As anyone who has looked at a paint chart lately can attest, deciding to paint a room in a neutral colour often isn't as simple as it first appears. The vast number of whites, off-whites, beiges and taupes on offer is frankly, quite mind-boggling; not least because the differences between shades, seemingly so subtle at first test, can give a totally different mood to a room when actually in practice on all four walls. The key is in finding the right tone, and picking a colour with a base pigment that suits the light that a room receives. There is also much to be gained by using the subtle contrasts of neutral colour as a tool to pick out architectural features, and change the feeling of a rooms proportions. Here's a lesson in colour which should give you a starter for ten.
The designer Zareen Kamal has used four different shades to create delicate contrasts and optical illusions on the walls of her living room.
'The walls are actually quite a strong colour 1. 'Slate III', £32.50 for 2.5 litres matt emulsion] - you see this clearly where the walls and ceiling join. A warm tone works well as a backdrop for art, and as the room gets lots of natural light, the walls will always appear lighter than they are.'
'I painted the skirting and frieze in the darkest colour [2. 'S1002Y50R', a trade colour which can be custom-mixed on request, £22.96 for 2.5 litres matt emulsion]; it's almost a light taupe and helps lower the wall height, while giving the architectural detailing importance.'
'I made the ceiling appear higher by painting the cornice two shades lighter than the walls [3. 'Slate I', £32.50 for 2.5 litres matt emulsion] and the ceiling lighter still in a pure white [4. ' Pure Brilliant White', £13.99 for 2.5 litres matt emulsion].'
Working with natural light
'Choosing the perfect off-white to enhance a space depends on the type of light the room receives and what direction it is facing,' says Sarah Cole, ex-director of .
'When decorating north-facing rooms, avoid off whites with a green or grey base as these will make the room seem darker. Instead choose yellow based, creamy neutrals to bounce as much light around the room as possible. Our "White Tie" and "Tallow" are the perfect tones for this.'
'South-facing rooms are a joy to decorate as the quality of light means you can choose either warm or cool colours. Whites with blue hues such as "Blackened" create a wonderful watery seaside feel, while red-based neutrals such as "Joa's White" and "Dimity" create a warmer and more sophisticated feel. In south-facing rooms you can use a fairly bright white on the woodwork and ceilings to create a crisp and fresh look.'
'The light in east facing rooms can appear to be a little blue, so it is best to work with this and choose green or blue tones in your white. To create as much light as possible but still retain some warmth, look at pale duck-egg colours - try "Pale Powder" and "James White", which will really come alive in morning sunlight.'
White walls are natural light reflectors and this is particularly true in west-facing rooms, where white will enhance both natural and artificial light and give you a wonderful airy feeling - try "Wimborne White". Even the greyer neutrals such as "Slipper Satin" should retain a feeling of light, although the colour will change throughout the day, with a cooler feel earlier and a warmer one towards night.'
Farrow & Ball paints listed cost £32.50 for 2.5 litres matt emulsion or £48.50 for 2.5 litres eggshell.