Non-neutral neutrals.

palimpsestDecember 12, 2012

This bath is from the same house with the butterscotch colored kitchen.

This is a fairly typical "upgraded" bath in the area where the client lives, both by builder and geographic location. I haven't seen a subway tile bath in the area that wasn't done at the beginning of the 20th c.

Anyway, the builder's brochures and real estate ads all call this "tile bath in neutral finishes".

The buyer doesn't care much, one way or the other. It's a solidly-built tile bath, which is a step up from the rattly plastic tubs and surrounds in the last place. Like the granite in the kitchen, not something the buyer would've picked, not something the buyer is going to change either.

So here it is. The picture actually flatters this paint color which has a distinct purplish blue undertone.

Most neutrals are either made to look yellow, purplish or green by the tile, most any color of paint makes the tile look pink or orange.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think most buyers would simply call that tile ... brown (although it's clearly not).

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It's pinkish, purplish, blueish brown if you stand there and dissect it in person.

The colors in both full baths were pulled directly these little dots or spots in the tile.

But, you don't really see this colors individually when you look at the tile. It's like picking the colors from an oriental rug: often that color is not seen when viewing the rug in it's entirety, so this is a piece of advice that doesn't always work.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yes, neutrals must be in the eye of the beholder. Wish I'd saved the link where red was called a neutral! I was speechless when I read that.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Is someone using neutral and monochromatic as interchangeable terms? I wouldn't call this neutral but then I wouldn't put any colour that hints of red (i.e. pink, purple) in my house.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think anything brown or grey based gets called "neutral"

I do think that colors can be put into a category that I call relative neutral. I think navy and sometimes red fall into this category because, for example, we will wear a navy jacket with anything, and red looks good with almost any other color except other (but differently based) red colors.

I think that when you start talking about things in the relative sense, calling one of the colors the "ground" color might make more sense.

An all red room creates a "relative" neutral out of the red, because that is what everything is, but saying that red is the ground or background color is probably more accurate.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I tend to think of greens as neutrals..only because the greens I wear and like in my surroundings easily work with any other color I'd wear or have in my surroundings. I know when I say green is a neutral that I am referring to myself.

But the key here is that it's the realtor and builder's brochures that are referring to it as a "neutral". They're trying to sell the homes.. they're putting a positive spin on the design so that it appeals to the broadest range of buyers.. at least until they walk in the door.

My ex has a very similar color in his master bath (he's in Media). The only color that worked for him was brown. I really didn't care for the brown but it worked for him so I kept my mouth shut (he was the ex after all.. it isn't like I needed to look at it daily!)

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 12:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Almost every client I have had would look at this tile though, or something this color, and call it "neutral".

"Mushroom" or "Taupe" colored microfiber comes to mind. A lot of them will have stuff like this because it "goes with everything because it's neutral".

(I am not criticizing my clients, only categorizing them when I say that my clients, since I don't do this full time, and are friends or friends of friends--tend to be people with no budget and only a vague idea of design, and the process with me might be their first real exposure. If I tried to actually make a living with clients like this I would starve to death. It's fine because I like doing it and I have another job.)

My feeling is that these types of "neutrals" don't actually Go with Anything. They don't actively Clash with anything too much but are Far from working with everything.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 12:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"these types of "neutrals" don't actually Go with Anything. They don't actively Clash with anything too much but are Far from working with everything."

So true. I don't think the tile is horrible, and I can understand why your client is keeping it, but it isn't beautiful either.

I'm curious about your plan for this. What color paint, etc.?

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 1:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It seems to me that the tile is made as unattractive as possible by that choice of pink wall paint. With a tile like that, I'd say "in for penny, in for a pound," and use a golden brown that matches the color effect of the mottled tile, rather than pulling one dot out.

Funcolors will likely have a better take on this, but my work with color has resulted in the opinion that every color can have what I call either a positive or a neutral value. So blue, red, yellow, purple, orange, or green can be pulled toward their neutral selves with additions of their opposite colors and perhaps grayed down and diluted or deepened with bits of black and white (that's oversimplified, but the idea).

A very mossy, olive toned green with a little gray in it, or a blue that is very gray and touched with orange, or a dirty golden yellow, or a dull pale terra cotta, can serve as neutral backdrops for, or added in with, the usual natural materials and whites, browns, beiges and grays.

