Design: As simple as black and white

By Terry Lobb

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Consider it eerie or subtle, grey has found a place on designer's colour pallete.

The exterior of the Vero Centre in Auckland.
The exterior of the Vero Centre in Auckland.

It's 5am on Thursday and I'm sitting, writing and listening to the rain gently falling and the different birds that congregate on a wet morning.

Sometimes we need some peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. It may be a space to sit quietly and reflect or a spot in the sun to read a book and escape for a while.

I'd like to consider the colour grey and its associations. Words that spring to mind are old, dreary, overcast, downy feathers, stormy, sands, neutral, mist, early dawn ... the list goes on.

Every colour has an association in a positive or negative way but, in the true sense of the word, grey is not actually a colour. It is termed achromatic - void of hue - and is the direct descendant of black.

Grey is not a colour I use often in my work but I do love pure grey, which is varying shades or tints of black and white only.

It has a long association with silver. In ancient Mesopotamia times the Chaldean communities believed that a silver moon sent wisdom and peace of mind to its people.

What a great colour to use if you are requiring a quiet space.

Grey can be eerie ... the darkest tones of grey are the ambiguous feelings of black. It is powerful and can bring sorrow, sophisticated or sober, dominating or drab. I find black powerful but drab at times - if I walk into a meeting where everyone is wearing black it definitely brings me down.

But present me with gloss black granite in a kitchen, it is a totally different feeling - it is timeless sophistication.

Change the scene to a black windy night with threatening thunderstorms and you have the eerie scene of a horrible movie, haunted houses and windswept coastlines.

Solid grey in dark tones represents strength and longevity associated with granite, rock and stone. In ancient times, cities were carved out of rock and have stood the test of time and grey is still used on the exterior of buildings.

Grey is also the colour of intelligence - grey matter, contemplation, truth, knowledge and wisdom with lighter grey in old age. Medium greys are more conservative, dignified and subtle. I love the mix of soft tone greys as an accent on old villas. White walls with grey window and door frames or on the sill keeps the colour scheme fresh and clean and detail easy to see.

Neutral greys are closer to white - soft and more fragile, reminiscent of delicate feathers and the softness of rabbit fur. I have fond memories of lambs' ears, a soft leafy plant that used to grow in my grandmother's garden. It was always so soft on your face, the leaf itself being a soft green grey. When used in decorating there is always a tint, tone or shade of grey that will work with any colour. When used on its own in a monochromatic colour scheme, there needs to be the right balance in texture and pattern within the room. One would need to consider lustre, sheen or matt finishes along with smooth, rough or highly textured combinations, then add patterned fabrics or other shapes for interest.

A grey room can be appealing as a backdrop for other finishes or as a complete room with accent colours added. If the grey is dark, the room will become very masculine, perfect for a den or the backdrop for a library.

It also fits very well with the minimalistic room, keeping the greys lighter and more reflective creates the illusion of space. Grey is a serious colour so should really be chosen with the thought on what you are trying to achieve with a space.

I have slept in a mid-tone grey room which was stunning - grey walls, high-gloss white timber joinery, charcoal-textured carpet, crisp white bed linen, black bedside cabinets in a traditional style, and silver lamp bases with black, feathered shades.

The room had a feeling of luxury and serenity about it and the finishing touch in the room was a huge crystal vase filled with cream lilies which had a hidden light source behind it so the light reflected off the water.

Grey can be such a lovely, sophisticated colour to use ... but use it wisely.

If you have any questions about issues discussed, call 027 6023298 or drop me a line on terry@terrylobb.com.

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