The new ‘It’ neutral for your home (and it’s not grey)
The demise of grey as the UK’s neutral of choice is hardly news when it comes to interior trends. The question has been, what colour will fill the void left by grey – which, although it has the power to make a room feel even colder and darker than it is outside on a gloomy winter’s day, also has the ability to set off most other colours you pair it with, hence its dominance on the paint charts for so very long.
According to Charlotta Elgh, director of design in John Lewis’s home department, there is one colour that is particularly suited to becoming the new neutral.
In her first interview since joining the company last year, after 14 years at Ikea, in Sweden, Elgh explains that the brand’s new approach is to simplify its homeware offering each season in a 1-2-3 format – one key colour, two styles (classic and modern), at three price points. And this season, that one key colour is a rich, crisp green.
“It’s the new grey,” says Elgh. “We’ve been growing the number of green products in our collections for a few seasons now, but spring-summer 2023 seemed like the ideal time to go big on green. It’s the perfect colour for spring and beyond, with its ability to mix so well with existing interiors, and it can also be used as a neutral when decorating the home. We know colour and we know trends; a lot of work has gone into getting just the right shade.”
The statistics certainly seem to back her up: sales of green sofas, armchairs and headboards at John Lewis are up 277 per cent compared with this time last year; and the Spindle dining chair, from its Anyday range, is currently 60 per cent more popular in green than in either grey or white. Since the start of the year, sales of green fabrics have also been higher than their grey equivalents, rising by 92 per cent.
The current popularity of green can in part be explained by the experience of the pandemic, when many of us, deprived of experiencing the real thing, sought to bring nature into our homes through botanically inspired patterns, materials and colours. Because of its link to the natural world and the optimism of spring, green has positive connotations, a calming effect and the ability to feel both warm and fresh.
“More so than ever, we want our homes to be a relaxing space and somewhere to unwind,” Elgh agrees. “Colours that reflect this restorative mood and evoke a sense of tranquillity are important.”
Even so, covering a whole room in green paint might be a step too far for those used to the more visually undemanding tones of grey and off-white that have held sway for so long.
Elgh’s advice is to introduce the colour into your home in smaller ways, through upholstery and accessories, such as cushions, throws and lamps, with a bit of it in every room so that there is a common thread throughout your home.
“Uniting different rooms in this way, with the same colour in the bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom, allows you to create continuity and colour flow, which can actually make the house feel a little bit bigger, because it has this architectural concept,” she says. “It makes your home feel connected and considered.”
It could be as simple as a tray or a vase; or something more permanent, such as a statement headboard, or the pretty green-striped sofa from John Lewis’s latest collection – an updated version of a classic design that will have enduring appeal. And that is the beauty of green itself as a colour – essentially, it’s a safe pair of hands.
“It’s incredibly timeless and will have longevity in the home, which is important,” says Elgh, and she doesn’t just mean in terms of style. “In the long run, spending on good-quality furniture that is here to stay is the most financially smart thing you can do."
How to choose and use the colour in your home
Interior designer Jessica Buckley is a relatively recent convert to green decoration. “For many years I shied away from using greens in interiors: blues tended to resonate with me much more so I instinctively reached for them instead,” she says.
“It’s hard to pinpoint when I started integrating greens, but now that I have done so, it’s hard to create a scheme not using green. It sits well with so many other colours so it’s very easy to use. My favourites are the dirtier or softer greens such as olive, sage and nettle, which play a supportive role to lighter and brighter shades. Greens can work anywhere, but I would use softer tones in the countryside and cleaner, crisper shades in a townhouse – emeralds and jade greens, for example.”
At this family home in Cheltenham, for example, Buckley used a grassy-green botanical wallpaper in the entrance hall, which creates a particularly uplifting and welcoming vibe as you enter the house. In the kitchen, pale green walls soften the effect of the off-black cabinetry, which could have looked clinical against bright white, and the jade stools provide a shot of accent colour.
The theme is carried into the downstairs lavatory, where green tones in the wallpaper, blind, walllight and tiles warm up the otherwise black and white room.
The shades of green to know
If you’re having trouble letting go of grey but want a change, this is the shade for you. Soft, eau-de-Nil greens with a cool edge – such as Annie Sloan’s new chalk paint colour, Coolabah Green (anniesloan.co.uk), inspired by the colour of eucalyptus leaves – work well with neutrals, pale pinks and other pastel tones, and are an easy choice as a wall colour, particularly in a light, bright room.
Invisible Green by Edward Bulmer is the green of choice for many an interior designer. “Counter to its name, it’s a very vibrant green and not for the timid,” cautions Buckley, “but it can be a wonderful foil for other brighter colours and more graphic patterns.” Again, as a wall colour it suits a cosy room, especially one with plenty of other colours and patterns; and it also makes a vivid accent colour on a dining chair or kitchen stool.
Buckley recommends olive shades as a gateway green: “For those new to using green, I’d suggest Natterjack by Fenwick & Tilbrook or Drab Green by Edward Bulmer for wall colour. Teamed with pale blues or soft pinks, they give a very sophisticated look,” she says. Deeper olive shades also work well in smaller spaces such as home offices, utility rooms or boot rooms, particularly painted over wooden panelling.
When Farrow & Ball introduced deep-green Beverly, the brand’s colour curator Joa Studholme described the shade as “authentically old and incredibly dependable”, adding, “There’s something quite comfortable about it; it feels familiar, as though it might have been in your grandparents’ house.” This sense of nostalgia makes it a good choice for evening rooms, and a sophisticated choice for upholstery, particularly in velvet.