If you go far enough, you make neutrals with undertones of the colors you started with.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 3:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The thing about the color in place, though, is that the POs or their color consultant (I think they used one) chose this color "following the rules" by pulling a tone out of the tile.

I have a different color in mind but I wonder if it will look much better. I don't want to go with medium
brown to match the general impression, though.

I am thinking large shower curtain, fully closed.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 5:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Is your client selling this house? If not, what would he/you think of a lovely teal with some oomph in it??

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 9:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The house is a new purchase (2011) and we are slowly working on the particular trouble spots this client has had in previous houses, namely cheap, poorly installed window treatments and a tendency to self select a shade of paint that is either too far down on the card or over to the right or left in the array of what she is really looking for.

We are purposely starting with window treatments at the top of the budget, and getting some decent colors on the walls. This is in reverse of how I usually work but we are doing problem focused design here.

It's interesting that you bring up teal:There are a shower curtain and some rugs and towels in this bathroom with teal in them (from her former house) and unfortunately it looks rather dismal in here and tends to do something almost orange to the tile.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 9:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm wondering if wall paper would work best? Just grabbed a quick couple of patterns, it would take searching to find a really good match. It is difficult to tell the true color of the tile.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:19AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well, that tile is kind of earth tone-esque...

That kind of brown with the purply rosy undertones is so "of an era".

I just tore out a bathroom with similar tile, although mine had lovely dark brown grout reminiscent of baby poo...

Anyway, what color is the grout? Could you base a wall color on that?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

*I am thinking large shower curtain, fully closed.*


I like the problem-focused design approach. It has me considering which are my greatest design problems.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 5:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Annie Deighnaugh

When I first saw the topic, I thought it was going to be different...about how many colors are considered neutrals....too much Stacy & Clinton perhaps. They go on and on about creating a wardrobe using neutrals to go with a "pop of color"....neutrals to them are brown, gray, navy, black and tan....

and red, and green and herring bone and pin stripes and gold and silver and bronze and all metals.....

almost to the point of what's not a neutral....

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"I am thinking large shower curtain, fully closed"

I love a chuckle in the morning! That's what I did to cover the yucky doors on the kids' tub. Need the doors, right now, but the curtain pulled closed is nicer to look at. Sometimes covering something is a better solution than trying to make it look good.

The use of "neutral" reminds me of Christopher Lowell and one of his rules. That the large upholstered pieces should be a solid, no matter what the color, because it will act as a neutral in a room. He meant a ground, but simplified it for his viewers. That would make orange a neutral in my house :)

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 9:30AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I like the wallpaper suggestion. It almost gives you permission to really change the wall color to something much more cheerful, as long as something in the pattern relates to the tile color (hopefully something small in the pattern).

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 9:40AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think the wallpaper is a definite solution, that may be considered in a few years (budget).

These houses are still actively being built within the development so the "era" of the pinkish brown tile in this case is 2010S all the way.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:00AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

An solution for the short term could be a patterned shower curtain that would fulfill a similar function as wall paper, that is to introduce another color to minimize the tile, making the tile color an accent.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well maybe I am just not that discerning but I don't see it as that bad. On my monitor it looks like a brownish terra cotta - maybe why they combined it with teal? It has that "southwestern" look to me. I find that if the neutrals are light, they are easier to combine with other colors - this is more of a mid-tone. To me a pattern wouldn't look good unless it was more of a simple geometric or a stripe.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:37AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

MY impression of the tile is not that it is "bad".

It's a decent tile, and the workmanship is good for this type of house. The client lived in a rental that was actually also on the market, and I advised her very strongly Not to buy that other house. (Even though it had white bathrooms)

This is a very sturdy, well built house with a decent sense of proportion to the main rooms...all things that are lacking in a majority of new construction. So it has finishes in it that I would not have picked and the client would not have picked, but we weren't given a choice. It's a new house but the original owners had to move soon after buying it because of a transfer.

The Problem with it is finding something that works well with it. It presents itself as neutral, but it really is not, in the true sense of the word.

There are some things I actually really like, in isolation. The problem can be getting them to coexist with other things. This is one of those tiles that sitting in a box looks much less "dictatorial" than it does on the wall.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:55AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Circus Peanut

I might explore sagey greens, teal or even a bold dark brown?

