Our home editor shares tips for bringing cool, neutral paint colors into any room—and why a white ceiling is a wasted opportunity.

By Zee Krstic
May 02, 2019
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If you're looking to achieve a subtle, calming effect in any room, you'll want to choose a balanced color palette. The best way to anchor a room that's begging for a sense of calm is to reach for a neutral paint shade-but that doesn't mean beige is your only option, says Lorna Aragon, Martha Stewart Living's home editor. "Most people don't really consider neutrals to be anything beyond just beige. There are so many different ways to use neutral colors in a home-and certain hues of most colors can be considered a neutral," Aragon says. A great example is brown, since different shades can achieve multiple effects in any given space. Still, Aragon says that some of her favorite neutrals come in the form of muted pastels, which add instant impact to even the gloomiest of spaces.

Washing an entire space in neutrals-walls, trim, and, even your ceilings-can be a smart way to lighten up any room, says Aragon. Taupe woodwork against a pale-pink wall, for instance, sharpens architectural details, while an airy-blue ceiling can give the illusion of height, even where actual height may fall short. Here, Aragon shares the neutral paint combination she loves most for every room in the house, plus a few tips for choosing colors like a pro.

Anchor Your Neutral Color Combination

Aragon says she always starts with the color of the four walls before moving onto the details, as it's important to make sure aspects like trim are complementary to the main feature. That was the approach she took here, and it works every single time since you're considering a space as a whole. "When making these color combinations, I started with four different walls and different colors. I then moved on to thinking about what would complement each other."

From top to bottom: Sherwin-Williams "Agreeable Gray" ProMar 200 Interior Paint, starting at $27 per gallon, sherwinwilliams.com. Farrow & Ball School "House White" Estate Emulsion, $110 for four liters, farrow-ball.com. Benjamin Moore "Silver Marlin" Regal Select Paint, starting at $64 per gallon, shop.benjaminmoore.com.
Martha Stewart Living Staff

In the Bathroom

Because Aragon knows that natural lighting can be somewhat limited in a bathroom, she generally recommends a muted white like Farrow & Ball's "House White" against a lighter gray, such as Sherwin Williams' "Agreeable Gray," to brighten the space. Aragon anchors the combo with a cheery silver ceiling-in this case, painted in Benjamin Moore's "Silver Marlin"-that shines even in the dark.

From top to bottom: Behr "Gray Ashtar" Premium Plus Enamel Interior Paint, starting at $28 per gallon, homedepot.com. C2 "Titanium" Interior Eggshell Paint, $75 per gallon, c2paint.com. Behr "Heavenly Aromas" Premium Plus Enamel Interior Paint, $34 per gallon, homedepot.com.
Martha Stewart Living Staff

In the Bedroom

Aragon says that paint colors can be subtly bold, even in the bedroom and on the ceiling. "When it comes to painting the ceiling, I think about what would be complementary with the other two-and I stayed far away from white," Aragon says. She's played with buttery yellows and audacious pinks, but here she chose a muted blush salmon from Behr called "Heavenly Aromas," which made the room feel even larger. "You shouldn't be afraid to add colors to your ceiling… It's a very easy choice since many people refer to the ceiling as the 'fifth' wall," Aragon says.

From top to bottom: Pratt & Lambert "Dawn Mist" Interior Paint, prattandlambert.com. Portola Paints "Soapstone" Eggshell Interior Paint, starting at $45 per gallon, portolapaints.com. Fine Paints of Europe "Guggenheim Colors" (CC0050), $40 per liter, finepaintsofeurope.com.
Martha Stewart Living Staff

In the Kitchen

In the kitchen, Aragon likes to play up classic white cabinetry against a rich shade of brown. "Whereas I chose darker trims in the other pairings, I wanted to feature a simple eggshell here that compliments white cabinetry-plus, [the ceiling color] provides a warm contrast to the brown used on the walls," she says. The ceiling color Aragon is referring to is a muted green shade from Fine Paints of Europe's "Guggenheim Colors" collection.

From top to bottom: Glidden "Traditional Tan" High Endurance Interior Paint, $25 per gallon, walmart.com. Farrow & Ball "Savage Ground" Estate Emulsion, $110 for four liters, farrow-ball.com. Sherwin Williams "Hinting Blue" ProMar 200 Interior Paint, starting at $27 per gallon, sherwinwilliams.com.
Martha Stewart Living Staff

In Semi-Exterior Spaces

And finally, for exterior spaces like enclosed porches and patios, Aragon chooses a neutral combination of two beiges to splash across the walls, which can set the surfaces apart, breaking tradition with the rest of a home's painted exterior. If you're painting a covered porch or an enclosed patio, you'll notice that Aragon's choice for a ceiling color-Sherwin Williams' "Hinting Blue"-embraces the best qualities of a brilliant blue sky.

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