a decent dose of wood and a dash of black. My colors may not be on trend but the house doesn’t look dated because of the current shapes & styles of my pieces and accessories. The outside of our house will look almost identical to the gray house with green door you posted at the end.

  19. I so agree with getting a sofa in one of your favorite colors. Maria, before I even knew of you, I had decided a few years ago that I would never buy another neutral sofa again.

  20. Great post! You always give such down to earth advice. In my years of designing (decorating) I have always followed the advice of one of my teachers and you definitely remind me of her. She said if you always follow the “KISS” rule (keep it simple) you will never be disappointed. During several trends that I have been through, I would always advise my clients to keep hard finishes neutral. Also have recommended keeping walls light with a possible colored feature wall. It sounds boring but then you can change accessories and colors that relate to the current trends. Even repainting a wall to relate to the trend is easy. You can have a whole new look without breaking the bank!

  21. I love color. But I work with it all day long. That said my house is black,soft white,linen,chocolate brown and blue. Not too be trendy but colors that I can live with. I have an old beat up browm leather couch that will never go out of style. A collection of antique blue and white ware,soft white linen sofas and white oak floors. Accents in black with lamp shades, sea grass wall to wall in fam room and bed rooms. I never changed my old brass hardware because I like the warmth. Really just buy what you love and you will never tire of it.

    • Marilynn, I love the sound of your house. I’m drawn to quiet colours and natural finishes, too, and I love the way you see your palette as a place to refresh yourself after your colour-filled workdays.

  22. One comment you made has worked for me over the decades and several different styles of homes–decorate with the style of your home in mind. Victorian home: deep and rich palettes, original aged millwork, Craftsman home: greens and golds of the period, medium brown millwork, modern townhome: classic whites kitchen and baths….

  23. I bought an eggplant sofa 18 years ago and I still love it. I have always used black in my decor, mostly as wood or wood-like table or case finishes (thanks, IKEA). I never felt it was wrong, no matter the trend.

  24. As many of the other commenters said, don’t get caught up in a trend unless you really love it. Use colors, neutral and otherwise, that you love, but don’t over-do anything! At least, as Maria recommends, not in permanent fixtures like tile flooring, toilets and tubs, stone work, including patterned kitchen countertops, etc. It’s easy to paint (interiors) so paint that trendy or bold color on a wall or walls! Find some really stylish and up to the minute colors and patterns in comforters, pillows, throws, etc. There are plenty of inexpensive places to find artwork too. All are easy to change when you’re tired of them.
    I find that styles and what is desirable are different depending on where you live as well as the style of your home. The colors that looked good in the intense desert light of AZ are a bit dark and overpowering in northern CA. Ditto the northeast coast, Florida, etc. Go with what you love and what is appropriate. I have to say it upsets me when I see a beautiful Spanish revival or colonial home being stripped of its unique tile work and architectural detail (ok I have seen some less than attractive tile work) and made into an “updated, fresh, marketable” house! I don’t like dark golden ochre or terra-cotta interior walls either but please, leave the vintage tile alone already! If you don’t like it then don’t buy a Spanish home! Sorry – pet peeve. I also love authentic stone work, but there are a lot of ugly applications, sadly!
    Two of my favorite designers are Angelo Dongia and John Saladino because when you see one of their designs it’s difficult to tell when it was “done”. They have timeless appeal.
    I personally will never tire of white and black, classic hardwood, limestone or travertine floors. However my husband and I do observe trends because we flip and build homes. So we are very sensitive to making updated but classic homes with quality all the way, taking into account the area and style of the house and who the buyer will most likely be. Our specialty is kitchens and baths as well as space planning. We do this with great success in both AZ and CA. We don’t have a “formula” but consider each house a unique opportunity and make all selections accordingly. I hope to take Maria’s class soon because I feel it will speed up the color selection process, especially for exteriors. Her recommendations for working with existing elements are spot on! Thanks Maria for your very informative blog!

  25. 8. Simple mantles [sic] in a modern or traditional style

    Remember: A mantel is like a shelf and you spell it the same way . . . with an el.

  26. Maria, I live in a tropical climate where tile is the only livable solution for flooring. Do you feel the ceramic wood tile floors are “timeless” with correct installation and grout color? The only other option I’ve seen that I love is limestone but I sadly cannot afford it.

  27. We know someone who has painted the exterior of their house and the entire interior charcoal grey! It’s very dramatic. Lately I’ve seen some homes in our area painted deep, dark colours (Our city is about 5 or more years behind the times. When I check out local real estate listings EVERYONE has heavy dark brown furnishings). Question: Are black accessories in a bathroom a fad or timeless? I love the look but not sure whether I should invest in it. I painted our front door a bright yellow this summer and love it! I think black hardware would look great with it. We have old brassy doorknobs. I wonder what other clean colours from the 50’s & 60’s may come back?

  28. As an observation. We happen to be in a time where subway tile is common and you say timeless but my experience in homes is that the timeless choice is square tiles in like 4*4.. these are everywhere. Be it a place from 1920, 40, 60, 80. The color of them (seafoam, salmon, brown) or the pattern can be an issue but same can be said of stacked subway. In kitchens you cannot go wrong with “gasp” painted drywall which is quite common regardless of the age or style of the home.