And change the fixtures to a different finish, like copper or dark brass - that chrome/satin nickel makes the tile look even more like baby urp.

I'm no fan of white trim, so can't really resolve the ugly door other than to turn it less starkly white.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Through trial and error I finally discovered that beige does not "go with everything" as it is proclaimed in magazines. I find it seems I have to fight with it to keep it from going blah. White has so much more flexibility.
The first "color" I thought of when I looked at the tile was an unbleached muslin, but without other contrast in the room it would be dull.
Pal, do you have a color in mind? I always wonder what to put with this sort of thing.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 12:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My tendency in such situations is to go for the bland tint of color that seems to work with an overall impression of the tile.

My tendency is to go fairly monochromatic on the envelope of the room and then introduce other colors and such in the contents. I really like window treatments that almost (but not exactly) match the wallcolor, for example. No accenting for me, here. Of course I don't include white sheers in this, or shutters or wood venetian blinds where I tend to match the woodwork or trim rather than the wall color. If I am using a patterned fabric, it has to at least pass the squint test of value or saturation so that overall it "reads" close to whatever is going on with the walls. Its Much easier to go for contrast and accent here, that's why all the quick-design shows do it that way.

One of the bathrooms is, indeed, dark brown, and it works well.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 1:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for that answer Pal, I agree on matching blinds to woodwork rather than wall color. I made that mistake in my living room. My walls are a darker tan, and the trim a creamy white, I chose a tan for the blinds, they would have looked better an off white.
I am used to living in small spaces, so window treatments always look less intrusive close to the wall color.
As for the squint test, when I take off my glasses I think I can "see" better. There are times when it works with my glasses on, and when I take them off then I can see something is off!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 2:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The more pictures I see, the more I'm liking pal's rosy purple brown tile. GMP3, I love the multi-colored curtain sample you made. All those colors work great with the tile.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I cannot agree more regarding not really neutral colors being passed off as "neutrals". In my region, nearly every home built or remodeled or even decorated in the last 20 years is decorated in some shade of brown that everyone tells themselves is "timeless" because it's a "neutral". Like alex, I have heard the term "neutral" thrown about in terms of building a wardrobe, but I can tell you that you cannot simply pick a brown, black, navy, white, or gray color and assume it goes with any other color in the world. There are so many dimensions to color in undertones, saturation, etc etc. I typically like browns in restrained moderation and find homes decorated all in "neutral" beiges and browns to be more offensive to my eyes than many of the "outdated" homes that have some variety of color. I feel like this "neutral" term is such an over simplified idea designed to sell products and real estate.

With the particular bathroom in question, I certainly agree the mid-brown tone and undertones make this tile have a voice of it's own that cannot work with any color in the world. The current paint makes the color overwhelming and "in your face". I really like the wallpaper mockup. My first thought color-wise was to cool the warm tile off a little, perhaps with a dark blue (maybe somewhere between cobalt and navy) or even an off-white color.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Re: window treatments being close to wall color ... When I painted my home office and put up curtains, I had 3 walls in a light blue-gray and one wall in a deeper version of it (just 1 or 2 higher up on the paint color strip thing). The curtains were Ikea in a gray/blue linen and they matched the light wall color almost perfectly, which meant they didn't match the darker wall.

I preferred the "curtains blend into wall color" but a friend who saw it noted, "Hmm, too bad the curtains don't show up against the lighter wall..."

I thought that was ironic/funny. It shows how different we look at things, I was looking at the darker wall and thinking I wished the curtains blended in more but she was looking at the paler wall thinking it was a shame the curtains didn't stand out. The picture below doesn't show the colors accurately, the wall color is close to the curtains and less robins-egg blue. And I still need to paint the baseboard trim ...

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I wonder if colors like this would work too, still depends on the actual color of the tile. I like the creamy wall color.

It is kind of fun to work on a challenging element. It gives a starting point.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think contrast, accent, and even "showing up" have become very highly overrated. There is nothing the matter with contrast or accent, but its certainly not a necessity.

