Off-white and cream
The cream is the most tranquil of colours. It is fresh, soft and claiming. Walk into a cream room and you can almost feel your pulse slow and your blood pressure lower. There is nothing that will jar the eye or set the spirit on edge.
I have included off-whites here because they are the bridge between absolutely pure white and cream. They don't have the same richness as a cream but belong to the same family. Off-whites are the perfect companion to creams, not only because they blend with them, but because they prevent a totally cream scheme from becoming too sickly.
It is because of cream's enveloping nature that you have to be careful about what colours to put with it. It works well with navy, black and grey – although a little of these will go a long way. Reds, purples and oranges are not so easy to introduce. Experiment with small touches of these first, rather than taking them too far. The cream is a natural friend to sand tones and browns but is not so easy to mix with taupe. So, if you want to use natural linens in a cream scheme, look for ones that have undertones of green.
The texture is important in any neutral scheme, but a cream-on-cream room demands more. If everything is blanketed in cream, you must have a textural contrast to give it a lift. You also have to remember that cream is very affected by natural light – interestingly, it is not the best choice for homes in very sunny climates, because there is a danger of it being fiercely bright, rather than reassuringly calm.
Sand is warm, comforting and enveloping. It creates an atmosphere that is truly inviting – a place where people feel immediately at ease. It also has practical advantages, being more low maintenance than other lighter colours, so is popular with those with young, energetic families or who live in a rural setting. Sand tones have an earthiness that links directly to the natural world.
Men, in particular, are drawn to sand’s richness, but there is a danger of it becoming overpowering if you don’t hold back a little. For this reason, I often choose sand fabrics that have a hint of patterns, such as a check or stripe, because they break up an expanse of pure sand colour in an unobtrusive way.
Just as taupe dislikes sand, so sand never mixes well with taupe. There is a pinkiness in taupe that flights with the yellow in the sand. You will never make them friends, so don’t waste your time trying. Sand is an easy palette to use with other shades — notably creams, whites and browns. It is also perfect as an accent colour; a white room with sand tones will be very different in feel from a room where sand is the dominant shade.
Texture plays a pivotal part in all neutral schemes. It is important to use texture boldly where sand is concerned or you could end up with a room that looks flat and characterless. The fact is you can never have too much texture, so juxtapose coarse with delicate, and dense with translucent to give depth to the scheme. If I want to accentuate the richness of sand, I include luxuriously inlaid woods, such as marquetry tables, polished wooden floors or perhaps tan leather furniture or accessories.
Taupe is the most perfect neutral colour — it is neither too warm or cool; it doesn’t shriek for attention or cloy the appetite; it is harmonious, peaceful and zen.
For me, taupe is the perfect antidote to the stressed and frenetic lives we lead. It instils quietness into a room — a deep sense of calm which restores balance to one’s mind. To those coming fresh to the neutral palette, it might also be a surprise to discover how many shades of taupe there are. It is a colour which hovers between brown and grey. But encompasses many variations in tone. If you find that hard to believe, try experimenting with the swatches from my perfect neutrals paint collection. Start with a perfect taupe (KH1910Z) and then place other shades next to it. You will soon start to see for yourself that there is a whole mini-spectrum of colors within the taupe family alone.
The only color taupe doesn’t like is yellow, which makes it incompatible with sand tones. It is not just you that you can’t use creamy paint or buttery fabrics in a taupe scheme — you also have to avoid yellow wood such as oak, yellow metals such as bronze and yellow stone such as beige limestone. In my view, taupe and sand are far removed from each other in design terms as the north and south poles.
Taupe can be beautifully accessorized with subtle combinations of color and texture; think big urns filled with topiaries moss, silver detailing on mirrors, a collection of paintings all framed in black or the barely-there feel of Perspex furniture. Metals such as chrome or stainless steel also feel perfectly at home in a taupe scheme.
This is a fabulous colour to design with — clean, fresh, summery, spiritual and life-enhancing. It always surprises me when people don’t view white as a “proper” colour. To me, it is one of the most vibrant and energetic shades. It is far more dramatic than cream, which is why the off-whites belong there and not with pure whites.
White is unashamedly glamorous and high maintenance, and so has come to denote luxury. However, the fact is that more people now “zone” their homes, often treating themselves to a master bedroom or private sitting room devoted to white. White-on-white is one of my favourite combinations (there are hundreds of shades to choose from), but as with cream rooms, it is important to have a lot of textural contrast. You can even introduce a layer of texture through the way natural light enters the room shadows from shuttered blinds, for example, look wonderful against a white carpet. In my mind, I equate white with soft, floaty, almost transparent fabrics — imagine clouds of parachute silk. But it also translates well into soft velvets or matt leathers.
White is a truly versatile colour. Taupe and sand may work against each other, but white works happily with both. It also loves bold accent colours, such as red, purple or navy blue. The only colour I would hold back on is black, which can look too harsh with pure white. Black-framed artwork is the exception because it creates good graphic shapes against the wall. When it comes to accessories, almost anything goes, but white lacquer, clear glass or spot colours of vibrant fresh flowers are particularly effective.