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Make It Work: 3 Color Palettes To Try If You Have Grey Wood Or Vinyl Flooring


I’m going to be honest with you, EHD readers. I’ve written and rewritten this intro three times now. “But this is a piece on…colors…and grey wood floors?” you may be thinking, as certainly, a post on flooring can’t possibly cause this seasoned writer to start, delete, start, delete, and start an introduction. Here’s the thing, though: No matter how hard I try, I’m finding it difficult not to say something anyone would take offense to. The reality is, I do not like grey wood or vinyl flooring and every time I see them newly installed, I wince a little bit. These grey floors must have the same marketing team as cauliflower and cottage cheese, because man, are they ubiquitous.

But you know what? That’s fine. Maybe you don’t like it, either. Or maybe you do. That’s the beauty of design…it’s mostly subjective (with a few exceptions because good design is good design, no objection). Regardless of my thoughts on the silvery finish, though, I’m here to help make it work for anyone who is decorating around it in their homes and maybe struggling to get it right.

I think the reason it can be so tricky is because, to my knowledge, grey wood doesn’t exist naturally—it only comes to be by getting exposed to UV rays and/or salt water. IMHO, that’s why it doesn’t blend in with ease. I liken it to adding a banana to a smoothie: it’s hard to hide it. No matter what you add to that blender, you can’t really mask the banana, just like no matter what you add to a room, you can’t really mask the unnatural qualities of grey floors. So, let’s not mask them. I hope you like banana, because I worked through three different concepts that make those floors shine, whether you inherited them in a home purchase or rental, or you picked them out yourself during a renovation.

But first: For any readers that happen to be sticklers on the spelling of this neutral hue (you know you’re out there), I just want to quickly say my journalism training taught me to use “gray” (thanks AP style) but Google searches prefer “grey” so for the sake of satisfying the search engine Gods and helping people searching for this type of post, we shall stick with the “e” version for this article.

Now that that’s clear, let’s go, starting with some guidelines.

3 Rules For Designing Around Grey Wood Flooring

#1: When it comes to pairing other wood tones with grey wood and vinyl flooring, match the undertones (cool, warm).

#2: If your floors have heavy graining or lots of color variation, keep other wood grains subtle or separated by a rug or by distance (meaning, wood decor up on a shelf or on other furnishings).

#3: Add contrast. Add contrast. Add contrast. So often, I see homes that pair grey flooring with grey walls and grey furniture and grey decor. Can we stop designing in grayscale, please? We need color in our lives, people, even if those colors are cream and ivory and black and walnut and leather.

I wasn’t able to pull any photos from our EHD archive that showcased grey wood floors, but I was able to pull rooms with grey floors (sans wood), and one that was borderline (keep reading).

The two photos directly below this paragraph are the same house, but due to lighting conditions and maybe even the editing of the photo initially, the concrete floors look very different. But both of them are grey, so for today’s illustrative purposes, let’s just focus on that.

art directed by emily henderson with styling & design led by velinda hellen and emily edith bowser | from: in defense of the comfy sectional—a friend’s almost-finished family room

This room is a great example of how to make cool grey floors not end up feeling sterile. The curtains and rug are fairly monotone, but the rest of the furnishings add color and warmth through different wood tones and lived-in upholstery. The rug visually separates the floor tones and the furniture tones; not a huge deal with concrete floors, but when grey wood or vinyl is involved, it can be a bit more jarring to have those tones on top of each other without a buffer.

design by emily henderson design | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: a modern and organic entry: shelf styling tips + shop the look

These floors look so much warmer than the other ones, but the principles here are still the same: add contrast, warm materials and finishes, and use the magical powers of a rug.

design by emily henderson design | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: our guest room/office basement suite reveal … + how to make a basement (office) feel warm, happy and functional

Alright so, this one is a stretch, but the floors in Emily’s old basement in LA had a bit of a weathered look in this image, so I…

…Photoshopped them to be grey to see how they’d look for the purpose of this post. I think it works, don’t you? As I established in our rules above, floors with more noticeable graining can’t handle other things with noticeable graining. Here, the majority of the larger pieces are metal (bed, lighting), and the bench, while it does have a visible grain, is separated by a rug.

