Credit the popularity of stainless-steel appliances, menswear and metallic trends in women's fashion, the concrete and steel inherent in the industrial spaces being converted into apartments, condos and offices. Together they've made gray — or grey, as some prefer to spell it — the hot new color in interior design for 2008.
"Gray has not been in the fashion forefront for a number of years," observes Barbara Richardson, director of color marketing for ICI Paints in Strongsville. "It's played a backseat role to the browns and the beiges, the very warmth of the palette."
Becky Spak, senior designer at The Sherwin-Williams Co. in Cleveland, notes that the new gray isn't the dirty, yellowed shade some remember from the 1980s. "The light grays are very clean, whereas the smoky grays have blue undertones to them," she says. "We see gray in a cooler hue than the last time it was around." Richardson describes colors in the ICI palette ranging from icy Drifting Snow to mid-toned Granite Grey to deep Intercoastal. Selections such as Garden Twilight and Silverplated in the company's Ralph Lauren Regent Metallics line allow homeowners to create the look of hammered metal with the change of a roller to apply the second coat.
Richardson and Spak say gray is being used on walls, floors and upholstery in both contemporary and traditional spaces to create a backdrop for bright punches of accent color. The darkest shades, they point out, aren't reserved exclusively for carpets and floor tiles. Richardson gives the example of a paneled model-home library painted a deep charcoal, while Spak says the Sherwin-Williams "Idea Card" kitchen is done in approximately the same shade. There are wall coverings in floral and botanical prints as well as fabrics in damasks, toiles and menswear-inspired pinstripes, houndstooths and glen plaids. The graying of classic patterns, Richardson says, "is making them look new again." Indeed, Spak notes that even ethnic and bohemian prints in lighter shades of gray still feel "youthful and happy" when bright colors are incorporated.
But perhaps the biggest selling point for gray, particularly among homeowners investing in expensive finishes and furnishings, is that it has a long and versatile life.
"The great thing about gray is that it remains neutral," Richardson says. "It's not like committing to blue or green or gold. It plays beautifully with other colors."