Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Nouveau Neutrals

Design by Jill Schumacher, Photograph by Justin Maconochie

Plain vanilla, boring beige, flat white…neutral hues sometimes get a bad rap. Enter nouveau neutrals. Shades beyond basic vanilla, cream, and beige—the palette includes rich browns, charcoal blacks, and even navy. And new neutrals go beyond color—texture also plays a prominent role. Read on to see what top designers have to say about taking your neutrals to a new level.

Design by Michelle LaVictor. Photographs by Kevin Meechan.

Photographs by Kevin Meechan

“The homeowners asked us to design a casual but elegant environment that feels relaxing and inviting when they entertain family and friends. They wanted a modern, open floorplan that offers several flexible areas that can be used for different purposes. One of our design principles is bringing the outside world into a home’s interior. We accomplished this by using rustic, natural materials as well as layering texture and refined finishes in rich, neutral colors.” – Michelle LaVictor, Young & Young Interiors


  • The use of soft fabrics and furnishings, alongside furniture-grade wood paneling and natural stone introduces different levels of texture and sheen in a neutral color palette. This provides interest to the space without the use of bold colors.
  • Find opportunities to incorporate natural materials with elegant finishes and hardware. This need not be limited to furnishings but can also be introduced with elements such as cabinetry, flooring, countertops, hardware, and light fixtures.

Available at MDC: CAI Designs lounge chairs, cocktail tables, dining table, and living room sofa; Lighting Resource Studio dining and living room lighting; The Ghiordes Knot area rug; Kravet | Lee Jofa | Brunschwig Fils fabric; Pindler fabric.

Design by Jill Schumacher. Photograph by Justin Maconochie.

Photograph by Justin Maconochie

“The owners of this Bloomfield Hills home asked for quiet, neutral interiors. We enhanced the palette by adding a muted pattern in darker natural hues which enriched the space without affecting the overall tone. Large windows that overlook a scenic lake and frame a magnificent tree outside, add to the sense of serenity in the home. Calm, neutral interiors are a perfect complement to nature without being overbearing.” – Jill Schumacher, Rariden Schumacher Mio & Co.


  • Neutral tones tend to have more staying power. That being said, neutral shades do shift with tastes over time. Hitting that sweet spot of not looking too trendy is tricky. Adding natural or organic materials and shapes always helps to keep a space timeless and interesting. Classic wood tones mixed with metals, pure wools, and other fibers make a space feel earthy, well-traveled, and timeless.
  • Keep a broad view in mind when planning your space. In this area, we oriented the furniture layout so that the TV/Fireplace are the initial focus, but we pulled back the sofa so the lakeview is in eye shot. We also placed swivel chairs near the window, making it easy to turn away from technology and gaze at the lake.

Available at MDC: Tennant & Associates fabric; Designer Furniture Services + Fabrics fabric.

Design by Terry Ellis. Photograph by Way Up Media.

Photograph by Way Up Media

“The goal for this Bloomfield Hills home was to create a timeless neutral color palette using generous seating and lush high-end fabrics and textures. For example, I varied textures by using a course, grainy camel-colored leather on the sectional, which is the largest piece in the room, with a plush mohair of the same color value on the two chairs. Then, I mixed in two lighter colors with warm white and cream. I kept every component closely related. And I intentionally limited the number of patterns in the room to a couple of bold, graphic pillows. Given the beautiful lakefront vista, we wanted to allow the interior to share the stage with the amazing view of Gilbert Lake.” – Terry Ellis, Room Service Interior Design


  • There are many versions of neutral. I consider black or navy a neutral. In fact, if you think about it, any color that allows all other colors to flow nicely with it, is neutral! The use of tan, beige, camel, and off white are neutrals that create warmth.
  • A good neutral hue stands the test of time and never becomes tired looking. The key is to pair them with another warm, earthy color that can be found in nature, such as, burnt orange, green, brown, or cream. If you use these accent colors in the pillows, throw blankets, art, etc., it's easy to update down the line when you want to change the look a bit.

Available at MDC: CAI Designs mohair chairs and swivel chairs; Designer Group Collection leather sectional and cocktail table; The Ghiordes Knot wool shag rug, Pindler pillow fabric, Room Service Interior Design marble end table.

Design by Colleen O'Brien

“This is part of a large three-room area that was formerly one big space. We worked with the Troy homeowners for a few months to really get a feel for the aesthetic they were looking for. They decided that they wanted an updated, adult-looking space that felt relaxing and comfortable, yet would be durable enough for their three kids all under the age of 10. We elevated it from a late 90s look into a clean, retro-like feel with an updated feel.” – Colleen O’Brien, Rita O’Brien Interiors


  • If you want to elevate your neutral décor, try to bring in different textures and patterns. For example, we used herringbone performance fabric with silver undertones and the balance of the fabric is an ivory corduroy. It really makes the sofa stand out, even though it’s very neutral.
  • Add pops of black wherever you can!
  • Pillows, trays, and other accessories are all great ways to uplift your space.

Available at MDC: Rita O’Brien Interiors gray lacquer table, cordless floor lamps, trays, sectional sofa, leather swivel chairs, ottoman, and end tables; The Ghiordes Knot rug; CAI Designs artwork

Design by Cynthia Evans. Photograph by Reven Wurman.

Photograph by Reven Wurman

“The homeowners were looking for a place close to their daughters and wanted a neutral, yet polished, casual feel that would be a respite from their active lifestyle. Using monochromatic color on the walls, upholstery, stone tabletop, and the wood floor, the overall palette is stylishly neutral with grey and gold accents along with a splash of teal velvet.” – Cynthia Evans, Cynthia Evans Interiors


  • Neutral doesn't have to be white. Shades of beige, grey, or cream are considered neutral as well.
  • To update a neutral design, add new art, accessories, or pillows.
  • Consider adding a splash of color in a muted tone.
  • Adding metal finishes such as gold or silver work well when you want to update a neutral palette.

Available at MDC: Baker |McGuire sectional; CAI Designs chair, étagère, bench, and console; Schumacher drapery and pillow fabric; City Lights Detroit chandelier.

Design by Ann-Marie Anton. Photography by Liz Dawee.

Photography by Liz Dawee

“We wanted to create a sophisticated environment for our Franklin-based clients. Their relatively neutral home needed something more, and texture was the key. We incorporated silk wallpaper, woven draperies, linen fabric on the sofas, and pillows for a touch of interest and color. Dark tile flooring and warmer tones add an air of refinement.” – Ann-Marie Anton, It’s Personal Design


  • I consider black, brown, gray, and white as neutrals, and they can be used together in so many ways. Sometimes, just painting a fireplace mantel or bookshelves black will transform your space.
  • When working with neutrals, texture is essential to creating an interesting space so the room doesn’t fall flat.

Available at MDC: Tennant & Associates sofa and chair fabric.