Gray or Passé: The End of a Popular Paint Trend?

Gray has long been the go-to neutral for stylish interior palettes and staging success. So we asked the experts: Is gray here to stay? Or is it passé?

Gray has dominated interior palettes for almost a decade, favored for its cool complement to almost any other color. But Instagram images full of barely-white walls and cool-toned backdrops that once flooded our feeds have seemingly dried up. Are people starting to feel it’s too modern, too cold or just too overdone? We asked the experts: Has gray had its heyday? Here’s the inside scoop.

Think Twice

Susan Young, interior decorator and home stager at Indiana-based Color Joy Interiors, says she’s seen gray trending for more than 10 years. “It is a great foundation color for most rooms, and I continue to see homes in our area listed with a neutral gray color,” she says. But rather than automatically reaching for a gallon of gray, consider other factors. “I encourage homeowners to choose a color which complements their home’s style, architecture and wood trim rather than automatically choosing a gray neutral,” she says. Young notes creamy white is starting to pop up more often.

Nichole Jones, principal broker at Utah-based Principle Real Estate Group, says gray has cooled off in her local market. “There are still those buyers choosing colors in the ‘greige’ family, but even that is becoming less common,” she says. For her clients, clean, crisp whites are still white-hot. Her pick is Alabaster, by Sherwin Williams. But there’s also been a move toward bold jewel tones, such as navy blue. Her pick? Behr’s Starless Night.

Be Strategic

Jo Ann Bauer, a real estate agent and certified home stager in Scottsdale, Arizona, says color really depends on the client. “I do see folks willing to explore trends,” Bauer says, “but perhaps in pillows or a throw before they’re willing to commit to wall color or cabinetry.” Buyers, she says, want “to experience it small-scale before committing to it permanently.”

Bauer says that she’s heard some clients say they don’t want “a gray box,” and gravitate toward warmer tones. In her experience, Sherwin Williams’ Canvas Tan is a sure bet if you’re looking to sell. “An open palette and freshness entices the buyer,” she says. “It gives them permission to think of their own palette — and if they don’t have one, it’s an opportunity to visualize living in that home.”

Make an Emotional Connection

Rachel Street, a Philadelphia-based contractor and Realtor with Hestia Construction, LLC, and star of Philly Revival on the DIY Network, also thinks gray may have had its day — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“When someone walks through a property, you want them to have an emotional connection,” she says. “If it’s too neutral, there’s no connection.” Street says a kitchen or a master suite is a great place to do something different and dramatic, whether it’s a giant master closet with custom cabinetry or a really interesting kitchen with bold color and hardware. “Bring out the personality through those spaces,” she says. Street adds that if you’re looking to sell, it’s still important to remember what’s on trend and what the market is asking for.

Act on Architecture

So what color is next? Street says that’s not as simple as choosing the next color from a swatch.

“I would say, let the house speak to you,” she says. “A lot of it is taking into account what the space feels like when you go in there. If you’re trying to choose a specific color but it doesn’t go with your architecture or light, you need to rethink your options.”

For example, Street works with older homes where she tries to preserve the original architecture. “If you have this beautiful Victorian closet, you might what to highlight that and keep rest of space neutral,” she says. “But if it’s a blank box, by all means add personality.”

Katie Dohman
Katie Dohman is an award-winning freelance writer who has written about home, design, and lifestyle topics for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured in Artful Living, Midwest Home, Star Tribune, and Teen Vogue, among many others. She is currently living her own how-to story as she and her husband work through a complete gut remodel on their 1921 home—while parenting three tiny tots and dodging their dog and cat, who always seem to be underfoot.