9 Ways to Layer Warm Neutrals for Elegantly Cosy Rooms
Check out this expert advice for building an inviting palette, introducing contrast and mixing textiles and textures
“Neutrals shouldn’t equate to boring. Rather, they should produce a luxurious, refined space that feels warm and textured,” interior designer Samantha Stathis of Samantha Ware Designs says.
The examples shown here illustrate different ways designers have layered and balanced warm neutral palettes, accompanied by expert advice on how to get the look.
When layering warm tones and textures, an early selection can serve as a jumping-off point. This can come from just about anywhere, such as a wall colour, the veining pattern in a natural stone or a favourite object.
“Layering warm neutrals in interior design is an art that marries comfort with sophistication, and we love it,” designer Ginger Curtis of Urbanology Designs says. “Often a starting point emerges organically, such as a captivating piece of art or a unique rug, setting the tone for the room’s palette.”
Samantha Stathis notes that she often uses a rug as her jumping-off point, as she did in this coastal living room. “In this particular space, we opted for a one-of-a-kind vintage piece in varying shades of taupe, beige and blue. We pulled those shades out via our textiles, window treatments and decor, which really rounded out the room,” she says. The design complements the rugged stones of the fireplace surround.
When layering warm tones, the colour on the walls is key. To create a cosy backdrop that allows layered neutrals to shine, Ginger recommends choosing a warm taupe or creamy beige. “Right now, I’m loving Neutral Ground by Sherwin-Williams,” she says.
For this home in the woods, interior designer Emily Pueringer recommended Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee. It provides a warm yet airy backdrop for a variety of books, art and other favourite objects displayed on the white oak built-in units.
“Whenever you’re working with a neutral colour palette, it’s important to incorporate different tones, textures and patterns to create a more layered look that doesn’t fall flat,” Samantha says. For example, in this project, seen earlier, she used a mix of florals, stripes and small-scale prints in varying materials including linen, cotton and wool. “This ultimately led to a more cosy and homey room,” she says.
Warm neutrals also give a room seasonal versatility. For example, the use of warm neutrals instead of crisp white gave this space a subtle coastal feel instead of an overtly nautical and summery look. While the painting and navy sofa nod to the bayside location, it’s a home that feels inviting year-round.
Designers also note that, while textiles are important, other textures play a big role in layering as well.
“Using natural materials such as wood, marble or clay in your accessories adds further dimensionality to the design without having to compromise on the scheme’s neutral colourway,” Samantha says.
“Personally, I find inspiration in natural textures and earthy elements,” says Ginger, who designed this living room. “When infusing warmth into a space with neutrals, consider incorporating different textures, such as soft throws, wooden accents and plush rugs.”
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“I think earthiness is a factor in the trend we’re seeing with warm tones currently, whether it’s through colour alone, through natural materials or through something made by hand,” Emily says. “All these layers are factors in the warmth brought into a project for me. When designing a scheme lately, I’m always thinking about how I can bring an earthy vibe to it.”
A neutral palette gives this kitchen that Emily designed all the warmth of a giant group hug. Lots of sunlight from the room’s many windows streams onto all its layers – varied wood tones, reflective glass, creamy natural stone finishes, patinated brass, deep brown leather stools, terracotta tiles, a variety of textiles on the cushions and ivory paint.
“Earthy terracotta or clay tones speak to me and will remain timeless,” Emily says. “Terracotta also has a global vibe, as this material is used for so many things worldwide. Seeing the clay properties peek out at you, the variation in the hand-painted glaze and the imperfections bring a human warmth.”
A perfect example is the hand-painted terracotta tiles she used in the kitchen, handmade by Tabarka Studio.
In this lake house, Pearson Design Group grounded rooms with dark-stained oak flooring. Along with the blackened-steel accents of the architecture, it provides dark contrast to the warm neutrals.
“Playing with different colours and finishes within a space is the key to layering,” project architect Justin Tollefson says. On the left, the designers continued the exterior’s reclaimed barn wood onto the kitchen walls. In the adjacent living room, they covered the walls in pine boards with a semi-translucent white paint that reveals the knots and grain patterns of the wood.
On the ceiling, they painted the ceiling boards white, which provides a contrasting, cleaner look by covering up those characteristics.
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In this home by Zen Associates, creating a calm environment was the goal. Large openings to views of the surrounding Japanese Zen gardens informed the interior colour and texture palettes.
In this living room, the flooring and carpet closely resemble the materials outside. The cream and tan tones indoors complement the serene outdoor scene.
Check out more photos of this project to see how other warm neutral rooms relate to the beautiful surroundings.
Sculptural light fixtures, 3D patterns on the wall and the grain patterns in the wood panels are supporting players. The cream-coloured walls and textiles, the range of wood tones and the touches of moss green on the furnishings create harmony with the views.
Ginger appreciates the drama that high contrast brings when layering warm neutral tones. “To achieve high contrast in a pleasing manner, balance is key – juxtapose light and dark shades to create depth without overwhelming the senses,” she advises.
For example, here she added black and graphite tones on thinner elements, such as furniture frames, curtain rods and window grilles, with just a few larger splashes of deep tones mixed in via the floor lamp and cushions.
In this living room, designer Jessica Moran created a refined, eclectic look by mixing styles and contrasting crisp white with patinated pieces. She accomplished the successful layering by finding the right balance between old and new and dark and light.
“I love layering vintage art and furniture into my designs to keep spaces from feeling too precious,” she says. “And I especially love layering worn vintage pieces against the crisp and clean backdrop of white walls. In this case, I used Sherwin-Williams’ Pure White. The client’s vintage art and furniture collection brings warmth to the otherwise stark white walls. It’s vintage yet somehow modern and fresh.”
A midcentury-style sofa and coffee tables mix with traditional vintage pieces. The worn leather of the armchairs, the aged wood on the trunk and the sepia tones in the artwork show that these pieces have history and have been well-loved. There’s really no better way to express warmth than that.
Do you have a favourite strategy for layering warm neutrals? Does one of the strategies here resonate with you? Please share in the Comments.