This is thread drift, but how would contrast or accent contribute to a room like this, by Nancy Lancaster?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Beautiful room Pal, but the point is, it is a beautiful room to begin with, and the dark elements IMHO add contrast. The bath you are working with has less than optimal tile, not horrible, but having something take your eye away would be welcome. So, some accent in the form of a fabric or large artwork, etc. might be welcome, for me, I don't love the color of the tile to begin with so I would use the tile color as an accent, not paint to continue it. I prefer more contrast or accent in smaller spaces, like bathrooms, where you don't spend a great deal of time. I also prefer to have some very cohesive spaces in my home and some with some punch. Both can work well.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My response with Nancy Lancaster's bedroom was to Engineerchic's post.

I agree that bathroom has a completely different set of issues. I think the paisley you posted is the type of thing that would work well in that bathroom.

They problem with a tile like this, if you don't like it, is that working With it, Using it as an accent, or ignoring it all have their own subset of problems.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi everyone - I've been lurking here for awhile. I'm a design idiot, and am just trying to soak up all the great knowledge available.

I admit....I would call that a neutral.

I'm still struggling to understand colors. But I'm also the moron who up until a year or so ago, didn't understand white could be warm OR cool.

I think sometimes the problem is that you don't know what you don't know.

I also hope you don't all throw me out of the forum if I admit that I rather like that tile.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 4:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

No, we won't throw you out :). I don't hate the tile, either. It's definitely above average for older houses. As I think about it, I would say its nicer than any tile I've ever found in a house I purchased. I wouldn't choose it, but I could live with it and it looks in decent shape so I'd focus on other things.

I don't know that I'd call it a neutral, though, because it seems like "more colors would NOT work with it than would work with it."

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My first impulse would be to pick a true neutral to paint the walls. Likely a cream. . . I might go for a tonal effect with creams and off-whites with the brown as the darkest of the range. But I tend to be pattern phobic so pattern as a solution doesn't always occur to me.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow, that paint color is really not working with that tile. I can see the strange blue tone in the paint.

I like the first shower curtain and I like the idea of wall paper.

Side tracking...about 5-6 years ago I was one of those people who were told, and believed, browns were all neutral. Then I learned to see undertones (thank you GW) and can't believe I didn't notice before. I knew how to detect undertones in makeup! Seriously, I'm baffled I never noticed such things in decorating. I'm so thankful I didn't buy brown/mushroom color furniture. Picture that with pinky brown carpet. Eww.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 9:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Can't wait to see what you decide to do with it Pal. Keep us updated.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 9:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I like that color with black and white. I fell in love with a New York apartment bathroom in those colors when I was 12. It was tiled head to toe, with a black and white toilet and shiny, shiny antique chrome fixtures and big fluffy white towels.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 12:30AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My tendency with that tile would be to take away the "southwestern" look that jumps out at me. The way I can think of doing that is to make it lean more towards formal than casual. I do think the brown would take it in that direction. Or the more formal style wallpaper gmp3 posted, if one wanted a softer look. Its fun to play with something like this that doesn't just go with everything.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 9:23AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It's what I would call a 'just there' neutral. You don't really want it, but can't do anything about it. Hence, just there. It's not horrific~i've seen worse in newer homes where the homeowner made a conscious decision and *chose* a horrific tile, egads.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 2:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Had the lighter of the two tiles been used as the field tile, we may not be having this discussion. It doesn't quite "insist" as much as the darker tile.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 3:13PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Why do you decorate?
I'm sure this has come up a million times before ....
Bright solid or bold print to reupholster settees?
Anyway, I bought a pair of vintage settees for my 'formal'...
I need help deciding what color to paint my sofa frame
I am re-upholstering a vintage french couch, with the...
seagrass rug color
Hello all, I haven't been back here for a while and...
BM Manchester Tan in a room with tall ceilings or a wide open space?
Does anyone have BM Manchester Tan in a room with tall...
Sponsored Products
Laurel Dining Table in Walnut
$419.00 | LexMod
Tulsa Pendant by Swarovski
$12,075.00 | Lumens
Juno 6" New Construction Recessed Housing
$17.98 | Lamps Plus
Kinetic Outdoor Coastal Title 24 Wall Sconce
15763TZT Kichler LED Decorative Hammered Roof Deck Light Bronze Finish
Contemporary Indoor/Outdoor Area Rug: Mohawk Home Rugs Mandarin Star Neutral 5
Home Depot
Bold Hugs and Kisses Black 18-Inch Square Pillow
$43.99 | Bellacor
Coral Colored Glass Vessel Bathroom Sink
MR Direct Sinks and Faucets
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™