Clockwise from top left: Influence Waterproof Vinyl Plank Flooring | Canterbury Gray Oak Wire Brushed Engineered Hardwood | Panorama 10mm Waterproof Laminate Flooring | Hard Gray Wood Plank Porcelain Tile | Silverton Oak 8 mm T x 7.5 in. W Water Resistant Laminate Wood Flooring | 2mm Fitzgerald Oak Waterproof Glue-Down Luxury Vinyl Plank Flooring

Just like brown and beige toned woods, grey wood, vinyl and tile flooring run the gamut. Some have heavy graining, some more subtle. Some have a ton of color variety, others more monochrome. There’s light, dark, warm, cool, and somewhere in-between greys. And the subtleties in each of those can drastically change how they’ll look with other furnishings, especially wood tones and wall color.

Before diving into the design concepts I put together, I have one more caveat, because it wouldn’t be an article by me if it didn’t have stipulations. Finding inspiration photos on the internet of rooms I felt were worthy of sharing here that also happened to have grey wood floors were not readily available. I’m sure I could find them had I had weeks or months to gather, but similar to the above, I’m working from spaces with grey flooring to help tell a color story, even if they’re tile or concrete or some other material.

I really like where a lot of these landed, and I hope you do, too. For the moodboards I put together, I didn’t really have a room in mind. It should be used more generally for vibe, colors, materials and such. That way, it could apply to most spaces, even kitchens if you can stretch your mind a little. Let’s take a look:

If your floors have cool undertones: Add white, warmth and colors with depth

Cool-toned grey floors felt the trickiest to me, so I’m starting there. It was difficult to find rooms that felt well-rounded, interesting and like a place I wanted to be in. That is until I found Carlay Page‘s space. It is swoon-worthy in its simplicity. Yes, the marble checkerboard floors are a far cry from vinyl planks, but if you squint, it does the job. The cool grey works so well with the creamy white on the walls, the green and ochre vintage rug and, of course, the dusty French blue built-in.

Jenni Yolo of I Spy DIY used black cabinetry and dark stained wood elements such as the door to add both contrast and warmth to the grey herringbone tile floors. The color variations on these floors waffle between neutral and cool, and that strategy really makes these feel welcoming, quiet and classic.

1. Juliet Floral Wallpaper | 2. Benjamin Moore Distant Gray | 3. Fern Storage Cabinet | 4. Kate Hand-Knotted Wool Rug | 5. Crissey Sconce | 6. SIN Bacchus Bookends Set | 7. Oblong Distressed Wood Decor Bowl Black – Hearth & Hand™ with Magnolia | 8. Custom Emery Linen Blackout Curtain – Mineral Blue

I pulled a lot of inspiration from that first image by Carlay Page for this mood board. The Anthropologie armoire adds both a cool blue similar to the built-in cabinet in that photo, but also brings in a neutral wood to add variety to the flooring. I picked a warm, greyish white paint that wouldn’t feel overly stark, and the wallpaper is deeply saturated in case you want to go that route, instead. The curtains are a slate blue that will coordinate nicely without bringing in too much visual impact, while the rug adds a lot of warmth and depth while still having some cool colored elements on it to echo the floors. Accessories are kept neutral in black (every room needs black!), white and brass.

If your floors have warm undertones: Introduce deeper wood tones and saturated color

Warm wood is far easier to work around because it’s closer to the floor of natural wood. I liked a warm grey floor most with other rich colors, some creamy neutrals and deep wood tones, like the set of built-in drawers in Whittney Parkinson’s mudroom above (I’m only referencing the first photo in that carousel, by the way). The little dots of orangey red in the wallpaper balance the coolness of the moody, dusty blue on the molding and the low bench area, which I think is important to create balance.

This is a bit of a different approach (shared by Vaughn_d_d), which reads more modern. There aren’t a lot of other wood tones here besides the barstools, but the creamy range, Zellige tile and pinstripe curtains bring out the beige of the concrete floors. Sometimes, you have to use a thing’s subtle quality in other areas to make it more apparent. And notice how they opted for a warm green with yellow undertones, rather than a cool-toned green here, which I think creates a harmonious color palette rather than something with too many opposing forces.

