Fifty shades of beige

Fifty shades of beige
Ivory walls form the perfect backdrop for variations of beige in upholstery and textiles, with a pop of green in the botanical picture to lift the look (print from abstracthouse.com, €35 framed).

This year heralds the return of a much-maligned shade, pulled from the design doldrums and now paired with some unexpected complementary colours and tone-on-tone activity, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

Hands up anyone afflicted by beige décor in the ‘90s? 

Wallpaper was decidedly out, bland was in, as was a finish devoid of nuance, colour, pattern and texture, which matched our more gloomy northern European light. 

Knowledge of how to use colour and undertones to mitigate our weather and warm up our rooms was filed in the department of blissful ignorance while Ireland wallowed in beige and all its permutations.

Before trending was a thing, mushroom shades and the dreary yellow undertones in inexplicably popular magnolia, were considered the ultimate in sophistication, especially if you went all out and added matching carpets, upholstery and drapery — spurred on by Changing Rooms and the bluster of Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen.

Why now?

Hasten forward nearly 20 years since we last saw LLB’s red walls with zebra-striped cushions, and a suspicion that the recent emergence of “greige” has been a way of easing us back into the idea of beige by attaching itself to the omnipresent grey.

Pinterest is always a good barometer of what’s trending and is currently awash with beige and its variations. 

But why is it back now and will it supplant grey in our affections? 

“Beige is back because grey has been around for ten years and it’s everywhere, all over houses. But it’s a crisp, cool tone and we need warmth again,” says Anita Mullane, interior designer and colour consultant at Irish paint company Colortrend.

Beige furniture is neutral and a blank canvas for accessories. The addition of black furniture and white woodwork creates an elegant finish (Gronild armchair €245, chaise longue €560 from IKEA).
Beige furniture is neutral and a blank canvas for accessories. The addition of black furniture and white woodwork creates an elegant finish (Gronild armchair €245, chaise longue €560 from IKEA).

Dependable option

“In the ’90s, beige was dependable, everything was in beige. Now it’s edgier with khakis, ivory and caramels, and it has a more contemporary look with new and natural elements like stone potted plants and basketweave textures to create a theme, and by adding in textures and metals to make it interesting.”

But what if we fancy taking the plunge back into beige but worry about ending up with bland rather than beautiful? 

“If you are afraid of it, put it on doors, trims and architraves,” Anita suggests. 

“If it’s on your walls, use deeper tones of it in rugs and fabrics. Even add in a painted upcycled piece of furniture. 

"It’s not about using the same tone in your curtains and everything else. 

"You need different tones and different strengths of it in the same area, not everything the same; that was the mistake of the ‘90s.”

Tying textiles and wall art together using the undertones in your chosen beige, brings cohesion to a look along with balance and a touch of chic (Rewind Zigzags watercolour print from www.modeprints.com, €33.28)
Tying textiles and wall art together using the undertones in your chosen beige, brings cohesion to a look along with balance and a touch of chic (Rewind Zigzags watercolour print from www.modeprints.com, €33.28)

Modern take

Another development for modern times is seeing beige in new places and in combination with other colours.

“It’s now in kitchens in deep beige and khaki tones which have more body,” Anita explains. 

“In the bathroom, caramels are being used with white sanitary ware, and black detail like crittall doors on shower enclosures work really well. 

"In the bedroom and living room texture is key. Use rugs and throws with patterns in different tones. 

"Go for warmer, deeper beige in a bedroom for relaxation."

If there's a pink undertone in your beige, contemporary oranges, rusts and terracottas will work with it (Ligne Roset orange Togo sofa from €3,500 at www.ligne-roset.com).
If there's a pink undertone in your beige, contemporary oranges, rusts and terracottas will work with it (Ligne Roset orange Togo sofa from €3,500 at www.ligne-roset.com).

Think textures

“Don’t forget your textures. Layer them up and either go for tone-on-tone with different beiges or use another colour as an accent. 

"When looking for a complementary or contrasting colour to work with it, it’s about looking for the undertones in the beige.”

For the novice, though, this can be tricky as all colours change subtly according to the shifts in daylight, and different types of artificial lighting can have a dramatic effect on colour perception. 

If you need a steer, Anita has a top tip.

Light fantastic

“Choose an area with good natural light and place your chosen beige next to something white, and the undertone will show. 

"If you see a yellowish undertone, that will work with contrasting blue. Pink undertones look great with contemporary rusts, oranges and terracottas. 

"Grey undertones work with contemporary pastels, particularly misty blues and greyish greens.”

Isn’t it enough to make us consider returning to the fold of beige? 

Apparently, Meghan Markle is a fan as she has reportedly opted for a decorating scheme in her new pad which is all about the beiges.

Screen time

Meanwhile, history repeats itself as Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen follows after beige again with a brand new makeover show called Lawrence of Suburbia. 

It screens on Sky Vision and Amazon Prime, with a promise from the man himself that “bedrooms must be made much, much more bonkable”.

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