Trend-proof painting: The colours that never go out of style

When a house looks tired and in need of an update, a lick of paint can be just what the interior designer ordered. Painting is a relatively inexpensive way to enhance a home’s appearance, as well as a straightforward job that many people can do themselves. 

But before getting busy with rollers and brushes, it’s important to give some serious thought to colour, lest you wind up with walls that date as soon as they dry (think: ’70s mustard or ’80s salmon tones).  

 So what are some house colours that are as safe as – well, houses? According to the experts, as boring as neutrals might initially sound, they’re often a good bet – though they too can be subject to trends and fads.
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In general, white is a classic shade that’s perfect for showcasing works of art and blending into the background, allowing soft furnishings and decor to supply dashes of colour instead.

“White is obviously everyone’s favourite safe colour, but then there are different tones of white which can make things look dated,” says Meredith Lee, an interior designer who runs her own business, Meredith Lee Interior Design

“In the ’90s there was a yellow-toned white that looks quite dated. Now it’s more grey-whites that are in.”

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Sophie Carr, interior designer and founder of Studio Arrc, recommends a “crisp white”, particularly for ceilings, because “it always finishes off a room”. 

“The greys stay classic as well,” she says. “If you do want to add depth to a room, bringing stone neutrals in is a nice way to do it.”

For those who feel white is just a shade too plain, Lee suggests a “neutral colour range”: paler, pastel versions of other colours. 

White walls are perfect for showcasing works of art.White walls are perfect for showcasing works of art. Photo: Eve Wilson – Haymes Paint

“Every colour has a different value; it goes from the lighter ones down to the darker ones,” she explains. “Using the lighter ones can be safer.”

Carr says peach and nude tones can be a subtle way of introducing colour to a house, and tend to work well with a wide variety of furnishing schemes.

Wendy Rennie, colour and concept manager at Haymes Paint, says the company has a palette of whites and neutrals, as well as a variety of colour-based neutrals, that are popular with customers. 

“We have a whole range called Natural Series, and they go from beautiful greys to some taupe colours,” she says. “The majority of people pick from that. The series has been created so that each colour has seven different strengths, going from light to dark tonally.

“For example, we’ve got Pale Mushroom, which starts with a nice bone white and goes into a really gorgeous green/grey tone.”

And several months ago, Haymes released their Blended Neutrals palette; nine new washed pastels that contain neutral elements. 

“It’s a gorgeous array of peach to dusty pink and also some lovely powder blues,” Rennie says. “It’s this idea of creating spaces that are beautiful, light and airy, and we’re treating them as alternatives to standard neutrals. And it’s also this idea of making these colours feel more genderless.”

People who prefer a bolder splash of colour might opt for a single feature wall in an otherwise neutral room, but our experts advise against this.

“Feature walls are a bit passe, so I wouldn’t do that these days,” says Lee. 

Carr agrees. “I think the feature wall has been overdone and it’s not as successful as people think it is … People do it when they’re terrified of making a mistake because they think one wall is less of a risk but I think it’s more successful if you paint the entire room.” 

If eager-yet-cautious about choosing a stronger shade for a whole room, then start with a bedroom or bathroom, rather than a communal space such as the living room. Lee is a big fan of different colours for different zones of a house. 

“The last thing you want is a whole house the same colour, because that really makes it quite bland,” she says. “Most clients are still very wary of using really strong and dark colours, but definitely the bedroom is a really great place to do that.”

Lee’s tip is to use cooler colours such as blues, greys and olives in bedrooms, and to steer clear of reds and oranges in areas meant for resting. 

Carr concurs. “You’d never paint a bedroom red – it’s meant to be a tranquil, relaxing space.”

Instead, try warmer hues in areas that are more active, such as family rooms or a study. Greens can work well in spaces that connect to the outdoors, enhancing the connection between the inside and the outside. 

Rennie notes that as people’s lives have become busier and more technologically switched on, with smart phones and tablets flashing constantly, darker tones are increasingly popular for a home’s “quiet” areas.

“Black is becoming the new white in terms of that meditative space,” she says. “A palette we’ve got which is a real curveball is Pitch Dark, all about low contrast, really dark colours used in the interior.”

At the end of the day, paint should be the backdrop for what’s going to be created in a space. And for that reason, there’s no colour Lee would ever definitely say “no” to.

“It all depends on the house and the circumstances,” she points out. “There are so many variables that there’s nothing I would really rule out.”

“It’s a matter of having confidence and having a holistic scheme,” Carr affirms. “If you’re going for an obscure paint colour, make it work and own it. If the scheme is strong, the more unique you go, the better!”

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