1. Cat Cow Wallpaper in Olive/Taupe | 2. Saged by Backdrop | 3. Hattie Cabinet | 4. Mallory Area Rug | 5. Rainier Brass Conical Wall Sconce Light | 6. Tuscan Farmhouse Distressed Ceramic Pitcher – 8.5″ | 7. Virgal Handmade Decorative Box | 8. Cruz Ticking Stripes Taupe/Ivory Drapery

Somehow, I ended up with a bit of a dramatic moodboard, but it’s pretty reminiscent of that kitchen, depending on how it’s implemented. A warm grey floor works really well with dark, neutral wood stains, like that Arhaus armoire. Just like they did in the kitchen, I pulled curtains in a taupe pinstripe for cohesion, but then brought in the color via a dramatic rust and cream rug, and a combo of an olive paint and swirling green Rebecca Atwood wallpaper. I love an aged, burnished brass as the metal finish here, but an oil-rubbed bronze or even black would also work.

If you like to keep things neutral: Introduce enough contrast

Not everyone is as comfortable with color as I am, so for all the neutral-loving readers out there, this one is for you. And just like in the rules I set above, this comes with a rule that echoes #1: figure out your undertone and work from that. You don’t want a cool grey floor paired with anything that veers too yellow. Your wall color, even if cream, should be a taupe cream that veers a bit more grey. If your floors are on the warmer side of the temperature spectrum, going with anything too cool isn’t going to feel right. Look for neutrals closer to beige. Think oyster over glacier.

This dining space (with a peek into an office) by Cecilie Kovsted Jønsson does a great job of using a neutral grey floor as the foundation for a mostly neutral room. Black chairs add a lot of needed contrast, a warm wood table with warm rush seats pair nicely with a creamy backdrop via the paint color (I love the mushroom-y color on the shelves in the back with these floors).

1. Raphael Wallpaper by Scalamandre | 2. Ritual Unions by Backdrop | 3. Blake Light Brown Teak and Rattan 2-Door Storage Cabinet | 4. Agen Wool Grid Ivory Area Rug | 5. Ansel Double Sconce With Shade | 6. Uma Burl Wood Rectangular Tray | 7. Flounce Black Teak Decorative Bowl | 8. Half Price Drapes Faux Linen Room Darkening Curtains

Layering neutrals is not something I do often since I feel more at home in a cacophony of visual color but I do like the way this one turned out. Quiet, soft but textural. I almost LIKE the floor here, tbh, with these selections. It was crucial to bring in a honey-finished cabinet, tbh, for a bit of a glow and balance to the grey colorwash happening between the floor, rug, curtains and paint color. But all of those elements are varied just enough (and the rug has a subtle pattern, while the linen of the panels also adds texture), so it still has movement rather than being one-note. I pulled the same wallpaper Emily has in her foyer for a hushed, just-barely-there pattern that still carries a good amount of impact in this color palette. And brass is a must for me here. I love a chrome or polished nickel metal lately, but here, it plays well with the warm armoire wood and the burlwood tray. And finally, I threw in a black teak bowl because, again, every room needs the gravitas of black somewhere, even if just in a small decor moment.

You guys, we’ve reached the end. TBH, this post loomed over me for a while. I didn’t have an idea in my head of how I would tackle it when Jess first suggested it to me weeks ago. “How on earth am I going to make grey floors look good enough to be in my own home?” I’d ask myself. But now looking back, I’m kind of into it! My how my tune has changed, huh? Sometimes, all it takes to fall in love with something (okay, that’s too far but fall in somewhat-like) is stopping, digging around for inspiration, stretching one’s mind, and thinking through options with some basic design principles we already know.

I hope this was helpful to some of you out there, and if it wasn’t, I hope it was at least entertaining. I’ll see you around these parts next time.

Your friend in making it work,

Arlyn

Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, Art Direction by Emily Henderson, Design and Styling Assistance by Julie Rose and Emily Edith Bowser | From: Reveal: A Budget and Rental-Friendly Living and Dining Room (With 80% Thrifted Finds)





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