Decorating with neutral shades

Pale paint colours can be a challenge to get right, here’s how to make them work harder at home

Painted wooden screen and table in neutral colours

Finding the perfect neutrals for your home isn’t always straightforward – as you’ll know if you’ve ever studied a paint colour card, with its dozens of nuanced options for white. Get the combination right and your room will look magically larger and brighter; choose unwisely, and it could end up feeling too cold, slightly too warm or just flat and monotonous.

When decorating with neutrals, it helps to think of them not as single shades, but as tonal families. So it’s not just a matter of painting a room in one colour: layer different variations of the same hue together and you’ll create something with much more depth and interest. The Mylands paints shown here (£46 for 2.5 litres) are a useful case in point, with several paler and stronger neutrals skilfully combined to form palettes that are anything but one-dimensional.

Neutral painted tubes forming wall behind chair and marble side table
Mylands Paint

It is also vital to remember that neutral doesn’t just mean beige. In these pictures, there are barely there pinks, lilacs and peaches, as well as soft greys, putty hues and even the odd hint of blue and green. You can combine them in any way you like – although often it’s best to stick to either cool or warm shades so they work in harmony.

Neutral coloured accessories in front of painted tubes forming wall

The best way to discover what goes together is to buy tester pots and begin experimenting on your walls. Some brands make paler and darker versions of the same colour, designed to match effortlessly – Little Greene and Paint & Paper Library are great at this.

Overhead image of neutral accessories on painted tabletop

Lastly, don’t think of paler shades as dull; it’s possible to have a lot of fun with neutrals. Provided you’re thinking in terms of warm or cool families, there’s potential for lovely contrasts. Look to Ellis Paint, which not only organises its neutrals into groups of five sample pots to try out, but also combines shades in thoughtful ways (grey-brown with soft pink or almost-yellow, for instance).

Pale Pairings

It’s easy to create neutral interiors with these complementary paint duos:


two neutral paint swatches
‘Marble IV’ and ‘Lady Char’s Lilac’, both £49.50 for 2.5 litres (
Paint & Paper Library


Two neutral paint swatches
‘Sabi Grey’ and ‘Morandi Yellow’, both £46 for 2.5 litres (
Atelier Ellis


Two neutral paint swatches
‘Welcome 109’ and ‘Dorchester Pink’, both £45 for 2.5 litres (
Little Greene


Two neutral paint swatches
‘Peach Baby’ and ‘Donkey Ride’ clay paints, both £40 for 2.5 litres (
Earthborn Paints


Two neutral paint swatches
‘Smooth Maple’ and ‘Soft Stone’, both £29for 2.5 litres (

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration April 2019

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