Over the last couple of years, I’ve been asked two questions on the topic of grey cabinets: Is grey a long-term trend? and How is grey a good choice vs. white? While I don’t claim to predict the future, through my extensive career exposure to both domestic and international kitchen and bath fashion interiors, I do think I can offer some talking points you can consider for clients who are asking if grey is right for their kitchen or bath cabinetry.
Something old, something new
Medallion has been on the grey train for quite a while—our first grey, Peppered Appaloosa, was introduced back in 2007. Hard to believe it was that long ago already! (I had fewer grey hairs then!) And with the ebb and flow of trends, we’re seeing the mono-color shift into darker values, giving our long-standing classics Carriage Black paint and Onyx stain new life again!
While we’re on this look back at our grey story, I would be remiss to leave out the first of the Coastal greys, Castle Rock and Harbor Mist; right about the same time we added Peppercorn as well.
As the push for more grey continued, we expanded into a new technique adding texture through Greystone and Boulder in the Stoney Brooke Collection and explored the depths of grey with Smoke stain. With trends calling for more character and texture in material selections, just last year we expanded the Appaloosa Collection, giving you a lighter version in grey with Silver Appaloosa.
As we have learned from white paints, one size definitely does not fit all and the expansion of grey options became a necessary step to meet client demand. The lighter side of grey paints started with Irish Creme and Chai Latte:
…and filled out with Frappe, Macchiato, and Earl Grey:
And just when you thought I covered it all, even our accent colors for paints have been affected by the grey trend with the addition of Pewter Highlight:
Surely with this glimpse of the range of greys we’ve added over the past 11 years, you can see one overarching theme and the answer to the first question: We think grey is here to stay.
In design, different colors and styles come to the market in a typical wave:
At the start of the curve, you have the fashion-forward, trend-aware risk-takers. They’re tapped into budding trends and love to have bragging rights as the first to use a trend! After that, we witness the early adopters, who buy into a trend quickly once it’s been highlighted by the first group. (In other words, I don’t want to be first, but I am still in the fashion-forward style group.) After this, the trend is typically adopted by larger manufacturers and is promoted within the mass market, where the highest number of people are now being exposed to it. (You’ve probably heard me reference Restoration Hardware in this way. They were the first, then came the many brands that embraced a similar look to offer it to a wider market in lower price points.) Some consumers in this bracket embrace the trend right away—the mainstream. Later, as the trend begins to wane, some last stragglers get on board and adopt a look.
As designers, we’re exposed to trends from the very beginning, so by the time they reach the middle of that curve, we’re almost seeing it as “old news”! But for consumers, it’s a very different story; most actually fall into the last category on the trend wave. They need to be convinced that a trend is valid, especially when it goes in a nontraditional and unfamiliar direction.
Right now, I’d say greys are just beginning to approach that peak in terms of exposure in the market. In fact, grey painted cabinetry hasn’t even fully appeared in new construction yet (which is a good marker for when a trend has arrived at that mass market level). If you keep track of the builder market, you’ll see grey being used primarily in wall paint and undertones in flooring, but white cabinets are still the primary selection.
How long is that trend cycle?
While there are some arguing that grey has had it and it’s on its way out, there are many strong indications that grey isn’t just another trend passing through. Looking forward, Pantone’s Autumn 2019/Winter 2020 Colour Planner dedicates a section to greys. My friends, this is a forecast predictor, talking specifically about how grey will continue to hold its ground. I for one take this as gospel!
Grey might be considered a color of scarce emotion, but it is actually full of meaningful nuances.
PantoneView Autumn Winter 2019/2020 Colour Planner (pg. 99)
They point to grey’s versatility and range. The light, silvery greys can be lively and illuminating, dark charcoal shades can be more dramatic and bold.
Color is always about proportion as well—you get a very different look from different amounts of grey, tones of grey, pairings with grey.
There’s also been a movement toward personal expression in design—more and more people are choosing nontraditional color choices, even for semi-permanent elements, like cabinets, in their homes. For a lot of consumers, the question isn’t so much, “What’s in style?” but “What’s my style?”
A number of design bloggers are making that case for grey, too, like Anita of Cedar Hill Farmhouse. She points out that stainless steel was once seen as a fad but it’s now the norm, and she thinks grey will go the same way since it’s a versatile, calming neutral. (And can I add, isn’t stainless steel in the grey family?!)
HOW TO GIVE GREY STAYING POWER:
The key to long-lasting greys is all about finding the right shades. While opinions may vary, I believe this is found in the greys with warm undertones. Yes, even “greige” falls into this category. And all of our grey finishes (with the exception of Castle Rock) were strategically developed with warm undertones that keep them from looking cold or commercial-looking. Warm undertones also mean these greys can be paired with creams, beiges, and wood tones, keeping the overall look light, comfortable, and inviting. Which by the way, happen to be some keywords for what homeowners want in their living spaces :)!
Many people like the look of a white kitchen, but are looking for something more interesting and less mainstream —grey is still classic and subtle, but the right grey will have more depth and nuance to it. As a backdrop for other décor, grey deepens and illuminates other accent colors (warm or cool). Without a doubt, grey adds interest beyond white but creates a neutral backdrop to add personalization with other materials, like flooring, counters or even changeable decor.
What do you think about greys? How have you been using them in your designs? Share your thoughts in the comments below!