Gray might seem a little lackluster, but you'll be surprised at just how gorg it can be if you choose the right shade. There are thousands of grays in the paint store, but some of the nation's top designers narrowed down the options to their absolute favorites. With blue-, green- and taupe-based hues, these picks will look good just about everywhere.
A soft, pale gray can create a calming vibe—especially when pared with white and pastels, like pink.
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"For a breezy Palm Beach kitchen, I treated this wispy cloud-gray as an accent color. It's muted and calm, and on sunny days, it reads as the lightest, palest blue," says designer Beth Martell.
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"It's one of my all-time favorite colors, a warm gray that makes a room inviting yet still clean and crisp. It works with almost any scheme, but I like to use it with either gem tones or neutrals, such as creams, browns, and dark grays. I painted my own living room this color and after all this time I still love it, which means a lot!" says designer Blair Harris.
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"It's the color of stone, a soft gray with a touch of blue. Swedish houses are actually unbelievably colorful, but none of the colors are brilliant. It's as if someone splashed ochre into every paint can, so the colors are muted and toned down. You seem to be seeing them by candlelight or under a blazing sun," says designer John Danzer.
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Copy this modern kitchen and go not too blue, not too green, but just right. These black-based hues will wipe the slate clean.
"Any color can be a neutral if it is grayed off with a touch of black and used all over a room, without any other color interrupting it. I particularly love greens as neutrals: moss, sage, stone, hunter. I like to use many different tones," says designer Stephen Sills.
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"In the South, sunny means hot. We don't want colors that make you turn the air-conditioning up. This is a silvery blue-gray, almost like an Armani color, very soothing. Because of the grayness, it absorbs light," says designer Jackye Lanham.
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"I love pearl gray for a foyer, bedroom, or hallway—anywhere you want a sense of intimacy. If there's a big white space with a niche, I would paint only the niche this soft gray. I always like shadowy, mercurial colors that play up the mysteries of architecture," says designer Vicente Wolf.
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"It's charcoal, but I think of it as wet stone, wet cement, or even soot. It's a fabulous color for trim—they use it in French and English houses all the time. In a kitchen, if you paint the walls and cabinets this color and use a lot of mirrors, you'd have a very rich, townhousey, sexy alternative to the all-white kitchen," says designer Myra Hoefer.
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For a little more depth, choose a blue gray. It's slightly more saturated, and feels a lighter brighter and softer than a true gray.
"Those 18th-century British architects kept the front hallway somber to recall the color of the stone outside, on the facade. I like the idea of bringing the outside in, but stone doesn't necessarily work for me. I tend to use a sky-bluish color that has a pretty heavy dose of gray and green," says designer Steven Gambrel.
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"If you took green and sky blue and put them in a bucket with a lot of air, this is what you would get. I even put it on the ceiling. It looks great with black-and-white floors. I'd add a bronze bench with shocking pink upholstery," says designer John Oetgen.
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"It works well for bedrooms, bathrooms, and especially work spaces, because it's a powerful yet gentle mediator, bringing calm to all that clutter," says designer Susan Ferrier.
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"It's my two favorite colors mixed together. Soft, but with a lot of vibrancy. Greens and blues are known for their relaxing effect," says designer Sheila Bridges.
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"I like very pale teal. It's a nice background for highly textured washed-out beige textiles, and together they make a kind of faded beach story, pulling together the greens of the earth, the grays of the sky and the blue-greens of the water," says designer Steven Gambrel.
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"I'm so tired of all those off-white cabinets. I'd paint them this dark Swedish gray-blue and make the whole room very Gustavian, with chalky white walls, Carrara marble countertops, and stainless-steel appliances," says designer Sandra Nunnerley.
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"My library gets no light, so I took advantage of the disadvantage and painted it this deep blue-green. It's a restful color, kind of an ancient color. You see it in the medieval tapestries at the Cluny Museum. Now everybody gravitates to my dark, cozy room. And the color works with anything: Oriental rugs, African pillows, Islamic textiles," says designer Stephanie Stokes.
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Turn to nature and bring gorgeous shades of sage, fern, and pistachio indoors. Green-infused grays will feel like a breath of fresh air.
"This is the furry, fuzzy green of lamb's ears. Very herbal. It's rich without being too saturated, and makes a great backdrop for mahogany, silver, or ivory. It's the color of my fantasy room—a book-lined great ballroom with a lit Polonaise in the middle of the limestone floor and orange trees in tubs. A pavilion in the forest," says designer Charlotte Moss.
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"It's kind of robin's egg blue, and with mahogany furniture and neutral upholstery, it looks great. I see dining rooms as mostly evening rooms, and this has life to it. It's very soothing," says designer Mariette Himes Gomez.
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"This is the color of the sky in Old Master paintings, when the varnish has yellowed; it's luminous. Paint just the floor and you'd feel as if you were floating," says designer Thomas Jayne.
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"For me, the most appealing colors in summer are not hot but cool. You don't need to be reminded of the sun and heat—you're in it. What you want is a cool breeze through the pine trees, like this chalky gray green," says designer Frank Roop.
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"Mesquite is a flattering light moss green without much yellow. I love it because it doesn't shout 'I'm green!' It says, 'I'm a very beautiful color,'" says designer Jennifer Garrigues.
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"In my cutting garden I have morning glories climbing over a lattice obelisk painted this wonderful silvery sage green. It reminds me of lavender leaves," says designer Michael Whaley.
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"I grew up in a house that was all turquoise, and for years I couldn't look at blue. But this color is so terrifically pretty and filled with joy—sort of like as if you were inside a robin's egg looking out into the light. I'd use it in a bedroom with white lacquered trim, a four-poster bed lacquered white, and crisp white bed linens," says designer David Kleinberg.
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"Lago Argentino is a glacier lake in Patagonia, and it's the most amazing color, an aqua, milky because as the ice melts it pulls minerals off the mountain. I stayed in an inn with a stunning view of the Perito Moreno glacier," says designer Suzanne Rheinstein.
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Warm it up with a cozier gray flecked with brown. A tawny shade can unify the space and act neutral enough for vibrant art and furnishings.
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"At first glance, this is a soft grayish putty. Then its golden undertones unfold as it catches the light and it radiates with warmth. It's like pale ashes with hidden embers glowing beneath them. It's an old warmth, and the color is always changing," says designer Tori Golub.
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"Green is the great neutral, all the way from pond scum to soft sage or pale celery. I recently moved into a new house surrounded by greenery, and when I was thinking of what color I might use for a drapery lining, it came to me to reflect the green that is present year-round right outside that window," says designer Barbara Barry.
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"I have a big, hugely functional Georgian Revival lawyer's desk in tired dry mahogany, bought from a tired dry lawyer. I painted it this pale gray-green in an oil-base stain finish, cleanable, very calm, but not so pale that it dies. The gimmick is the old-fashioned desk in an unexpected color. It catches light and makes for a more interesting surface," says designer Carey Maloney.
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